Looking at Band of Brothers, pop culture’s best case for “The Greatest Generation,” 20 years on.
Richard Reinsch: (00:18)
Today, we’re talking with Furman Daniel about his new book, Patton: Battling with History. Furman Daniel is an assistant professor in the College of Security and Intelligence at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He’s the editor of 21st Century Patton and he’s the co-author of The First Space War, which sounds interesting. Furman, glad to have you to talk about Patton.
Furman Daniel: (00:50)
Richard, it’s great to be here.
Richard Reinsch: (00:52)
What got you interested in General George S. Patton?
Furman Daniel: (01:03)
I was lucky to have parents that introduced me to reading and military history and trips to military museums since I was a little, tiny kid. So, some of it is I’ve just been interested in these types of topics for a long time, but kind of like you said, he’s one of these figures that if you’re going to read about World War II or if you’re going to talk to veterans or learn about this kind of stuff, it’s hard to escape him. Because he has this larger than life persona, because he has the 1970 George C. Scott biopic and because he’s always the person that people like to tell stories about, like to talk about, like to read and write books about, it kind of seemed like a natural thing, even as a little kid, to read books about him, read his own works, and the fabulous Martin Blumenson volumes, The Patton Papers. And then when I got a little bit older, when I got to be a professor, actually be privileged to write in books about him.
Richard Reinsch: (02:02)
And you’ve written extensively about Patton. You confront this early in the book. There’s this Patton that’s been presented maybe in popular culture primarily, but also, sort of part of the mythos even that he wanted to create about himself of the natural warrior, sort of a pagan spiritual warrior who in his soul touched a thread of military greatness perhaps and many Americans certainly know the movie Patton and just think of him as our great general. How do you think about him in relationship to America as a whole?
Furman Daniel: (02:35)
I think you put your finger on something really important, that separating out the popular George C. Scott mythos from who he actually was is really important. I often say that the biopic with George C. Scott is both a blessing and a curse. It’s largely accurate and it shows lots of his exploits and keeps the memory of that alive. The George C. Scott portrayal is fantastic, with a couple of few small things, but it actually comes at a cost. It obscures the fact that he was a very complex person. He had a much more interesting and developed background than even the three-and-a-half-hour movie had time to go into and unfortunately, because movies are so vibrant, because that kind of popular mythos is so easy to digest and understand and enjoy, often that takes over. I’m reminded about the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the truth becomes legend.” With George Patton, the legend has been printed and put on film and put in popular media in a way that I think now, even 75 years after his death, it’s time to go back and say who was he really? And I think when you do that, when you actually say what was he really like and how was he different from the movie, it actually gives you a more interesting view on the man and a more interesting view on his success. The movie, the one thing it gets very, very, very wrong is the voice. So Patton’s voice basically sounded like Mickey Mouse. It was high and squeaky and nasally and very different from George C. Scott’s gravely, rough, kind of inspiring voice. It’s very interesting when I give talks on Patton. A lot of times, I’ll lead with an audio clip of Patton and it just blows people’s minds because they have this popular view of George C. Scott standing in front of the American flag, big gravely, inspiring voice, “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,” when in fact, George Patton actually kind of sounds like Mickey Mouse. It’s one of many examples of the truth is actually in certain ways more interesting.
Richard Reinsch: (04:48)
My references here might be kind of weak. Do Americans still revere Patton in that manner of George C. Scott? I was thinking of popular culture references recently. I don’t know if this is recent, I guess these came out about 20 years ago. Band of Brothers in the Bastogne episode, it’s a very derogatory reference to Patton. They didn’t need him to rescue them. They were fine. They just sort of put him down. And then the film Ike, which I guess now is also about 20 years old, which featured Tom Selleck playing Dwight Eisenhower in the planning phase of D-Day and right up to the moment when the troops launch. There’s very derogatory reference that Ike is actually in the film because the justification of why Patton is going to be a decoy for the German Army. Where they positioned him is explained, but it’s explained as sort of a punishment in the film because Patton is a racist, Patton is a hot head, he’s arrogant and foolish. And I’ve wondered has that now become more of the Patton Americans think of?
Furman Daniel: (05:49)
I think Americans want the sanitized heroic version of Patton. I’ve been giving talks on him for five or six years now and sometimes, when I bring up his less savory side, the fact that he, like you said, was a hot head, that was a racist, an anti-Semite who at times, gambled with the lives with his men and did things that certainly would not fly today and really didn’t even fly then, people push back. When I talk to audiences, they’re like, “No. That can’t be right.” They’re arguing with the historian that has written two books on it, telling me why the movie is right and my book is wrong.
At first, I was shocked by that and then the more I’ve thought about it, I think people want that simple narrative. They want the narrative of World War II was the good war, George Patton was this kind of maverick who understood it and understood how to win and was willing to do whatever it took to win and that he rode in on a white horse, defeated the Nazis and then disappeared from the scene. And I think some of that is just people want clean narratives of history, even when history itself is rarely that clean narrative in reality. Some of that, I think, is the popular effect of books like The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw that again tells this sanitized version of history and then again, Movies like George C. Scott. So I wish people would get into historiography. The college professor part of me would love that, but I think people like their history to be a morality tale. They like it to be simple and Patton kind of fits into that nicely in a way.
Richard Reinsch: (07:24)
Some of the things I was reading in your book I’m now thinking about identity politics and critical race theory on campus, how long until Patton is canceled. It’s something that a lot of figures might fall into that one, too, fall into that role. But I thought Patton, we’ll see how long he holds out. So what’s the truth about Patton? Was he the natural warrior with the soul of a general or was he something else?
Furman Daniel: (07:47)
The answer is yes, he was a natural warrior and yes, he was something else. So he had a lot of talent, just natural talent. He could shoot a gun. He could ride a horse. He could read and write. He could quickly analyze an unfolding battlefield situation. He was naturally talented at best. But he also worked exceptionally hard to make that natural talent better. I have often used the analogy of nobody gets to the major leagues or the NFL without a fair amount of talent. But they don’t get there either if they don’t work pretty hard. There’s lots of talented people, there’s lots of hard working people. To really excel at that highest level, you have to be both. And as I talk about in the book, he really spent his entire adult and much of his childhood life reading, writing, practicing military art and thinking about how he’d fit into this larger picture. And then once he made history, actually manipulating the historical record so that he appeared even greater than he was. So yes, he was a natural and yes, he also worked very, very hard to build on those natural talents.
Richard Reinsch: (09:03)
Something that stands out in your book is it seems as a child growing up, his imagination was formed around being a warrior.
Furman Daniel: (09:11)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And his parents encouraged that.
Richard Reinsch: (09:14)
It was part of his ancestral line, as well. Two men died in the Civil War, fighting in the Army of Northern Virginia that were directly related to him.
Furman Daniel: (09:22)
And his bedtime stories were about his relatives and about the American Civil War and also, about stories from primarily the Old Testament in the Bible. So it’s this odd, I mean actually kind of similar to my childhood, but stories about your relatives, stories about the Civil War, stories from the Old Testament. It was this odd mix of destiny and a morality tale and a you are part of this continuous line going back to King David of brave and virtuous warriors who made a difference. And it worked out for Patton, but in retrospect, it actually seemed kind of odd that at a very young age, you would tell kids this kind of stuff. And kind of anachronistic, as well, particularly the family’s worship of their Confederate ancestors and their glorification of The Lost Cause mythos. But yeah, it’s one of those things he was born into. He was told he was special and different from a very early age.
Richard Reinsch: (10:22)
The story of he’s attacking on… When he’s turned into an armored wagon, he loses control of the wagon and it kills some of the family’s chickens. They lived on a large ranch in California and he justified himself to his father, I think he said he was on a military attack and it just got out of control.
Furman Daniel: (10:40)
So the story is, he built a wagon into a war cart and to test out the war cart, he crashed it into his family’s chicken coop, killed a bunch of the chickens. A couple of them also ran off. He got in trouble or at least initially. His parents were about to punish him, but they asked him as good parents do before they punished him, “Why did you do this?” And he said, “Well, I was reenacting John the Blind of Bohemia’s war carts from several hundred years ago.” And they were like, “Okay. How do you know about John the Blind?” And he said, “Well I thought it was John the Blind.” And this is a very young kid, probably 5 or 6 or 7 years old. The sourcing doesn’t say his exact dates, but very young kid. I actually see this as a really interesting example. You can over-interpret it, but the example is he had already been studying military history to know who John the Blind was. He was putting it into practice by building this war cart and crashing it into the chicken coop. He got in trouble and then manipulated the historical record and created this mythical version of who he was and what he was doing to get out of trouble. And I think you see this again and again and again in his career. He worked very hard. He tried very hard. He had this natural talent and then he manipulated the historical record to make himself appear better than he was or to get himself out of trouble. So excellent that you brought that example up.
Richard Reinsch: (12:05)
It’s interesting. A lot of your book is about Patton the intellectual historian and not an amateur intellectual historian. This is someone who read widely, particularly in military history. You report he reads the Quran on the boat that is taking him to Operation Torch, it was the invasion of North Africa. Because he was going to be dealing with a large Muslim population, he wanted to get a sense of Islam for himself. He published widely in military journals and that’s one question I have for you is was that exceptional to repeatedly publish or was that expected of officers? But he did not do well at West Point. In fact, they held him back a year. He didn’t get into West Point initially. He had to go to the Virginia Military Institute. And you say at one point, a lot of people think he may have been dyslexic. So how does all of that work?
Furman Daniel: (12:59)
I in the book, like you said, I document his early academic struggle and I address this question of dyslexia. So the real answer is nobody knows. And all of the doctors and people that are credible experts say you can never diagnose somebody, a patient that you haven’t actually seen. So I purposely try to avoid making the diagnosis. My two cents, however, is he probably was not dyslexic. He probably suffered from having inadequate schooling as a child. He bounced around to a bunch of schools in California that were not particularly good. And where he struggled was in issues of foreign language and mathematics, which these school curriculums, some of the historians had gone back and looked at these elementary schools that he went to curriculums say they didn’t really teach. So no wonder he struggled when he went to a US Military Academy, which was at the time primarily an engineering school with also a very heavy requirement for the French language so that he could read Napoleon and Jomini in the original.
So I think some of his academic struggles are actually just a lack of preparation. It’s just as valid an example of an explanation of this as dyslexia. So the second par of what you said, though, was he a lifelong reader? Yes. Absolutely. He loved reading. He loved writing and that to me does not seem like somebody who’s a dyslexic. He also like you said, read things like the Quran with an eye for “what’s the practical value?” I’m about to go into North Africa and deal with potentially millions of North African Muslim as the human terrain that I’m about to go into, so I’d better learn something about it. And so he, again, on his own initiative, read the Quran on the boat to North Africa.
That was very unusual and the army in the 1910s and ’20s and the inter-war period after World War I and before World War II, was not a particularly intellectual organization. It had some very intellectual people, Patton being one of them, but overall, it was not an organization that rewarded original thought, that rewarded deep study or rewarded publication in journals like Patton did. It rewarded seniority, it rewarded spit and polish, it rewarded marksmanship, lots of other things other than brain power. So Patton was pretty unusual there, as well.
Richard Reinsch: (15:35)
You write about throughout the book his publications in military journals. But he also seems to take it upon himself at no one’s request, just on his own initiative to write long, we would say memos, about an issue and how he sees it or how he thinks the military should develop on this front based on his experience and his research. That is, to my mind, this is someone actively engaged in what he’s doing and wants to come to terms with it in the written word and then spread that to others. So this is an intellectual man wanting to communicate ideas.
Furman Daniel: (16:18)
I think that’s exactly right. The one thing I would add to that is there was a self-serving element of it. The self-serving element was “let me bring a solution to the Department of the Army so that they can see how brilliant I am.” I see that as yes, he was genuinely curious and yes, he really thought he would have an opportunity to put it into practice at some future date, absolutely. But he was also trying to show off and basically show how smart he was by solving a problem or bringing forward a solution that nobody was asking about.
Richard Reinsch: (16:53)
There’s always high ground and low ground for him. He serves in the military at times when the American Military is very small, very inconspicuous. Before World War I when we can talk about his trip into Mexico to get Poncho Villa and then he goes… He has World War I. But he remained in the Army in the inter-war years. It was a very small force. Did he communicate how he saw the relationship of the American Military and the warrior ethos in American society as a whole, which was skeptical of large armies and was primarily about business and private life.
Furman Daniel: (17:32)
Yes. He thought about these types of questions quite a bit. Probably, if you’re looking for one single writing on this topic of how does the professional soldier fit into American society, I would point you toward his 1932 Army War College thesis, which was actually flagged as an honor thesis for the War College at the time, was circulated around the War Department. In this, he talks about this kind of tradition in the broader scope of military history between professional armies and mass armies and the strength and weaknesses of both. And then he tries to apply that to the American experience and says, “The Americans are skeptical of large armies, but they’re not so skeptical of professional armies.” And that the United States needs to overcome this. We need to build a professional cadre in time of peace so that we can use that to train and lead a mass army in times of war. So he’s writing this in 1932, a good nine years or so before America actually had to do that. And I think he puts his finger on this problem. We don’t want a military class in the United States and particularly in the inter-war period, we didn’t have the budget or the political will for a large army. So he’s trying to solve this issue which he sees as this sticky problem for the United States. How do you have the best of both worlds? So he does it, again, kind of on his own initiative. The War College made him write a thesis, but he way exceeded his mandate and wrote a lot more than they wanted and tried to, again, solve problems they weren’t really asking about. But he was so influential that it actually got the attention of people in the war department and again, showed off his intellectual fire power during those lean years in the 1930s.
Richard Reinsch: (19:21)
And trying to articulate, you said, the reason why America needed a larger army and one better trained, better equipped and it needed to have a strategy, needed to have its mind right about what it’s doing. I don’t know if he was unique in this regard. You say he highlighted the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor well before the attack.
Furman Daniel: (19:42)
Yes. So he had two different postings to the Hawaiian Islands during the inter-war period and he was the head of Army Intelligence for our forces in Hawaii on a second posting and actually repeatedly warned about the vulnerability of US Naval and Air Forces on the Islands to an attack. He got that exactly right and this is one of the less savory moments that people like to forget about. He actually in the ’20s and ’30s advocated for the interment of Japanese civilians in the event of war. That hasn’t aged well and most people don’t know about it, but he talked about the need to round up Japanese-American civilians so they could be put in a prison. So yeah, he got some stuff right. He’s got some stuff that hasn’t aged, as well.
Richard Reinsch: (20:32)
Yeah. I’m thinking also… This is something we kind of skipped over in his biography. I did not know until I read your book, he competed in the Olympics in the Pentathlon in 1912. And the Pentathlon in those days was not a track and field event. I didn’t know that, either. It was more broad: Fencing, swimming, shooting, running… I’m missing something.
Furman Daniel: (20:55)
Richard Reinsch: (20:55)
Horseback. And got… Was it he got fifth place? No he didn’t get… Did he get fifth?
Furman Daniel: (21:00)
Richard Reinsch: (21:00)
Fourth place. That’s incredible. And you write about… I love this. I read it, the other editors, at the end of the swim, they have to pull him out of the water with a boat hook because they think he’s about to drown. He’s just expended himself. And then the same thing at the end of the run. People thought he might die. Then the fencing, he didn’t know proper defensive techniques, so he just went as hard as he could at the opponent. That to me, that’s Patton. That’s the Patton that I know.
Furman Daniel: (21:29)
It is. The Olympics were a little bit different back then and the US in particular, most of the Olympic athletes at that period were actually US Army officers. Jim Thorpe was actually kind of the exception. During that period, most of our Olympic athletes are either rich college kids or Army officers because they had to pay their own way to the Olympics and they had to train on their own. This was long before the days of Olympic training centers and stuff like that. But yeah, Patton actually wasn’t selected until a couple of months before the Olympics were going to begin. So his training program was eat raw steak and salad every day.
Richard Reinsch: (22:09)
Raw steak. That’s incredible.
Furman Daniel: (22:12)
Raw steak. And quit smoking. And then when he was on the boat over there, he ran laps on the deck and created a pool on the deck where he could swim, suspended on a little mechanical arm that dipped him down into this pool so it would hold him while he swam and keep him from moving in the small pool. But yeah, his athletic career was much like his military career, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack and the consequences, you can worry about later.
Richard Reinsch: (22:43)
In thinking about his military career, something that emerges in your book beyond a way that is intellectual history reading he brings forward and it seems to allow him to separate himself from his peers in many ways. But he also gets interested early in mechanized warfare and in the defensive measures that he’s a part of under General Pershing in the Mexico after Poncho Villa had raided a town in New Mexico, killed what 20 people? They go back into Mexico in pursuit of him and at one point, Patton leads a raid on what he thinks are part of his, I guess, posse, was using automobiles coming in four different directions, exit the automobiles and start firing. I didn’t know that story, but to me, that was the entry point for him into thinking about mechanized speed warfare.
Furman Daniel: (23:36)
Yeah. And it’s a wonderful theme because it’s this odd combination of the past of this gun battle with banditos in Mexico. Patton has his revolver and at the same time, using Dodge automobiles to rapidly surprise this safe house for the bad guys, get them and then get out before reinforcements could come. It’s this wonderful inflection point on this is old and new at the same time. It’s familiar and modern at the same time and I think that’s really interesting. Patton was interesting in that way because he was practical and romantic at the same time. He loved horses. He was one of the best riders in the United States Military and after World War I, he actually went back to the Horse Cavalry, but at the same time, he loved automobiles and he understood that automobiles and later tanks, gave mobility and in the case of tanks, protection and fire power that was a potentially war-winning weapon and despite the fact he loved horses, despite the fact he loved history and old-fashioned things, he was flexible enough in his mind to say, “You know what? Maybe the internal combustion engine, maybe armored protection, maybe some of these other things are worth me spending my time on and maybe the United States Military should get on board while we can.” So like I said, an interesting reflection.
Richard Reinsch: (24:55)
Something I took from the book is this is a man who reads Julius Cesar and reads Napoleon, so he is aware of military marshal virtues, I think, clearly and how battles have been won and yet, to me, he’s only willing to update that with technology or to see okay, how does that fit technology, the rapid, oncoming technology? He understands American business, as well, and what it can do and what it’s going to produce and how that’s going to change warfare. I thought, that sort of ability, that is an aristocratic ability he had, I think, to survey the whole and think about it.
Furman Daniel: (25:32)
Yeah. And I mention this in the later conclusion section of the book. He was lucky in that he came from an aristocratic background, knew people that were leaders of business, who owned automobiles in the early 1900s when automobiles were kind of a toy for the rich. And he also had this lucky part of his career where he just moved around and saw different parts of the country. So he saw factories in New England and New York. He saw harbors and he saw the stock exchanges in Chicago and things like that. He grew up in California and saw the ability of large farms and ranches out there, the ability to have ports on the West Coast to project power in the Pacific. He saw this and was again broad-minded enough, intellectually curious enough to look at this and see why does it matter that we can ship grain all over the world? Why does it matter that we have finance? Why does it matter that we can produce machines better than any country on Earth? And he, like you said, built that into his way of war and that was very, very, very forward thinking at the time.
Richard Reinsch: (26:40)
He had an interest in mechanized warfare. World War I, you write he’s there, but he’s dejected because he’s not in the front. He’s not in combat and he thinks that tank warfare to be his way in and a decisive way into the war. Talk about that.
Furman Daniel: (26:58)
You’re exactly right. He gets over to France very early. He’s actually one of the first American soldiers to go to France. He was on General Pershing’s staff. He had impressed them in the campaign in Mexico a couple years before and he attached himself to Pershing’s staff because he wanted to get over there as quickly as possible. He quickly got bored as a staff member for Pershing going to dinners in Paris, writing and censoring mail for the general, things like that, and he wanted very much to be part of a front-line unit and saw that he’d kind of gotten the golden handcuffs. He got over there quickly, but then wasn’t doing anything. So he was actually in the hospital and as kind of a fortuitous thing, he overheard people talking about the tank corps and then started thinking while he was recovering in the hospital from a bout of jaundice, he started thinking the tanks seem like a new potentially war-winning weapon.
They’re looking for volunteers, so this is a new space that I can create for myself and there’s not a lot of competition. And it gets me out of this admin hell I’m in attached to Pershing’s staff. So he did it partly because he saw the value of it, but partly because he was willing to gamble on it. He wanted to do something that he thought was fun. So when he applies to the tank corps, actually they ask for a written resume. So he writes about a 20-page document about why he’s the perfect person to be one of the first officers in the tank corps. He actually mentions the raid. And some of Poncho Villa’s men in Mexico said that he’s the first person in American history to lead an armored assault. A little bit of creative license, but we’ll go with it. And then gets accepted and then takes off.
He creates an American tank school. He visits the front line and actually watches British and French tanks in battle. He visits the Renault Factory and sees how French tanks are made and actually recommends new starter motor assembly and an armored bulkhead for the tanks. And again, it’s energy and insight and initiative and pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing. During World War I, he really carved out a place for himself as the expert in the United States Military on tanks.
Richard Reinsch: (29:16)
Thinking about, just moving forward here, World War II. He’s in World War II. What does that reveal? Does that finally reveal him, those experiences, that leadership as a great general? Can we print the legend?
Furman Daniel: (29:33)
I think in a lot of ways, we can. I think World War II shows that he could do what he always wanted to do, which was be a general, command large units in battle and master large-scale mobile warfare. Mexico proved he was brave and could improvise on the spot. World War I proved he could master a new technology. World War II means he was still brave, he still could use new technology and new methods of warfare, but he could do it on a much, much, much larger level.
Richard Reinsch: (30:04)
Yeah. Thinking about his role in World War II, this is borne out in the movie, there’s failure in the North African Desert campaign. There’s a pretty decisive defeat and Eisenhower relieves one general and puts Patton in his place. And that’s really where Patton gets his tremendous opportunity and he makes good on it and sort of pushes the German Army back.
Furman Daniel: (30:28)
The movie, for time’s sake kind of simplifies that, but yes, an American general, Lloyd Fredendall had gotten the frontline combat command before Patton, but in some of the initial engagements with Rommel’s Afrika Korps, most notably the Battle of Kasserine Pass, his soldiers don’t fight very well and he loses control of the battle. There are charges of cowardice on some of Fredendall’s staff against him and Eisenhower says, “Well we need somebody that can come in here quickly, get up to speed, fix this, restore morale and restore the American drive east across North Africa.” And Patton is the logical person to put in charge there. And like you said, he takes charge. He really maximizes that opportunity.
Richard Reinsch: (31:15)
Yeah. It’s the sort of movement, isn’t it? As I was reading your book, it was the focus on moving which seemed to be, also, part of the Sicilian campaign and this desire to beat other generals to objectives is also a part of what he’s doing, it seems.
Furman Daniel: (31:32)
So yeah. I think they’re twin things. So Patton really, truly believed that movement was the way to win, that we would dominate our enemy by moving faster.
Richard Reinsch: (31:44)
It’s interesting, just interjecting here. You wrote he studied extensively the German military manuals prior to World War II. And they clearly, the Panzer movement, that was clearly speed, right?
Furman Daniel: (31:54)
Richard Reinsch: (31:54)
That’s what brings France to its knees in two weeks, so he was clearly onto something.
Furman Daniel: (31:59)
He had read things like Guderian’s famous quote that the engine of the tank is more important than the guns or the armor and really believed that. Patton’s view of warfare was if you create problems for your opponent and create confusion in your opponent’s mind through speed and movement, you’re constantly making them respond to things you’re doing. You’re maintaining the initiative and even if you’re not perfect in your own action, the fact that you’re putting friction, the fact that you’re putting problems and chaos on your opponent by moving and maintaining the initiative, means that you’ll be successful, even if on small things you mess up. He also was very much influenced by the trench warfare in World War I, where there wasn’t a lot of movement. Where it was bogged down and people were slaughtered for a couple hundred yards of movement. He desperately wanted to avoid that. So how do you avoid that? You keep moving is how you avoid that. The second part of your question, though, did he do this to make himself famous, to beat other generals, to grab more land, to capture cities before other generals did? Yes. Absolutely. It’s hard to fully separate his desire for fame and glory and headlines from his honest and genuine belief that speed kills, that speed keeps your enemies guessing and that’s ultimately the operational tactical solution to victory.
Richard Reinsch: (33:28)
I was thinking of the Battle of the Bulge, the sort of last-ditch effort of Hitler to use his army to break through allied advances. Patton is involved in this, moving what, 100-something miles very rapidly, rescuing the 101st Airborne which is in Bastogne, which is famously depicted in Band of Brothers, the series. But he’s successful and then moves forward rapidly, advances farther or fastest than the other American armies into Germany. Talk about that and how he’s successful there.
Furman Daniel: (34:03)
Battle of the Bulge, as I depict it in the book, is the cherry on top for Patton’s career. It puts together pretty much everything he had worked for his entire career up to that point. It’s the largest battle he ever fights. It’s the most important battle he ever fights. It’s arguably the most decisive battle he ever fights and he wins it because on the front end, he’s spent decades thinking about these types of problems. He has studied the German doctrine. He knew the history of German surprise attacks and he thought that bad weather would actually help the Germans, now a winter attack because it would mitigate American air power advantages. So he had thought through this and he had actually planned with his staff before the Germans even attacked, he’d planned his response. So the battle, before it even got fought was something he’d prepared for. He’d prepared his entire life for building this wonderful resume, but he’d prepared the week or so before, thinking this part of the front is vulnerable.
What would I do if I was the Germans? I would attack here. What would I do if I’m Patton and the Germans do that? I would counter-attack into their flank by pivoting and moving my forces over and that’s exactly what happened. He was able to anticipate what the Germans were going to do. He was able to respond to it and he was able to use his enormous charisma and energy to drive his men forward during awful weather, with low supplies, lack of food and things like that. He was able to inspire them to do wonderful things and ultimately relieved Bastogne. The folks from the Screaming Eagles, the 101, they still to this day don’t like saved, they like relieved. I actually had an editor correct me on that in the book. They said, “Yep. Don’t ever show that to the 101.” But I think it shows his ability to think, act and inspire and then win based on that. And as you said, after the Bulge, a lot of the German resistance collapses and he argues to push into Germany as fast as possible to capture territory and deny it to the Soviet Union, already anticipating yet again, a step or two in the future, what’s the Cold War going to look like? Wouldn’t we be better off if we had more of Europe under our control, the Soviet Union had less of it under theirs?
Richard Reinsch: (36:25)
Yeah. That’s a crazy thought. Patton, then we get into the post-war difficulties, though.
Furman Daniel: (36:31)
Yeah. He has a lot of post-war difficulties. He desperately wanted to fight in the Pacific theater, but was blocked by MacArthur, who was a brilliant general in his own right, arrogant person, very protective of his own place in history. In his own right, MacArthur had kind of blocked Patton from going over there. Patton then kind of asks for a transfer. He wants to go teach. He wants to either be at the war college or the commandant of West Point, but is actually denied those two jobs because technically, he’s too high of rank for those military billets. So he’s denied the jobs he wanted, actually teaching history ironically enough. He’s given the job as Military Governor of Bavaria, technical job where he’s Proconsul of Bavaria. So it’s a Roman-sounding job title. He does a mixed job there. He actually does a pretty good job of getting the local economy running. He does a pretty good job of changing Nazi street names, taking down Nazi statues and symbols from public squares and things like that.
What he does not do a good job of is controlling the narrative. So there are some German politicians in Bavaria who have Nazi affiliations that Patton refuses to get rid of or get rid of right away. This creates a public relations nightmare for Patton. He makes this public relations nightmare worse, by a series of comments, one of which compared the Nazis to the Democrats and the Republicans, saying, “Well if you want a job in Nazi Germany, kind of like being Postmaster in the United States, you need to ingratiate yourself to the local Democrat or Republican Party boss.” That didn’t go over so well. And then he had some displaced persons, many of whom were Jewish in his zone of control that had pretty abysmal living conditions, so that was kind of a scandal, as well. He ultimately gets relieved by Eisenhower for this combination of seeming to not care about the denazification, making some very ill-considered statements and then having this issue of displaced persons not being properly taken care of in his zone of control.
He’s actually then reassigned to a job that’s a pretty good job for him. He’s given command of the US 15th Army. You might ask, “What is the 15th Army?” Great question. It was an army that was originally going to be a combatant command. It was going to be an actual military force, but it wasn’t needed. We won the war in Europe faster than we could really get the 15th Army into combat. So after World War II, they tasked it with collecting information and documenting the lessons learned for the war in Europe. They put Patton in charge of that and for the last three months of his life, he actually goes and does a fantastic job yet again, writing history of World War II and indoctrinating lessons learned. And while he’s doing that, he also writes his own memoir which is published posthumously as War As I Knew It. So interesting last act. One that a lot of people don’t know about, but one that’s actually consistent with his overall approach.
Richard Reinsch: (39:43)
Yeah. It’s interesting. Of course, there’s West Point and the Virginia Military Institute and there’s those official armies, but this is someone who I don’t know, an overly bureaucratized world army training probably doesn’t emerge it seems to me. You could easily see him being stifled.
Yeah. I don’t want to make a facile comparison, but it seems to me this is someone who emerges precisely because of just the dynamism within American life and institutions of the early 20th century. Do similar figures in the military emerge today?
Furman Daniel: (40:21)
I really don’t know. It’s a question I poke at, but don’t fully answer in the last two or three pages of the book. I’m tempted to say no and I’m tempted to say no, not because the American Military does not attract fantastic talent. We really do attract fantastic talent, but largely for the reasons you said about bureaucracy and limit to what people can do now. I would also add two other things, one that we’ve already discussed quite a bit, which is Patton had a very toxic side of his personality and in an increasingly bureaucratized military, one that’s increasingly worried about the very real problems of abusive leaders, the very real problems of racial and sexual bias and things like that, I think any one of a number of his incidences would have absolutely destroyed his career.
The other thing I think and this is a unique thing about the military now, we haven’t given our junior officers and our mid-career officers time and the reason why that is, is we’ve had for the last sum of 20 years ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we’ve given people lots of deployment opportunities, we’ve given them lots of combat experience, but we haven’t given them time to read. We haven’t given them time to think. We haven’t given them time to write. We haven’t given them time to decompress. The mobilization schedule has been so hectic that I really wonder if we develop the intellectual side of our military the way we could or should or would.
Richard Reinsch: (41:58)
Well yeah. One could argue that this deployment schedule you’re referring to is itself the result of a lot of static thinking.
Furman Daniel: (42:04)
And it’s worth mentioning, the officers that are seen as the intellectual elite recently in the military because people like David Petraeus who is a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. People like John Nagl, again a Rhodes Scholar, people General Deptula for the Air Force. They came up a decade or so before, right? So they had most of the ’90s. They got their combat done in the early ’90s in Gulf War I and then they had a decade to train. They had a decade to go to school. They had a decade to think and write and go do these types of things. So Petraeus, H.R. McMasters of the world, people like that, maybe are the last kind of generation that has had that time.
Richard Reinsch: (42:47)
Yeah. Something to think about. Furman, thank you for joining us and for discussing your new book Patton: Battling With History.
Furman Daniel: (42:56)
Thank you very much for having me, Richard. It was a really fun time.
Richard Reinsch: (43:00)
This is Richard Reinsch. You’ve been listening to another episode of Liberty Law Talk, available at lawliberty.org.