- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2002

By Stanley P. Hirshson
HarperCollins, $34.95, 826 pages, illus.

Gen. George S. Patton was a multifaceted man, rating a complex biography and Stanley Hirshson delivers that, though the writer had his hands full. Patton was someone, said a contemporary, who was "just a bit of everything brave and timid, tender and harsh, coarse and poetic, sacrilegious and religious all the opposites mixed up into a really legendary, adorable character."
A family friend said that a historian "is well advised to avoid choosing whether he was this or that he was both."While some found Patton "adorable," author John P. Marquand considered him a "tactless, high-strung, profane officer with a one-cell juvenile mind."Bur Mr. Hirshson pays attention to all of Patton's facets.
There is no question that Patton was a warrior in the fullest sense of the word, and he was also a superb athlete and a highly articulate writer and speaker.Mr. Hirshson and most World War II historians believe Patton was "by any standards … an extraordinary tactical commander," perhaps the "greatest master of quick tactical movement that World War II developed."Although he spent only 391 days in combat in two world wars, Patton's achievements in North Africa, Sicily and northwestern Europe are nearly legendary.
Mr. Hirshson, in balanced fashion, acknowledges that Patton "clearly … was a better tactician than strategist." Overly exuberant speeches to his troops, and, more importantly, an inability to comprehend or properly implement denazification during his supervision of the occupation in post-World War II Bavaria, Germany, were obvious weaknesses.
Patton also was an ambitious, first-class careerist. As a contemporary noted,"No American officer ever did more to advance his career letters of petition; dinner parties in honor of the secretary of war, vice president and visiting generals; telephone calls; publicity releases; even keeping a string of horses in central Washington for Henry Stimson [World War II secretary of war] than did George Patton."Not surprisingly, Mr. Hirshson writes, "Patton's ambition and fame often created resentment."
Mr. Hirshson's biography is thorough in its explanations and complete in its coverage, well written, generally sound in its appraisals (often sympathetic to Patton), and usually objective. The author admires many of Patton's attributes, praises his successes, and criticizes his failings and failures.
The biographer constructs a complete account of the famous slapping incident in which Patton struck a battle-fatigued soldier in a field hospital in Sicily (a report that does not favor Patton), and all of the general's major campaigns in both World War I and II. Every part of narrative is thoroughly researched and readers desiring to read again, or to discover for the first time, the glories of Patton's tank assaults will not be disappointed.
While highlighting Patton's military career, Mr. Hirshson uncovers the personality clashes, some leading to dislikes bordering on hatred, among Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's wartime subordinates not a pretty story. (The author also delineates political intrigues among Republican conservatives, one of whom was a former president, who wished to deny Eisenhower the Republican nomination in 1952.)
Mr. Hirshson reveals Patton's deep anti-Semitism. That specific prejudice certainly was not uncommon in the leadership of the United States Army during the teens, '20s and '30s, but Patton's type of bigotry was vitriolic and vicious, even after he had seen the results of Nazi hatred of the Jews at war's end. Death camps, gas chambers, crematoriums only seemed to intensify Patton's hatred of Jews. What is distressing about Mr. Hirshson's treatment of this negative part of Patton's character is the author's desire to explain it away as owing to the milieu in which Patton served in or, worse, to the influence of his wife's family.
Beatrice Ayer Patton's family was anti-Semitic (explained away by the fact that some of the labor organizers who tried to unionize Ayer textile factories were Jewish) and the Ayer men, says Mr. Hirshson, influenced Patton on the matter. In other words, anti-Semitism is hereditary; one gets it from one's in-laws.
When does Patton get to think for himself? He went to his grave believing that the Tsarist-forged "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was an authentic example of the Jewish conspiracy. He was 59 when he made some of his most sulfurously bigoted statements regarding Jews, demonstrating an utter lack of sympathy for the plight of starved inmates from Adolf Hitler's death camps. Old enough to know better.
Readers will have to judge Mr. Hirshson's treatment of this failing on their own. While doing so, they will encounter an excellently researched, soundly written and complete account on one of America's most famous fighters.

Alan Gropman is chairman of the Grand Strategy Department, Industrial College of the University of the Armed Forces.

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