- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Even as America forgets its military heroes, the legend of Gen. George S. Patton lives on. Part of it is simply his swagger — the American people will always take the colorful over the competent. They want warriors to act like warriors, not like military executives in an ivory tower.

Don’t look for any movies about generals George Marshall or Omar Bradley, but Patton is now the subject of an engaging minibiography by Atlanta historian Alan Axelrod, Patton: A Biography (Palgrave Macmillan, $21.95, 205 pages, illus.).

Part of Patton’s appeal is the challenge of his personality. He was occasionally pious but famously profane. He fawned upon those in a position to advance his career, and cheated on his wife when convenient. He glorified war as the ultimate test of manhood, but sought to fight with maximum effectiveness. He spent the years between the two world wars studying the likely role of armor in the next conflagration.

Patton’s first action in World War II was to lead the force that invaded Morocco in 1942, when Morocco was defended by the forces of Vichy France. Demonstrating remarkable finesse, Patton went beyond the terms of a proposed armistice to conclude a gentlemen’s agreement under which the French would not hinder the Allied campaign against the Germans.

It was after the American debacle at Kasserine Pass that Patton came into his own. Placed in command of the demoralized II Corps, Patton was everywhere, part soldier, part showman. His energy was boundless. In the author’s words, he demanded “that the officers and men … look and behave like soldiers … . He established rigorous schedules and requirements for every activity, no matter how mundane. He insisted on strict observance of all military courtesies, including the salute.”

Despite his aggressive campaigning in Sicily, Patton’s rise was slowed by the two famous slapping incidents and by his vocal antipathy toward the British. Eisenhower did not trust him.

Not until nearly two months after D-day did Patton take command of the Third Army in France. He may have been fortunate in the delay; the author notes that early August was the time when battlefield mobility was most needed and had at last become possible.

Patton’s race across France has become legendary, but Mr. Axelrod reminds readers that it was the result of careful planning. “Once an operation was under way, Patton focused on action … . However, he always took care to distinguish between haste and speed … . Thorough preparation made haste unnecessary and enabled speed, an operation carried out swiftly as well as efficiently.”

Patton never faced the Wehrmacht at its best. Nevertheless, Mr. Axelrod believes that Patton’s finest moment came during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, when he turned his army 90 degrees to the north and made a forced march in bitter winter weather to relieve the hard-pressed American bastion at Bastogne.

Patton was all for allowing the Germans to drive farther into France and then cutting off the bulge at its base. But his superiors were not willing to permit a deeper penetration and the Third Army was limited to the relief of Bastogne.

Patton wrote in his diary, “War is very simple, direct, and ruthless. It takes a simple, direct, and ruthless man to wage war.” The problem with Patton as a person is that war was not just his vocation, he loved war. Mr. Axelrod concludes, “Civilization at peace could not tolerate him, and he could not live at peace in a peaceful civilization.”

This fine minibiography is the first of a projected Great Generals Series. In future books, series editor Gen. Wesley Clark should insist on a map or two and require his publisher to enlarge the font.

Anyone who wants to justify indulging in chocolate should read Michael d’Antonio’s mouth-watering Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (Simon & Schuster, $25, 305 pages, illus.).

In addition to being a virtuous alternative to alcohol and improving workers’ productivity, “a dose of chocolate,” science has found, “can improve your mood and may inhibit blood clotting.” (It may also be addictive.)

Milton S. Hershey created a progressive, if paternalistic, agricultural enterprise and factory town in rural Pennsylvania to make his chocolate. He kept taxes low, subsidized a department store and other services, and left all his money in trust to an industrial school for underprivileged youth.

The residential school thus became the majority shareholder in all Hershey enterprises. Today it has an endowment estimated to exceed $5 billion — eight times as large as that of the next-richest school, Phillips Exeter Academy — yet serves only about 1,500 students.

Hershey was a self-made, capricious entrepreneur who began building his factory before he had perfected a workable recipe for producing a milk chocolate that could be mass-produced and survive storage.

The main problem was that milk, which is largely water, and chocolate, which contains a lot of oil, don’t mix well. The solution — evaporation — was tricky because “Variations in the rate of heating, in the highest temperature used, and even in the way the milk was cooled affected its quality.” (Hershey’s method was endless trial and error, but one day’s work by a real chemist did the trick.)

Once the Hershey enterprise was well established, “the Founder,” age 40, found a comely wife, Kitty, 15 years younger than he. She suffered from a mysterious ailment, diagnosed in retrospect as nerve damage resulting from late-stage syphilis.

The search for a cure, as well as for sophisticated entertainment and escape from the gossipy company town, often took the couple to Europe. After her death at age 42, Hershey spent much of his time in Cuba, developing a reliable source of sugar and frequenting Havana’s casino.

He never ceased trying to bolster his claim that chocolate was nutritious, to the extent of adding turnips, parsley, celery, and beets to his product, with disastrous results. “One exception was sweet potato fudge, which turned out well but was never produced in large quantities.”

Mr. d’Antonio sums up his subject by quoting a woman who traveled extensively with the Hersheys, one of the few people who could describe “the less than mythic facets” of the man: “Milton was in many ways quite a man of the world, very hard and thoroughly spoiled. He would have made a good general, with his drive, his seeing everything clearly ahead, and knowing what to do.”

Mr. d’Antonio has thoroughly researched the Hershey enterprise and produced what must be a definitive work on this eccentric do-gooder, from his humble origins and utopian dreams to his extraordinary legacy in business, philanthropy and community.

John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor are writers in McLean, Va.

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