A revisionist history of Gen. George S. Patton that attributes his famously erratic behavior to a personality disorder.
Patton is almost universally regarded as an American war hero and a genius tactician, but less well-known, according to debut author Sudmeier, were the unmistakable signs of his mental instability. The author—the award-winning screenwriter of the 2006 docudrama Patton’s Secret Mission—considers what he believes to be ample evidence that Patton had a diagnosable, psychological affliction. The general was capable of extraordinary cruelty, he says, and once boasted to his wife that he killed another American soldier with a shovel. Sudmeier also asserts that Patton was a rabid racist with little empathy, in general—he even treated animals with cruel indifference. Although he was a brave and gifted leader, he was also capable of terrible mistakes in judgment, apparently due to a vainglorious desire for recognition; in fact, Patton was so obsessed with his own legacy, the author says, that he sometimes recklessly led his men to certain death. Sudmeier meticulously reconsiders the general’s finest moments, such as the 1944 liberation of Bastogne, Belgium, and his worst disasters, such as the infamous 1945 raid of a prisoner-of-war camp in Hammelburg, Germany. Ultimately, the author concludes that Patton suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, demonstrated by a volatile combination of a superiority complex and fragile ego. Sudmeier also assesses Patton’s private life, characterizing him as a relentless social climber and a largely dysfunctional parent. Especially for such a brief study, this is impressively comprehensive, including detailed analysis of Patton’s personal and professional relationships as well as his effectiveness as a general. As a result, this portrait is neither a hagiography nor a hit job—the author does give Patton his due for all of his many virtues as a soldier, but he also punctures the mystique of invincibility that’s often seen in fawning biographies of the man. Of course, a psychological diagnosis of any historical figure must be taken with a grain of salt, and some of Sudmeier’s conclusions are more speculative than empirical. Nonetheless, this is a thorough, insightful account.
A radical new biography that should interest historians, military strategists, and psychologists.