A sprawling life of the brilliant but very nasty American general known by his soldiers as “Old Blood and Guts.”
Hirshson (History/Queens Coll.; The White Tecumseh, 1997, etc.) does a fine job of capturing George S. Patton’s contradictions and the decidedly unpleasant aspects of his character, both correcting and amplifying the work of earlier, often worshipful biographers. He carefully reconstructs the famed incident in which Patton struck a battle-fatigued soldier in a field hospital in Sicily and reveals that when the combat correspondents on hand reported his abusive behavior, Patton’s circle took it as yet another campaign on the part of Communists and Jews to sabotage their hero’s career. Patton himself was a lifelong anti-Semite, Hirshson reveals, his attitudes inherited from his patrician father; even after the liberation of the Nazi death camps he would insist that Jews “are lower than animals.” His prejudices, remarkable even in the context of the time, coupled with his refusal to remove former Nazis from government posts in occupied Bavaria, led to his removal from command; the 1970 movie starring George C. Scott wrongly attributes his demotion to Patton’s anti-Soviet views, which he indeed held but did not widely air. The chief flaw in this capable book is Hirshson’s tendency to overdetail. It is useful to know that Patton was dyslexic and did not learn to read until early adolescence, for instance, but not so much to know the statistical incidence of dyslexia in the present general population. Still, readers who keep at this long, dense biography will see that Hirshson treats Patton’s very real accomplishments on the battlefield with great respect. After all, the general who seized more enemy-held territory than any other at tremendous cost to the foe deserves his reputation as a strategist to rival Napoleon . . . or Genghis Khan.
Hirshorn’s highly useful reevaluation will be of particular interest to students of modern military history.