‘Killing Patton’

According to various reports, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard plan to take on Patton in the next of their “Killing” series. I'm looking forward to it.

Patton died as a result of an auto accident*, but like a lot of other things these days, a veritable cottage industry has sprung up spinning conspiracies about his death. Presumably O’Reilly and Dugard will put those to rest. They may straighten out a lot of other things as well: much of what we think we “know” about Patton isn’t true, as historians and biographers have said over and over.

Some of it is a little obscure and understandable – like giving Patton credit Patton credit for the final American push in Africa, when it was really Omar Bradley in charge. (Secrecy at the time helped obscure Bradley’s role, and Patton had spent several weeks reshaping the forces (with Bradley) prior to that. But mostly it was due to media fascination and shoddy reporting.)

I suppose there’s little hope that the public can ever be convinced that the so-called “slapping incidents” had a small impact on Patton’s career – Eisenhower had already chosen Bradley to lead the American invasion, and despite the incidents insisted on having Patton as an Army commander (under Bradley and over his initial objections – he wanted Lucian Truscott). But a well-rounded portrait of Patton, pluses and minuses all, may have at least a small influence in how we think of heroes. a more realistic appraisal might help us all.

I’m looking forward to the book as a readable and enjoyable popular introduction to an important person and, from there, important events. It is a bit of departure – until now, O'Reill and Dugard have only looked at people who have been deliberately murdered. I’m sure they don’t need my advice, but I’d love to see them tackle Julius Caesar in the future – not only does his death fit with their original premise, but I think there’s a lot of resonance in his life and times with our own era.

* The car, incidentally, is at the Patton Museum at Fort Knox. I saw it last week when I was there. Completely restored, it’s part of a new and promising exhibit on leadership the museum is putting together.

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