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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Patton: The Pursuit of Destiny by Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin

Gives a solid background on one of America's iconic generals

There have been thousands of generals that have served in the United States Military. Very few officers ever get "name" recognition. Washington, Grant, Pershing, MacArthur, Eisenhower. Patton stands right there with them, unique in the group I named because he was not in charge of an entire theater of war - always a subordinate officer.

But, Patton inspires images of a general of action - impulsive, moving, always pushing, leading from the field. Modern tank warfare may have been perfected by Patton in the sense that he truly understood the need to coordinate air, naval, armor and GIs - and he did just that.

Patton: The Pursuit of Destiny is an attempt to dig behind the image to find out a little about the real Patton - a romantic family man (also a philanderer), the little boy that dreamed of the battlefield, the frustrations that accompanied his slow climb up the officer ranks (but helped by excellent connections), his fear of being afraid.

Von Hassell and Breslin are mostly successful in their attempt, although they are often repititious in some of their points. For example, they tell the reader multiple times in the section on World War II that Patton's reputation as a glory hound was mitigated by the fact that he shared the glory so well with his men.

At times, the facts are written to make them seem more dramatic. For example, on page 117 they note that the U.S. army "had captured or killed more than 100,000 enemy troops"(p. 117) in the Sicily campaign (Operation Husky). Technically true but the numbers are 29,000 dead, missing or wounded Axis troops and 140,000 captured soldiers. Yes, it is common to include the captured in with the figures for the casualties, but this statistic seems written to inflate the death total.

At another point they just get facts wrong - not facts about Patton but about another general. They were trying to make the point that Patton did not squander his men, even while he was pushing them forward as fast as possible. The compare him to " 'Butcher Joe' Hooker, the Union general who to be relieved of command by President Lincoln early in the Civil War due to the appalling losses of life and limb incurred under his leadership." (p. xiii). Hooker's nickname was "Fighting Joe" and he was fired - due to tentative fighting in the latter part of the Battle of Chancellorsville and his lack of desire to chase down Robert E. Lee's army that was invading Pennsylvania and on its way to Gettysburg. Lincoln might well have excused a "Butcher Joe" on the grounds that he confronted the enemy.

In many ways, Patton: The Pursuit of Destiny apologizes for Patton by denigrating his colleagues. Many times the reader is told that Montgomery and Eisenhower wer too tentative in Patton's eyes. What we don't get is an historians unbiased view about Patton's opinions. Were they? In Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7 1944-May 7, 1945 Ambrose asserts that Patton's tanks were out of gas, his men were low on supplies while he was advocating pushing forward into Germany - this might have created a "bulge" into Germany with the same results the Germans experienced with their bulge. A discussion of all sides would have been appropriate.

The book has many pictures of Patton, ranging from his childhoood all the way through his World War II years. What the book also needed was maps - describing a map is so much less effective than just showing the reader why, for example, why the Battle of the Bulge was such a threat to the allies.

In sum, a good overview of the his life, but do not let this book be your only source about the complicated European Theater in World War II.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on August 12, 2010.

I reviewed this book in conjunction with Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program. I was not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed are mine.

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