In today’s world, there doesn’t seem to really be many shining examples of leadership. I don’t personally believe we’ve had a credible leader since Ronald Reagan graced the nation by sitting in the Oval Office, and in the years since the end of his last term there have been very few who can even begin to measure up. The country needs a single leader who can by force of personality bring everyone under the tent and lead the nation as a whole, and I don’t know who or when that would be.
This line of thought brought back to my memory a person who I’ve long admired and respected, but that I haven’t really thought of very much in the past few years. It started when I was assigned to write a biographical research paper back in high school, and somehow I’d been led to use George Patton as my subject. Patton, to my eyes, seemed like a mythical figure…how could anyone like this have ever lived in this dimension of reality? The man’s life was so outrageous and filled with unorthodox thinking, that his very existance was an anachronism: he might have seemed more at home with the likes of Julius Caesar than the mid-20th century. But the man completely surprised me with his philosophy on life.
So I wrote the paper, got an “A” on it. When I moved on to college, I used the same subject for my English Composition paper, except I limited the scope to his role in the Allied invasions of World War II. It was here that I really delved into the material surrounding the man Patton, and I realized just how brilliant he was. I went on in 1998 to create my first web page, and one of the very first things placed there was a tribute to General Patton. Amazingly, I was emailed by a member of the Patton family, expressing appreciation for the page. Of course, I lost it in a computer crash that occurred a few years later, but it still gives me a sense that I’d accomplished something. I’m going to include the old article on my articles listing soon after I publish this.
General Patton was a man of absolutes…nothing half-way or relative. Either something would work, or it wouldn’t…either it was right, or it was wrong…and he had no difficulty letting people know what he thought. This was entirely unpolitical of him, and it cost him dearly on several occasions, but, by my estimation, honesty and straightforwardness is a desireable quality of a leader. When he faced a particular order, like any good general he plotted out means and methods to obtain the goal. But what made him so fundamentally different from other commanders in that war was that he believed in what modern sportscasters would call “smash-mouth football”: he planned to do everything within his power to absolutely and utter destroy his opponent in the process.
In his day, and especially in our own, this was seen as careless, barbaric war-mongering…but to him, it meant getting the job done as quickly as possible. He put his adage of “an ounce of sweat saves a gallon of blood” to practice in his work, often pushing those under his command to the brink of human endurance in order to win. This made him unpopular among the brass, but he fully and totally believed in his men, and they fully and totally believed in him right back. The reason is that people want to work for a real leader. And Patton, who so frequently worked among his soldiers in the field and would often physically lead them on their way, was a real leader.
Across northern Africa, up the island of Sicily, and through western Europe, Patton established his mindset for all to see…”L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” was his mantra, and it is largely through his audacious work that the European theater of war closed as rapidly as it did.
What about today? Can we learn from this and apply such principles to our own time and our own problems? Of course we can, but we won’t. The war on terror is most easily used for an example. Patton believed in laying everything on the line in an all-out effort to succeed, which would mean many more troops, much more hands-on work, and none of this “we can’t hit the shrines”, “watch out for civilians”, “maintain the infrastructure” bunk. Patton was a disciple of W.T. Sherman, who famously said, “war is hell”…Patton took it a step further…”war is hell, and we’re going to make it so hot on the enemy that they’ll quit and never war again.” But no one wants to go that far, and because of that anything done will be in half-measures, if that much.
And that assumes Patton would have ever gone to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, since he’d have probably seen through the cloud of obfuscation thrown over the eyes of the west and realized that our enemy wasn’t entirely them to start with. In short, he might have advocated taking Tehran and Riyadi before anything else. Of course, on the domestic front, the political opposition would have wanted his head for that, just as much as he’d probably like to put a .357-sized hole in the back of their heads for treason. But the fact is, if you want to stop a fight, you go for the jugular.
I’m sure one could adapt his warring ways to many things in life, him being a modern day Sun Tzu…from business to foreign policy to running message boards. But the man is an American hero, and I wish God would send us a few more like him.