Killing Patton: A General’s Date with Death
December 19, 2014
IN 1989, THE NEW YORK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY adopted a new slogan, referring to themselves as “The company you keep.” It springs from Aesop’s Fables, which pre-date Biblical references (Proverbs 13:20) by over five hundred years.
Patton was there. He may have suggested it to Aesop himself.
If we are known by the company we keep, it could be said Patton was known by the major players who either wanted him dead or certainly would have benefitted by his demise. Four (Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and FDR) are pictured behind World War II’s most audacious general on the cover of Killing Patton, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s latest offering in their “Killing of” series.
Historians aren’t certain if Patton really believed in reincarnation of if he was just an obsessive student of military history. He claimed to have been a key player for Napoleon. He amazed his peers and subordinates with his familiarity of battlefields he had never visited before—in this life. Did his compulsive mind sometimes blur the present with an astounding knowledge of history?
There were others of course whose careers may have been assisted with Patton’s absence including British Field Marshall Montgomery, the American General Bradley, Germany’s Rommel, and numerous others, including William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the Medal of Honor winning head of the OSS. However, Eisenhower admitted that he needed Patton’s tactical genius and the audacious one’s ability to fight and win, so he tolerated otherwise unacceptable behavior. O’Reilly says, “The German army had long considered Patton to be the Allies’ greatest general, but the Battle of the Bulge, as it would become known, elevated him to legendary status throughout the world.”
With fame, came the conclusion that he must die.
Prior to D-Day, Patton’s exploits in North Africa and Sicily had won him the admiration of friend and foe alike, but his dash across Europe after the allied advance had stalled was legendary. Under his command, Third Army led the liberation of France, rescued Bastogne, crossed the Rhine, and would have freed all of Eastern Europe if Eisenhower had not halted Patton’s advance.
In the telling of events leading up to and including Patton’s death, readers learn the details of the deaths of several other historically significant characters, including FDR, Hitler, and Rommel. Killing Patton is filled with little known facts and recently made available information expected from thorough research.
The O’Reilly/Dugard writing duo has hit home runs with previous obituaries such as JFK and Jesus of Nazareth. Killing Patton sets an even higher standard. Crisp direct writing featuring an active, you-are-there, voice engages readers in captivating style. World War II aficionados, baby boomers, and readers who enjoy the “thriller” genre will all want Killing Patton in their libraries (Yes, it reads like a thriller.) So will those of us who believe in the conspiracy theory of history. Few other famous deaths, including that of Julius Ceasar, smack of conspiracy more than Patton’s story.
While the authors deny being conspiracy theorists, they make this statement in the Afterword: “But the death of General George S. Patton presents a disturbing picture if one fully accepts history’s contention that his demise was simply the result of an accident.” Proponents of the “random acts” theory of history suggest that we do just that, believe that life is complicated and events happen in a random uncontrollable manner.
A “Postscript” includes brief accounts of over two dozen characters mentioned in the book in a “the rest of the story” format. The appendix contains Patton’s famous speech in it’s original form, a bit different from the movie version. Finally, the authors give details of their research and offer suggested reading for those interested. No doubt, this reviewer will read Killing Patton again.
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