Reviewed by Richard Raymond III
RICHARD RAYMOND III is a former Marine who also served as historian for the 116th Infantry, Virginia Army National Guard.
It seems to be a favorite exercise of modern historians to select a notable figure, burrow through tons of research material and finally emerge with a book that attempts to say something about the personage that few, if any others, have not already expounded in detail.
Michael Keane has many books in print, noting, among other accomplishments, that he has earned a doctorate in law, and as a reporter was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division during the recent Second Gulf War in Iraq.
Impressive, but there is nothing in his resume to indicate that he has ever served in the armed forces. Yet such service is not truly essential, even for a military historian. The late John Keegan, dean of the British school of authors on war, would almost casually confess his lack of fighting credentials.
So it was with more than fleeting interest that this reviewer pored over Keane’s modest volume, which deals with three aspects of the character and works of one of the most famous — and notorious — of all American combat commanders: George Smith Patton Jr.
The “Blood” of the title considers his antecedents, a line of soldiers reaching back to the American Revolution, and a tradition of service that, even as a boy, he strove earnestly to follow.
The “Guts” examines his study for and practice in the profession of arms, with a passion and dedication that even among West Pointers must be exceedingly rare. Patton repeatedly tested his own courage by daring the hazards of enemy fire, as much to inspire himself as to hearten his men.
And at last the “Prayer,” which in a man so complex and contradictory is seldom noted as a deeply ingrained element of his character. From his youth he studied the Bible, was a regular attendee at church (Episcopal), and at every critical juncture was on his knees seeking guidance from above.
With good reason, the Germans feared his attack more than that of any other Allied general and remarked wonderingly that “only the Americans would punish their finest commander for the trivial offense of striking a soldier.” The tale of his ordering of a prayer for good fighting weather, from the Third Army chaplain, is recounted in three separate versions.
Keane puts his discerning finger on the pink of Patton’s character: “[His] life and achievements combined a genius for war, a deep spiritual faith, and a belief in his own destiny. He was no saint, and his strong personality sometimes emphasized his character flaws.
“But when his country confronted its greatest peril from unspeakable evil, George S. Patton Jr. embodied the strength of character, force of will, and faith in God required to vanquish it.”
All true, and this stalwart soldier, whose bones lie with those of his men in the American cemetery in Luxembourg, has left a legacy of victory well deserving such a heartfelt tribute.