Copyright John T. Reed 2015
I finally broke down and bought one of O’Reilly’s Killing books. The reason was so many superlative comments by his readers—as selected by Bill, plus his record-setting rank and time on the best-seller lists.
So I bought Killing Patton at Costco for $17.49.
My salient conclusion is it’s really good to host the highest-rated cable news show if you want to sell books.
I write, publish, and sell books, too. I wrote a book about how to do it.
My fellow member of the Long Gray Line
Patton and I graduated from the same college: West Point. I entered at age 17 in 1964 and graduated in 1968. Patton initially did not get into West Point so he went to Virginia Military Institute, his career military father’s alma mater. While there, he kept trying to get into West Point. Cadets who had tried to get into West Point for a number of years and who attended other colleges in the interim were fairly common at West Point. He was at VMI for freshman year only.
He flunked plebe year math at West Point and had to repeat it. When I was a cadet, flunking anything including physical education meant you were gone. He graduated in the middle of the class of 1909. For some perspective on his peers, Douglas MacArthur graduated in 1903, Eisenhower and Bradley in 1915.
More military knowledge than most laymen
I had more interest in the military than the average layman starting when I was a kid. At West Point, we did study military history, but far less than you would expect—just one course for two semesters senior year. I have a forthcoming novel about a guy who is a clone of me becoming commander in chief by accident. That book has lots of military stuff in it.
Patton was part of that course at West Point although the course covered over 2,000 years of military history. There is a statue of Patton at West Point. I probably walked past it an average of two or three times a day during my four academic years as a cadet. We may have only had an hour or two of instruction about Patton’s Third Army. We cadets probably also talked about Patton more than any other famous grad, although West Point grads were probably about 10th on our list of favorite BS session topics.
My father was in the 79th Infantry Division which was part of Patton’s Third Army off and on from a few months before D-Day until the end of World War II.
I have read a number of books on Patton including his autobiography. I saw the George C. Scott movie two or three times. I have seen several documentaries about Patton on cable TV. Liza Minelli, Judy Garland’s daughter, was once asked to sing Over the Rainbow. She refused explaining, “It’s been sung,” a standard Hollywood line meaning the original was so great no artist in their right mind would try to match it.
Movies have been made of each of O’Reilly’s prior Killing books. But if he’s asked if he’s going to make a movie about Patton, O’Reilly should say, “It’s been made.” The one in which George C. Scott won the Academy Award for best actor.
O’Reilly won’t say that though. He’s too full of himself. He’ll make a movie and it will compare terribly with the Scott version.
I learned very little that I did not already know from O’Reilly’s book.
I would characterize the book as ordinary and poorly organized and, in spite of O’Reilly’s pronouncements to the contrary, a little bit poorly researched. It also is all aimed at selling you a not-persuasive-to-me conspiracy theory about how the car accident that killed Patton was really a murder conspiracy with the Soviets and a founder of the CIA. Indeed, as conspiracy theories go, O’Reilly’s is uniquely lame. If you want to learn about Patton, almost any other book on the subject would be better.
Jumps around time wise and geographically
Generally, the Killing books should be chronological. Sometimes chronological order is not the best way to tell the story. But in the vast majority of cases, I think it is. I am not persuaded that Killing Patton was an exception to that rule. Also the final chapters all seem to start with the sentence, Patton has X days to live. That absolutely does not work. We know the guy died from the title of the book, but it’s still spoiler alert type writing to begin those chapters with that line.
The first chapter is about December 21, 1945, the day he died. The next chapter is October 3, 1944, then October 22, then another venue same day, then back to October 14 but in Russia. It also jumps around geographically with some chapters being about where Patton is at the time, but others being where various world leaders or obscure characters are.
Amazingly, relatively little of the book is about Patton. There is a detailed discussion of a battle Patton ordered but was not present for. There is a detailed discussion of a night at the ballet in Moscow during the war. He also makes much of characters most people have never heard of like Wild Bill Donovan, the founder of the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. A more accurate title might have been Patton and his World War II peers—with the suggestion of a conspiracy to murder Patton in the subtitle.
Dubious conspiracy theory
Officially, he died as a result of a car accident. So the very title of the book is arguably inaccurate. No one killed Patton. Unless you count the drunk driver of a stolen Army truck.
O’Reilly has an elaborate conspiracy theory and says Patton was murdered. I was not persuaded one way or the other.
I see no believable motive for one. I think too much of the conspiracy depended on too many other things that conspirators could not have foreseen. He was fatally injured in a car accident on a little side trip he took on the spur of the moment. Also, intervening events like doctors being off duty and which hospital he went to and so on would be hard to align with the conspiracy.
The accident happened the day before he was to go home—cutting it a bit close for a murder conspiracy. Plus Patton cites what appears to a vet like me to be a normal, mistaken-identity, friendly-fire incident in an airplane as evidence of a murder conspiracy, even thought it happened some time before the death. That’s just evidence of O’Reilly’s ignorance of combat. Yeah, I know, he was a war correspondent in El Salvador. Not the best perspective on friendly-fire incidents which are generally kept away from the press.
I found some errors, apparently resulting from neither O’Reilly nor his co-author Duggard having been in the military and therefore still missing things in spite of considerable diligence.
He says Hitler was a military strategist during World War II in spite of having “no formal training in field tactics.” Hitler was a soldier in World War I and won the Iron Cross which I believe is Germany’s equivalent of the American Medal of Honor. “Field tactics” refers to small unit maneuvers, use of artillery, and small arms skills. It is almost certain Hitler had formal training in field tactics. This was the German Army, not the Taliban.
On page 74, O’Reilly says Patton was “the first American officer to accurately predict the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor [on December 7th, 1941] four years later.”
That is absolutely false. That title goes to General Billy Mitchell—the Father of the United States Air Force. Wikipedia says,
In 1924, Gen. Patrick again dispatched [Mitchell] on an inspection tour, this time to Hawaii and Asia…. Mitchell came back with a 324-page report that predicted future war with Japan, including the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Mitchell even predicted the day of the week—Sunday—and the time of day—7:30 AM.
Lots of famous generals getting fired
Here are some interesting facts that O’Reilly did not mention either. For being so outspoken about the importance of air power and flying safety, General Billy Mitchell, a non West Pointer, was court martialed and forced to resign. The president of the Court Martial board was General Douglas MacArthur.
Later, MacArthur and Patton were both fired from their final combat commands for similar outspokenness as what forced Mitchell out of the Army Air Corps. There are statutes of MacArthur and Patton at West Point. The Air Force Academy Mess Hall is named after Mitchell, as was the B-25 bomber.
Disguised as peasants behind enemy lines?
On the next page, O’Reilly says something that struck me as not feasible.
[Intelligence Col. Oscar] Koch also arranges for German-speaking American soldiers to exchange their uniforms for peasant clothing at night and travel behind enemy lines, mingling in bars and restaurants to collect information about Wehrmacht [German Army] troop movements.
Sounds like Hollywood bullshit to me.
1. German-speaking does not mean you speak the local accent and use the unique local words and phrases. Also, if they only learned German at home in the U.S., it is not likely to be as comprehensive and nuanced as locals speak.
2. Exchanging uniforms for peasant clothing violates the Geneva convention and would not draw many volunteers I expect. If you get caught, they can shoot you on the spot.
3. During December, 1944, when this happened, healthy, young German males were all in the military. Hell, by then not so healthy old men and teenage boys had also been drafted into the military. A couple of well-fed, young 20s Americans would have stood out like sore thumbs, especially if they were asking about troop movements.
4. If the towns were small, they would have been immediately spotted as strangers no matter their dress or language skills.
5. I know how you mingle in bars. I was a singles bar bartender on the Jersey Shore in the summer of 1968. But how do you mingle in restaurants which are not much different now than then. Add that Germans are far more formal and standoffish than Americans and less easy to chat up
6. Plus, was there really that much night life in the Ruhr Valley five or ten miles from the on-rushing Patton’s Third Army American troops and the front lines?
Military grand strategy
On page 203, O’Reilly says, “On a tactical level, it is clear that Eisenhower’s broad front-front strategy is the best possible method of attacking Germany.”
There’s that word “tactical” again, yet the rest of the sentence is about strategic decisions.
And which one of these authors is expert military strategist enough to pontificate about whether Eisenhower did the right thing strategically?
I do not like the broad front. I think, as Patton seemed to think, that it was just American General Eisenhower, Allied Supreme Commander, trying to placate squeaky-wheel British General Montgomery and to please his British driver/mistress. I think the best strategy was probably to turn the whole front loose then send the resources to the unit that was making the most progress—Patton’s Third Army.
Strategy has to do with things like ports, roads, bridges, fields, and mountains. That would rule out going through the Alps in Southern France and Southern Germany.
But north of the Alps was pretty undifferentiated. The ports were in the north, but so were a zillion causeways which destroyed Operation Market Garden (A Bridge Too Far). So he should have just turned Montgomery loose in the north—Netherlands and Belgium—and Patton in the South—Alsace Lorraine. May the best man win, and get the gasoline to keep going. The facts that Patton captured some bridges unexpectedly and threw pontoon bridges over the Rhine—tactical successes—were more important than any strategy dreamed up in advance based on geographic analysis.
Sworn an oath?
On page 238, O’Reilly says,
Patton has sworn a professional oath of honor that does not allow lying, cheating, or tolerating those who do.
That is a garbled restatement of the U.S. Air Force Academy honor code. West Point adopted that version after I graduated. When I was there, the West Point honor code was,
A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal.
The toleration aspect was implicit. It was not an oath. It was a rule.
Here is the oath we took on our first day at West Point, July 1, 1964. Patton probably took the same oath or a very similar one 60 years before.
I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and bear true allegiance to the National Government; that I will maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any State, county, or country whatsoever; and that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers, and the rules and articles governing the Armies of the United States.
The current cadet oath is different. The oath we took upon graduating from West Point was a bit different, but not much. We took no other oath between our first day at West Point and our last.
But as you can see, there is no mention of cheating or lying or tolerating. Cheating, when you think about it, is a student issue.
No formal Honor Code when Patton was a cadet
The Cadet Honor Code was first formalized by West Point Superintendent General Douglas MacArthur during the 1919-22 period. Patton had graduated 10 years before MacArthur was superintendent. So whatever honor training Patton had as a cadet was before the formal Honor Code that O’Reilly is quoting as an oath Patton took.
Also, although the Honor Code was real at West Point when I was there, It has since been watered down there and as far as the Army officer corps is concerned: Ha! Read my web article “Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?”
Murder by reassignment
On page 240, O’Reilly says,
When…Patton learned that his [niece and mistress] Jean Gordon was also having an affair with a young officer serving in a safe headquarters position, the general, as competitive as ever, ordered the young man transferred to front line combat.
Reflect on that a moment. Patton, who is a world-famous general at the time and who is married to Beatrice who is back in the States, is having an affair with his niece in Europe and when he learns she has another lover, takes action not only to remove him from access to the niece, but sends him where he will have a much greater likelihood of getting killed.
That may not be murder technically, but it sure is close to it.
Combat zones can be dangerous to your health, and that’s without even taking into account enemy action against you
In May 2014, I was on an Amtrak train from DC to Philly enroute to my 50th high school reunion. I was talking with a similar age man who was a Rutgers University professor. A younger woman we met on the train was also in the conversation. Something led to my mentioning that my battalion commander in Vietnam seemed to be trying to get me killed. The prof burst out laughing theatrically and winking at the young lady as if to say, “Can you believe the absurd thing he just said?”
Uh, okay probable draft-dodger-war-protester, here’s the deal. When I refused to kiss the battalion commander’s (non-West Pointer) ass at my first Vietnam unit in my first meeting with him, he sent me back to the replacement depot. There, the full colonel who had sent me to the battalion—a West Point grad—chewed me out and said things might not go so well for me, I might not be in such a desirable base as Plantation Post (where we were—near the biggest U.S. base in Vietnam Long Binh) if I did not start “playing the game.”
In my next unit, the other lieutenants said I’d better start playing the game. They said they were concerned for my “safety,” and that they were afraid I might get transferred to a more dangerous more front-line unit. They apparently were put up to telling me that by the brass who needed deniability about such motives.
I later refused to sign a false motor vehicle report—which constitutes failure to play the game, and was promptly transferred to a more dangerous, front line unit —artillery instead of corps signal battalion.
Fire Base Wade
We had three batteries there, two in more or less sleepy areas, and one at Fire base Wade, five kilometers from the Cambodian border in the Fish Hook area. That was early spring 1970 when that area was “Indian Country” close to the Cambodian sanctuary of the North Vietnamese.
The battalion commander then made my platoon sergeant and I ride 60 miles to Fire Base Wade in a lone jeep again and again. Never to the sleepy-area bases. None of my platoon members were there. There were all back at bn HQ at Phu Loi.
On one trip, we drove through a North Vietnamese ambush. They apparently did not ambush us because a sergeant and a lieutenant were not a sufficiently lucrative target. My sergeant freaked out when he figured out the colonel seemed to be trying to get me killed or captured and couldn’t care less if the sergeant, who was career and had carefully avoided pissing off anyone, got killed or captured, too.
When we got back to bn HQ, my sergeant invoked “sole surviving son” and was immediately medevacked out of the country. That status was made famous by the movie Saving Private Ryan.
My replacement sergeant came from Corps HQ. My bn commander dared not cause that sergeant to complain about mindless jeep trips 60 miles through Indian Country, so the new drill was to take me out in the colonel’s chopper, then refuse to bring me back.
None of the men in my platoon were stationed there so I had no reason to go there. I was a sort of combat tourist as a result. Each trip, it would take me three days to hitch hike back down the same Route 13 where the ambush had been and I did it over and over for the rest of my time there. (Route 13 is the same road Robin Williams’ character was almost ambushed on in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. I told the real Good Morning Vietnam guy—Adrian Kronauer—about my same experince is his on Route 13—commander trying to get me killed—and he said that was the only scene in the film that was not real. He said he was quite interested to hear that I had actually experienced it on that same road.)
So perhaps if the Rutgers prof reads Killing Patton—not likely—or Good Morning Vietnam, he can reconsider laughing at the ridiculousness of Patton sending a young subordinate to the front lines to punish him.
Murder by fragging, or by putting someone on point, or by literally shooting him during a firefight (either never found out or excused with a mere “oops”) and many other ways is surprisingly common in units in combat areas.
One of my West Point classmates was fragged to death. A West Point captain in my Plantation Post unit was fragged unsuccessfully by his men.
What Patton did to that rival for his mistress is outrageous and criminal but not that unusual. And if some teenage boy whose dream is to become a “warrior” just read that, or read the Patton book, sorry to burst your Hollywood bubble about the military, although you’re welcome for saving your life if this article changes your mind about joining up.
For a lot more of that nature, see my blog on the military.