General George Patton was a lot of things. He was a warrior and a poet in the classical sense. He thought that he had lived many lives before and sometimes did not understand things such as weakness or fear. He was a man who had a purpose and it just so happened that the times he lived in were ripe for that purpose.
The quote of his above is from a speech that he gave at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, on June 7, 1945. It is ingrained in the wall of the Illinois WWII Memorial and at first glance it causes one to take pause and much like Patton himself you need to look at it fully to appreciate the merit of what he is saying.
He had used similar words before in 1943 while dedicating an Allied cemetery in Italy, “I consider it no sacrifice to die for my country. In my mind we came here to thank God that men like these have lived rather than to regret that they have died.” This quote, which came first, sheds light on the second and provides it with a little context.
Patton was a warrior in the classical sense. His job was war and he was good at it. To his detriment he did not always grasp some of the finer details of the job, some of the more human aspects. The slapping incidents are one example. (If you need background on that click here.) He expected every man under him to fight, that was their job, and when he found these men that were unable to mentally continue the fight he lashed out. it is not that he was a callous man, he was just a man who saw a job that needed done and stood for no obstacles in that path. His superiors recognized that in him and while such actions from almost any other general would have seen them dismissed, they need what Patton brought to the table.
Now back to the quote. it would be easy to read the first part and think that those were the words of a callous Patton, one who did not fully grasp the human cost of war. Perhaps he did not even see the men that he commanded but only pieces on a chess board. That is not the fact however. He did see the men and knew the cost, in his role though he had to be able to put it into context. No better quote by the man shows how he was able to do that. By thanking God that these men lived he is showing that their sacrifice, though great, was what was necessary to defeat their enemy. He elevates them in a way from men to legends, and such a thing from this man can not be taken lightly.
Yes, light on history but heavy on commentary. Just that kind of day…