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June 3, 2010
Magnifisent Basterds (III)By Greyhawk
(Read this part in Grandpa Simpson voice.) It's another Mudville anniversary re-run, this from the 3rd a' June, way back in aught ten. (/Grandpa Simpson)
What would Patton do?
By early June last year it was tough for me to write about Afghanistan. So instead I put together this tale of the ultra high-tech, state-of-the-art (with aeroplanes, even) US Army operating against terrorists who'd attacked US soil. It's a story of combat in a foreign desert land with no roads, little water, and a people so savage and ignorant that the idea they could ever form a Republic was a joke. ("A despot is all they know.")
Sure - if you want to believe this story of young Lieutenant George Patton in Mexico is really about George Patton in Mexico that's your right.
I mean, read it and you'll also learn what General Pershing thought of the whole thing.
(Publishing history: just a couple weeks after this, Rolling Stone unleashed their Runaway General on the world.)
Friends, we'll return our attention to more recent news in good time, but our reading today comes from the Book of Patton, an early chapter, in which our young hero, though restricted by onerous rules of engagement, sets out to lead a spontaneous raid while serving as part of a military counterinsurgency effort in a foreign, desert land...
And it came to pass in those days that VILLA rode forth from MEXICO into these lands, and did burn and loot and pillage and kill.
Then scribes and pundits did rend their clothing so that a hue and cry was raised among the people throughout the nation, and there was much lamenting. WILSON looked upon these acts, and saw that it was not good, and was sorely vexed.
Then did WILSON summon unto him PERSHING the champion, and to him spake: "Now shalt thou take thine Army and set forth to seek retribution, and pursue this evil-doer even unto the ends of the earth. Thou shall not rest until thine mission be accomplished."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"And along with sufficient men and horses for thy task, unto thee I bequeath these many other great and wonderful things, heretofore never used in such an endeavor. Thou shalt have at thy disposal self-propelled vehicles that move without horses...
"...and wondrous aeroplanes to bear men aloft as an eagle, to see all things from afar and aid thee greatly in thy quest to seek mine enemy and smite him."
"Thank you sir. Truly the advantage is ours!"
"Verily. In thy quest to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat this base villainy there is nothing for which thou shalt lack. All that we have is at thy disposal, not least among these things the great and true support and thanks of all who treasure justice, freedom, and liberty. We are behind thee all the way. Hast thou any questions for me, or art thou ready even now to carry out this most important task?"
"No questions, sir!" And the scribes were dismissed, and then did PERSHING salute smartly, and prepared to take his leave.
"Oh," added WILSON, "I almost forgot. Here's a list of various restrictions and limitations and agreements governing your actions and behaviors that must not be violated at any time. Really, old boy, it's a delicate situation, and we aren't interested in appearing to be anything other than a progressive and peaceful, isolationist peoples with no interest in entanglements beyond our borders - and what with all this war going on in Europe that we're staying out of (except for reasonable material support to our British cousins) and the Germans getting involved in Mexico... well, it's delicate, as I'm sure you understand and appreciate. Thanks for taking it on, you have my utmost confidence, and really, let me know if there's anything at all you need."
Amidst the knowing nods of the congregation I see some nodding off... so let's skip forward a few verses...
And it came to pass that the mighty host went forth unto MEXICO, and after much wandering in the desert knew hunger. Then did PERSHING call forth PATTON, and he said unto him: "Lieutenant, take these men and those cars and drive into town and get us some food."
Now there was in those days a man CARDENAS, who was under VILLA a mighty leader, a High Value Target, men would call him today. His home was near that place where PATTON sought food, but each time before when they had launched a no-knock raid in hopes of nailing that sumbitch it had come to naught.
The story as told by Patton:
"So schooled was I not to shoot..." - as Patton biographer Martin Blumenson explained the comment(3), "Pershing's orders prohibited Americans from firing against Mexicans until their hostile intentions were certain." But "Pershing's orders" were based less on tactical expediency than political reality. The situation in Mexico, where civil war and revolution had brought Venustiano Carranza to the presidency, was volatile. In Mexico Villa was viewed as an insurgent (one who employed brutal tactics, including rape and murder) by many (including the Caranza government), but to others (in part due to his own extensive and favorable press coverage) he was seen as a modern-day Robin Hood. Still, official Mexican government support - or acquiescence - to the American expedition was reluctant and fragile. Individual or group loyalty to competing leaders and their causes in Mexico were subject to rapid change, and for the most part armed supporters of various factions did not wear distinguishing uniforms. Obviously making that distinction would be even more difficult for American soldiers - viewed by many on all sides as the enemy (if not outright despised) regardless of alliances or other temporarily expedient considerations. A bit of the cautious thinking behind Patton's decision is revealed in his own explanation (or the obvious fact that he felt the need to explain in the first place) for not taking a "shoot first" approach to the confrontation: "I thought they might be Caranza men." Lt Patton's concern is one shared by American soldiers through history, and his politically critical point would not be overlooked in the subsequent coverage of the action in the American media.
But Patton's thoughts on Wilson, the president who had ordered and restricted Pershing's mission, would most certainly not appear in the newspapers. They are revealed in numerous letters home to his family at the time. Compounding the many political difficulties regarding the expedition, it was conducted during a U.S. election year. Among the candidates for office, President Wilson was seeking re-election. Also on the Democratic ticket in California was Senate candidate George Smith Patton, Sr, father of young Lt. George. While many of Patton's private observations of the president appear brutally frank and candid - the sort that would end the career of a young officer (or his father the same-party candidate) were they stated publicly (ranging from "Wilson ought to take iron or something to stiffen his back..." to "I would like to go to hell so that I might be able to shovel a few extra coals on that unspeakable ass...") this complaint from a later note sent from Mexico to his wife Beatrice likely reflected its writer's sense of humor: "I wish Pa was out of politics so I could say what I think about Wilson." (1)
Pershing, too, would keep his opinions out of the public fora, but confide in his (also politically-connected) family:
"When the true history of the Expedition, especially the diplomatic side of it, is written," he wrote to his father-in-law, Senator Warren, "it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turn back at the very first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover like a whipped cur with his tail between his legs." (4)
The expedition would actually consume most of a long year, during which many hard lessons were learned, even as - for a mostly reluctant America - a war in Europe loomed.
But while Patton's actions, like those of soldiers today, were restricted by guidance from on high, his decision to have only five rounds loaded in his six-shooter was a safety measure of his own.
Returning to the action:
...Still uncertain how many Villistas were present, Patton "thought there were some men in the patio and as the flat roof had a parapet I was afraid they would climb up there and shoot us. I hated to climb up but hated worse not to, so took two men and told two others to watch the roof." Two soldiers propped a dead tree against the wall while Patton climbed onto the dirt roof of the hacienda. Suddenly it gave way under his feet, plunging him through up to his armpits. He might have been cut in half if there had been anyone inside the house with a saber, and with considerable urgency he quickly managed to pull himself back atop the roof. (3)
"All this time," Patton wrote, "there had been four men out in front skinning a cow. They never looked at us at all."
The New York Times report does not include the bit about Patton falling through the roof - but does emphasize the soldiers' efforts to observe the rules of engagement, withhold fire and protect the innocent... "As yet the ranch house had not been searched," wrote correspondent Frank Elser. "How many Villistas were there Lieutenant Patton did not know..."
He got a long ladder and with four enlisted men scaled the flat 'dobe roof. No one was there. But from that vantage point he saw a strange and curious sight. The four Mexicans who were skinning a beef when the Army cars first came up were still engaged in that occupation. With rare cool-headedness they had reasoned that if they kept busy with heads bent they would not be shot at. And so they had worked on during all the shooting. If any of them had broken and run he would have been killed. That none of them was shot at by the enlisted men speaks well for the discipline maintained by the expedition.
Such support for the troops is admirable, but while emphasis on (and praise for) their courageous restraint is welcome it's difficult to imagine the rest of the story reported without criticism in the New York Times today.
"Mr Elser New York Times wrote a good article about me," Patton wrote his wife. "He thinks that it is published today." Numerous reporters accompanied the expedition, and Patton's exploit, early in the mission, gave them a welcome opportunity to provide readers - already losing interest just weeks into the larger effort - a glimpse of something other than the utter boredom of camp life.
He hadn't revealed the nature of the forthcoming report to Bea, but to his father he wrote "I have at last succeeded in getting into a fight..." a proud note to which he appended this advice: "Run for the Senate."
Patton's raid would be one of the few such "good" news stories from the expedition. But while historians still debate the "success" of the mission (here's a recent example ) the outcome of the American elections was clear: though Wilson prevailed in California (and the nation as a whole), his party's candidate for senate there, even though bolstered on the campaign trail by appearances with his heroic son at his side, was defeated.
But on that earlier day Lt Patton was triumphant, though his letter to his Aunt Nannie revealed his reception on returning to camp from his routine supply run with an enemy corpse strapped to the hood of each car: "People have been teasing me about not using the saber on them," he wrote - a bit of good-natured ribbing explained here.
1. Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, Vol 1
2. Martin Blumenson, Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945
3. Carlo D'Este, Patton: A Genius for War
4. Stanley Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier's Life
Posted by Greyhawk / June 3, 2010 12:27 PM | Permalink
Over at Mudville, there is a story about dirty little war and one George Patton...it's worth your time to read. Read More
Hugh Hewitt is right:Reasonable people can conclude, and many have, that the comments in the article are just not at the level where a dismissal is warranted. Everyone can read them, and no one can point to any line uttered by the general that challeng... Read More
"When the skirmish was over, I retrieved my hat, and found it had a bullet hole through the crown a half inch from the top of my head. It was one time in my life I was glad I wasn't a full five feet six inches tall." - Benjamin Foulois, from his memoir... Read More
(Part one - raising the question "what would Patton do?" - is here.) In that 1913 issue of Cavalry Journal quoted above, Patton was advocating adoption of a new saber, a better fit for what he believed to be a more effective style of combat, and to tha... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com