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Runaway Redux: Patton 2.0

June 28, 2010

Carloine Mimbs Nyce
Runaway Redux: Patton 2.0

Last week, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article by Michael Hastings entitled “The Runaway General,” a provocative portrait of four-star General Stanley McChrystal.  The article is a compelling narrative filled with vulgarities, booze, and down-right arrogance, reading more like the plot summary of Hollywood's next big action movie than a critical analysis of the man in charge of the Afghanistan war effort.   Ultimately, the administration responded harshly and the General was dismissed from his role as top commander of American forces in Afghanistan.

This, however, is not the first time an American President has had to deal with a sharp-tongued rebel as a military commander.  General McChrystal seems to be the 21st century reincarnation of the man who was arguably World War II’s most famous and tactically brilliant general – General George S. Patton.  Patton, like McChrystal, possessed an infamously brash attitude and a penchant for vulgar language.

Patton was also a public relations nightmare for his administration.  During supply shortages in WWII, he was quoted as saying, "Men can eat their belts, but my tanks gotta have gas."  In 1943, following an aggressive and very successful campaign to capture Sicily, Patton lost his notoriously red-hot temper with two of his soldiers.  The General dismissed the soldiers' complaints of "battle fatigue," considering them cowardly.  During his notorious tirade, General Patton slapped both soldiers across the face. When the story was published on the home front, Americans were outraged.  President Eisenhower pressured General Patton to release a public apology, and then assigned Patton to serve in occupied Sicily.  In other words, Eisenhower temporarily sidelined Patton until he could learn to stay put and shut up.  Eventually, Patton returned to a prominent role in the U.S.'s war efforts, leading an important mission on D-Day.

Unfortunately, President Obama was not nearly as lenient on General McChrystal.  After the release of the article, the General was immediately summoned from Afghanistan to the White House for a meeting with the President.  That meeting lasted a mere twenty minutes.  Just a few hours later, around 1pm on June 23rd,  President Obama announced that General McChrystal had been relieved from his role as the top commander in Afghanistan and that General Petraeus would be taking over his command.

The 1970 film Patton provides an intimate look at the brash general.   The movie was a huge critical success, winning six Oscars that year.   The film is so well made that it continues to appeal to audiences today.  (In fact, if you have yet to have seen this film, I order you to go watch it immediately or else I might have to slap you, Patton-style.)   This scene provides a particularly poignant look at the General's personality.

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