Still Unknown

The Unknown Patton By Charles M. Province Hippocrene Books, 250 pp.: $20.00

GENERAL George S. Patton Jr.'s legendary profanity, his flashiness in an era of drab sameness, and his ability to win battles enthralled his own generation and continues to tantalize our own. His career is usually remembered with the reflection that he slapped two shellshocked soldiers in Sicily in the summer of 1943, but the controversy surrounding the incident can scarcely account for the enduring, almost mythic, interest in Patton. A daunting number of authors have attempted to analyze the Patton mystique and have succeeded only in chronicling their own bewilderment with the complex character of George S. Patton Jr.

Most of Patton's biographers come to the task with one set point of view or another, and Charles M. Province, author of The Unknown Patton is no exception. The President of the George Smith Patton, Jr., Historical Society, he is a self-appointed apologist for his subject. He notes in his introduction that "although there are no notes, exhaustive research was undertaken for this book," and while this is apparently so, it is manifested in a particularly disappointing manner. Province sculpts his book from a mass of quotations linked by his own commentary, rarely stopping to place the reader in context. One can scarcely refer to Province's resources, as there is neither index nor footnotes. The reader is left with an often compelling version of the Patton story, as told by the author, without the chance to question his point of view.

While Province may regard himself as a Patton scholar, his book is marred by various biographical inaccuracies (or at the very least, editorial bungling) which leads one to question the qualifications he brings to his task. For example, Province has the following to say about Patton's proposal to his wife-to be, Beatric Ayer:

He galloped his steed up the front steps onto the porch (of a house which Miss Ayer was visiting at the time), jumped off, bowed deeply with a sweep of his hat, and at Beatrice's feet asked her hand in marriage.

On January 3, 1909, George Patton wrote to Frederick Ayer, recalling the circumstances of his proposal:

I could not have done it here at West Point in June as she would be my guest. I did not do it at the Farm while walking or driving as it would have been taking advantage of the privilege of being with her. I therefore told her at your house in Boston which was as near neutral ground as I could get.

(The Patton Papers (1). p. 157)

Far from proposing in the poetic and impromptu manner ascribed to have by Province, Patton carefully thought out the place and circumstances for his proposal. The actual circumstances of Patton's marriage proposal are available to the general public, and indeed. Province claims to have consulted The Patton Papers by Martin Blumenson; one would expect a telling of the tale to be closer to Patton's own description than it is, or at least to make a gesture at cleaning up the inconsistency.

The book is divided into two parts, the first written by Province, the second compiled by him. In the first half, the author discusses the more famous incidents in Patton's career, reconstructing, for example, the speech Patton gave on the eve of D-Day, and giving the background to "The Slapping Incidents." One regrets the absence of footnotes or dates, which turns the fascinating quotes given in the book into the very questions the book is supposed to resolve. The lack of scholarly notation is especially felt in the chapter called "The Philosophy," which consists entirely of quotes culled from Patton's books, articles, letters, and speeches. The author fears that the intrusion of dates or some other indication of context will break the flow of the narrative, but his answer to the problem backfires, leaving the reader clueless as to how to interpret the mass of information given. Patton's collected work may well be a compelling document, but it cannot stand by itself as a "philosophy", in the absence of other data.

THE LAST SECTION of the book (running for nearly 150 pages) combines all the problems of what has gone before. It consists of Patton's quotations, his general orders, and some of his poems--selected without apparent logic. Province presents Patton's quotations by subject, devoting six pages to General Dwight D. Eisenhower (whom he casts as Patton's nemesis) and several pages to Patton's maxims, and to "Miscellaneous." Charles M. Province is a student of quotations, it would seem, but he chooses them uncritically. The book suffers first by the subordination of notation to quotation, and further, from the disproportionate length of the second half, which overshadows the first section.

The Unknown Patton is not even intellectually seminal. The flaws of its structure, and the lopsidedness of its construction, might be in some way excused by an exciting new interpretation of Patton's persona. What emerges is instead a tired rehashing of the Patton story, written with an uncritical eye in an unfortunate literary style. Despite the title, one gains from The Unknown Patton no new understanding of this dashing, irritating but always effervescent man. Most or all of the material presented has been seen before, and Province's running commentary lacks the intellectual backing for any kind of credibility. Province is clearly fascinated by Patton; would that he could communicate why.