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Who is General George S. Patton?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

General George S. Patton was an American military officer who is perhaps most well-known for his command of American forces in the European theater in the Second World War. In 1970, General Patton was played by George C. Scott in the Oscar-winning film Patton, immortalizing him in American history. He has also been profiled in numerous biographies and books about the Second World War.

Patton was born in California in 1885. In 1909, he graduated the United States Military Academy, going on to compete for the United States in the 1912 Olympics. He was given the command of the tank corps in the First World War, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in the First World War.

By the First World War, General George S. Patton's distinctive personality was already starting to manifest itself. He was known as a very serious man who insisted on impeccable conduct from the men in his command, and unlike many other military figures of the time, he did not take kindly to joking, and was a very awkward public speaker. By the Second World War, Patton's personality was outsized enough to spark conflict, and it ultimately led to a disciplinary demotion at the end of the war.

Recognizing that the bombastic General was critical to the success of the Second World War, President Eisenhower and other ranking military officials largely left his conduct unaddressed. General George S. Patton fearlessly led troops into North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, motivating the men in his command to perform at their peak, regardless of color and class. Soldiers in his command may have chafed under his severe discipline, but General George S. Patton was certainly responsible for many Allied victories in the war.

During the Second World War, General George S. Patton was involved in a number of controversial incidents, including cases of abuse of prisoners and the “slapping incident,” in which he struck a hospitalized soldier, calling him a “coward.” These incidents proved to be black marks on his military record, and after the Allied victory in Europe, he was not invited to transfer to the Pacific Theater, but instead transferred to a command in Germany. On 9 December 1945, Patton was involved in a catastrophic car accident in Germany, dying of his injuries 12 days later.

Patton's legacy is certainly distinctive. He was known for being flamboyant, and having a very colorful personality, paired with a short temper and a very demanding attitude to military service. Initially idolized in the wake of the Second World War, Patton was later recognized as a flawed man, although he was undoubtedly a superb military commander.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Pippinwhite — On Mar 26, 2014

In other words, he was a character. Many of the best military leaders throughout history have had colorful personalities -- it's probably what allowed them to do what they did.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was Patton's contemporary in the British armed forces during World War II, and "Monty" was certainly both a character and a brilliant general. So was U.S. Gen. Douglas McArthur. It's probably more common for the characters to be great military leaders than ordinary people. Doesn't mean they're great human beings -- they just have great military minds.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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