Maxims of General Patton, The


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Much like Patton, this was not a reckless gamble, but rather and acknowledgement that positive action required an acceptance of certain necessary and calculated risks. Lesson 5 Appreciate the intensely political nature of counterinsurgency and peacekeeping missions. Despite these successes, Patton failed to properly manage the political situation as Military Proconsul to Bavaria. Through a series of decisions which included a refusal to punish low-level Nazi Party members, unwise political appointments to the new local government, ill-considered statements at press conferences, and an inability to communicate his vision for rebuilding Germany, Patton lost control of the political narrative and was unable to recover his political legitimacy.

Patton failed to maintain necessary political support because he focused too much on local conditions and ignored the border political context. Lacking specific guidance, Patton focused his attention on revitalizing Germany so that it could act as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

To this end, he concentrated on ends of revitalizing the German industrial base and civilian infrastructure and was often insensitive to the means he employed to achieve them. While Patton was doing a superior job in providing for the needs of the German inhabitants under his control, he seemed to miss the fact that denazification was an essential element of this mission and was a political third rail for the victorious Allies.

Despite his reputation and success, the very appearance of a pro-Nazi policy was unacceptable. For a figure as calculating and as jealous of his public image as Patton, this miscalculation was unfortunate because it effectively ended his career and interrupted some of the progress he was making rebuilding Germany. What is clear is that success in these missions demands sustained political support from both the American people and the host population and that losing either one is potentially fatal.

Indeed, despite the image of Patton as an unyielding force of nature, his true genius was his ability to step beyond this carefully crafted persona and to grasp the critical elements of the particular strategic situation. He grew up in the Far West and was educated in the East. And he eventually settled in New England.

New York: Harper Collins, While performing drill with his men Patton was twice thrown from his horse and sustained a significant blow to his legs as well as a gruesome cut above his eyebrow. Alan Axelrod, Patton: A Biography. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, New York: Basic Books, Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, For an alternative thesis that argues that the Indian Wars were the formative experience for the American military, see: Russell F.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, This is problematic on a number of levels. First, despite the grievances, petitions to the government, and occasional violence it is difficult to classify the Bonus Marchers as insurgents. Second, the active operations against the Bonus Marchers were very brief in their duration, lasting less than one full day. Finally, the actions against the Bonus Marchers are difficult to classify as an officially sanctioned military action. While the eviction of the Bonus Marchers remains a particularly bitter and contentious chapter in American history, it is not included in this study.

New York: E. Dutton, For an intriguing argument which claims that unconventional warfare has always been the dominant form of warfare, see: Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present. New York: W. Norton, New York: Little Brown, New York: Henry Holt and Co. War as I Knew It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, , p.

New York: William Morrow and Company, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, , pp.

OUR WARRIOR PHILOSOPHY

In certain ways, this was actually a good fit for Patton who loved military history and believed that lessons could be learned from its study. The willingness of the Germans to help the Americans and British was primarily motivated by a visceral fear of the Soviet Union. New York: Viking, For a theoretical study about the role of external threats in promoting successful military occupations, see: David M.

Ithaca: Cornell University Press, New York: McGraw Hill, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Through the Eyes of His Enemies. Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, The Patton Papers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, New York: Free Press, Harris Eds. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, New York: Penguin Press, New York: Simon and Schuster, Alternatively, for a discussion of extreme risk aversion and the failure of military leaders to accept risks during a different limited conflict, see: H.

He bought multiple translations of this work but like many readers of the work found its dialectic style difficult.

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Roger H. See generally: Carl Von Clausewitz.

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On War. Michel Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Oxford: Oxford University Press, A general, therefore, should not allow himself to be confirmed in his conjectures as to the enemy's position, by attaching any weight to the statements of prisoners, except when they coincide with the reports of the advance guards.

Nothing is more important in war than unity in command. When, therefore, you are carrying on hostilities against a single power only, you should have but one army acting on one line and led by one commander. The effect of discussions, making a show of talent, and calling councils of war will be what the effect of these things has been in every age: they will end in the adoption of the most pusillanimous or if the expression be preferred the most prudent measures, which in war are almost uniformly the worst that can be adopted.

True wisdom, so far as a general is concerned, consists in energetic determination. There are certain things in war of which the commander alone comprehends the importance. Nothing but his superior firmness and ability can subdue and surmount all difficulties. To authorize generals and officers to lay down their arms by virtue of a special capitulation under any other circumstances than when they constitute the garrison of a fortified place, would unquestionably be attended with dangerous consequences. To open this door to cowards, to men wanting in energy or even to misguided brave men, is to destroy the military spirit of a nation.

An extraordinary situation requires extraordinary resolution. The more obstinate the resistance of an armed body, the more chances it will have of being succored or of forcing a passage.


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How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death! No sovereign, no people, no general can be secure, if officers are permitted to capitulate on the field and lay down their arms by virtue of an agreement favorable to them selves and to the troops under their command, but opposed to the interests of the remainder of the army. To withdraw from peril themselves, and thus render the position of their comrades more dangerous, is manifestly an act of baseness. Such conduct ought to be proscribed, pronounced infamous and punishable with death.

The generals, officers and soldiers who in a battle have saved their lives by capitulating, ought to be decimated. He and who those who obey him, are alike traitors, and deserve capital punishment. There is but one honorable way of being made a prisoner of war; that is by being taken separately and when you can no longer make use of your arms.

The conduct of a general in a conquered country is encompassed with difficulties. If he is severe, he exasperates and increases the number of his enemies; if he is mild, he inspires hopes which, since they cannot be realized, cause the abuses and vexations unavoidably incident to war only to stand out in bolder relief.

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A conqueror should know how to employ by turns severity, justice and leniency suppressing or preventing disturbances. Nothing can excuse a general who avails himself of the knowledge he has acquired in the service of his country to give up its bulwarks to a foreign nation. That is a crime abhorrent to the principles of religion, morality and honor. A general-in-chief cannot exonerate himself from responsibility for his faults by pleading an order of his sovereign or the minister, when the individual from whom it proceeds is at a distance from the field of operations, and but partially, or not at all, acquainted with the actual condition of things.

Hence it follows that every general-in-chief who undertakes toexecute a plan which he knows to be bad, is culpable. He should communicate his reasons, insist on a change of plan and finally resign his commission rather than become the instrument of his army's ruin. Every general-in-chief who, in consequence of orders from his superiors, gives battle with the certainty of defeat, is equally culpable.

In this latter case, he should refuse to obey; for an order requires passive obedience only when it is issued by a superior who is present at the seat of war. As the superior is then familiar with the state of affairs, he can listen to objections and make the necessary explanations to the officer who is to execute the command. But suppose a general-in-chief were to re ceive from his sovereign an order to give battle with the injunction to yield the victory to his adversary and permit himself to be beaten.

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Would he be bound to obey? If the general comprehended the utility of so strange an or- der, he ought to execute it; but, if not, he should refuse to obey. The first qualification of a general-in-chief is to possess a cool head, so that things may appear to him in their true proportions and as they really are.

He should not suffer himself to be unduly affected by good or bad news. The impressions which are made upon his mind successively or simultaneously in the course of a day, should be so classified in his memory that each shall occupy its proper place; for sound reasoning and judgment result from first examining each of these varied impressions by itself, and then comparing them all with one another. There are some men who, from their physical and moral constitution, deck everything in the colors of imagination.

With whatever knowledge, talents, courage or other good qualities these may be endowed, nature has not fitted them for the command of armies and the direction of the reat operations of war. A general of artillery should be acquainted with all the operations of the army, as he is obliged to supply the different divisions of which it is composed with arms and ammunition.

His communications with the artillery officers at the advanced posts should keep him informed of all the movements of the troops, and the management of his great park must be regulated by this information. To reconnoiter rapidly defiles and fords; to obtain guides that can be relied upon; to interrogate the clergyman and the postmaster; to establish speedily an understanding with the inhabitants; to send out spies; to seize the letters in the mails, to translate and make an abstract of their contents; in short, to answer all the inquiries of the general-in-chief on his arrival with the whole army such are the duties which come within the sphere of a good general of an advanced post.

Commanders-in-chief are to be guided by their own experience or genius. Tactics, evolutions and the science of the engineer and the artillery officer may be learned from treatises, but generalship is acquired only by experience and the study of the campaigns of all great captains. Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne and Frederic, as also Alexander, Hannibal and Caesar have all acted on the same principles.

To keep your forces united, to be vulnerable at no point, to bear down with rapidity upon important points these are the principles which insure victory. It is by the fear which the reputation of your arms inspires that you maintain the fidelity of your allies and the obedience of conquered nations. Make them your models. This is the only way to become a great general and to master the secrets of the art of war.

With your own genius enlightened by this study, you will reject all maxims opposed to those of these great commanders. The first principle of a general-in-chief is to calculate what he must do, to see if he has all the means to surmount the obstacles with which the enemy can oppose him and, when he has made his decision, to do everything to overcome them.

The art of a general of the advance guard or of the rear guard is, without compromising himself, to contain the enemy, to delay him and to force him to take three or four hours to advance a mile. Tactics supplies the only means to attain such great results.


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  • It is more necessary for the cavalry than for the infantry, for an advance guard or for a rear guard, than for any other position. It is exceptional and difficult to find all the qualities of a great general combined in one man. What is most desirable and distinguishes the exceptional man, is the balance of intelligence and ability with character or courage.

    If courage is predominant, the general will hazard far beyond his conceptions; and on the contrary, he will not dare to accomplish his conceptions if his character or his courage are below his intelligence.. With a great general there is never a continuity of great actions which can be attributed to chance and good luck; they always are the result of calculation and genius.

    A general-in-chief should never allow any rest either to the conquerors or to the conquered. An irresolute general who acts without principles and without plan, even though he lead an army numerically superior to that of the enemy, almost always finds himself inferior to the latter on the field of battle. Fumblings, the mezzo termine the middle course lose all in war. A general of engineers who must conceive, propose and direct all the fortifications of an army, needs good judgment and a practical mind above all.

    A cavalry general should be a master of practical science, know the value of seconds, despise life and not trust to chance. A general in the power of the enemy has no more orders to give: whoever obeys him is a criminal. The heavy cavalry should be with the advance guard, with the rear guard and on the wings and in reserve to support the light cavalry.

    To wish to hold the cavalry in reserve for the end of the battle, is to have no idea of the power of combined cavalry and infantry charges either for attack or for defense. The power of cavalry is in its impulsion. But it is not only its velocity that insures success: it is order, formation and proper employment of reserves.

    The cavalry should compose a quarter of the army in Flanders or Germany; in the Pyrenees or in the Alps, a twentieth; in Italy or in Spain, a sixth. In a battle like in a siege, skill consists in converging a mass of fire on a single point: once the combat is opened, the commander who is adroit will suddenly and unexpectedly open fire with a surprising mass of artillery on one of these points, and is sure to seize it. The better the infantry is, the more it should be used carefully and supported with good batteries. Good infantry is, without doubt, the sinew of an army; but if it is forced to fight for a long time against a very superior artillery, it will become demoralized and will be destroyed.

    It is possible that a general who is more skillful and a better maneuverer than his adversary, having better infantry, will gain success during a part of the campaign although his artillery park is very inferior; but, on a decisive day in a general action, he will feel his inferiority in artillery cruelly.

    A good army of 35, men should in a few days, especially when supported by a fortress or a large river, make its camp unassailable by an army double in force. War is composed of nothing but accidents, and, although holding to general principles, a general should never lose sight of everything to enable him to profit from these accidents; that is the mark of genius.

    A general who retains fresh troops for the day after a battle is almost always beaten. He should, if helpful, throw in his last man, because on the day after a complete success there are no more obstacles in front of him; prestige alone will insure new triumphs to the conqueror. The rules of fighting require that a part of an army should avoid fighting alone against an entire army that has already been successful.

    When a general has laid siege to a place by surprise and has gained a few days on his adversary, he should profit from this by covering himself with lines of circumvallation; from this moment he will have improved his position and will have acquired a new element of power and a new degree of force in the general framework of affairs. In war the commander of a fortress is not a judge of events; he should defend the fortress to the last; he deserves death if he surrenders it a moment before he is forced to.

    Agreements to surrender made by surrounded bodies, either during a battle or during an active campaign, are contracts with all the advantageous clauses in favor of the individuals who contract them, and all the onerous clauses against the prince and the other soldiers of the army. To avoid peril oneself, while making the position of the rest more dangerous, is an act of cowardice. Defensive war does not exclude attacking, just as offensive war does not exclude defending, although its aim may be to force the frontier and invade the enemy's country.

    The art of war indicates that it is necessary to turn or envelop a wing without separating the army. When they are thoroughly understood, field fortifications are always useful and never injurious. An army can march anywhere and at any time of the year, wherever two men can place their feet. Conditions of the ground should not alone decide the organization for combat, which should be determined from consideration of all circumstances. Flank marches should be avoided; and when they must be undertaken, they should be as short as possible and made with the greatest speed.

    Praise from enemies is suspicious; it cannot flatter an honorable man unless it is given after the cessation of hostilities. Prisoners of war do not belong to the power for which they have fought; they all are under the safeguard of honor and generosity of the nation that has disarmed them. Conquered provinces should be maintained in obedience to the conquerors by moral means, such as the responsibility of local governments and the method of organization and administration. Hostages are among the most powerful means; but to be effective, they should be many and chosen from the preponderant elements, and the people must be convinced that immediate death of the hostages will follow violation of their pledges.

    The geographical conditions of a country, life in plains or mountains, education or discipline, have more influence than climate on the character of the troops. All great captains have done great things only by conforming to the rules and naturalprinciples of the art; that is to say, by the wisdom of their combinations, the reasoned balance of means with consequences, and efforts with obstacles.

    They have succeeded only by thus conforming, whatever may have been the audacity of their enterprises and the extent of their success. They have never ceased to make war a veritable science. It is only under this title that they are our great models, and it is only in imitating them that one can hope to approach them. The first law of naval tactics should be that as soon as the admiral has given the signal that he is going to attack, each captain should make the necessary movements to attack an enemy ship, take part in the combat and support his neighbors.

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    “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”

    War on land, in general, consumes more men than naval warfare; it is more dangerous. The sailor in a fleet fights but once during a campaign; the ground soldier fights every day. The sailor, whatever may be the fatigues and dangers of the sea, suffers much less than the soldier. He is never hungry nor thirsty; he always has a place to sleep, his kitchen, his hospital and his pharmacy. There are fewer sick in the English and French fleets, where discipline maintains cleanliness and experience has discovered all the means of preserving health, than in armies.

    Besides the perils of battle, the sailor risks those of tempests; but seamanship has so much diminished the latter that it cannot be compared with those on land, such as popular uprisings, partial assassinations and surprises by hostile light troops. An admiral commanding a fleet and a general commanding an army are men who need different qualities.

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    • Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! George S. A contemplative side of this dynamic man is displayed in this collection of poems, journal entries, quotations, and speeches. This in-depth journey through the mind of a truly remarkable American is accompanied by period photographs.

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      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The
      Maxims of General Patton, The Maxims of General Patton, The

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