WASHINGTON, April 9, 2018: “Christ!” he said through clenched teeth, his face covered in blood, “What a way to start a leave.” It was not how he pictured his death. Gen. George S. Patton thought it more noble to die by “the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.”
But the war in Europe had ended seven months prior, and Patton was intent on breaking the peacetime monotony with a pheasant hunt near Mannheim, Germany.
Head-on collision or assassination?
The historical fact: On December 12, 1945, a drunken soldier out for a joy ride crashed his half-ton U.S. Army truck head-on into Patton’s staff car, critically injuring the warrior known the world over as “Old Blood and Guts.” He died of complications from a broken neck 18 days later.
But the debate continues. Was the bizarre demise of George S. Patton an accident? Or was the opinionated and talkative military leader considered so dangerous he was murdered?
That’s the debate explored in the 2018 independent documentary film “Silence Patton,” written and directed by Robert Orlando. The film is a reasonably-priced, downloadable rental currently available through Google Play. Currently, you can also catch the film in a very limited number of theaters across the U.S.
Stalin’s Oval Office champion
In wartime Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a curiously cozy view of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. He expressed that view in a communiqué to his ambassador to the Soviet Union:
“I think that if I give him [Stalin] everything I possibly can, and ask for nothing in return, he won’t try to annex anything. And he will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”
From hot to Cold War
Far earlier than Winston Churchill’s 1946 Fulton, Missouri, speech, in which the British wartime leader described the Soviet post-war occupation of Eastern Europe as “an iron curtain” descending “across the continent,” Patton had already seen the approach of the Cold War the previous year, preferring it turn red hot while the U.S. had the military advantage:
“We promised the Europeans freedom. It would be worse than dishonorable not to see that they have it. This might mean war with the Russians, but what of it? They have no air force, and their gasoline and ammunition supplies are low. I’ve seen their miserable supply trains; mostly wagons drawn by beaten up old horses or oxen. I’ll say this; the Third Army alone and with damned few casualties, could lick what is left of the Russians in six weeks. You mark my words. Don’t ever forget them. Someday we will have to fight them and it will take six years and cost us six million lives.”
So, did the Soviets murder the American general before he could return home to sway U.S. public opinion away from appeasing Stalin?
Patton vs. the U.S. military-industrial complex
Another conspiracy theory involves Patton’s old West Point chums. According to the documentary, the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, assembled a post-war meeting with high-ranking staff. He expressed concerns Congress might hold hearings to investigate how the U.S. military handled the war in Europe, find what mistakes were made and by whom.
According to historian Charles Province of the Patton Historical Society:
“General Patton was actually planning on coming home and telling the truth about what happened over there. And all of the bad decisions that were made. Eisenhower, [Gen. Omar] Bradley were all scared that Patton was going to tell the truth. And all the things they did wrong were going to come out.”
Eastern Europe recedes into the darkness
The military blunders, in Patton’s view, primarily involved Eisenhower’s acquiescence to Russian demands that U.S. forces not advance into Eastern Europe, allowing Russia to expand beyond its borders. When Eisenhower finally decided to allow the Red Army to overrun the German capital, Patton was incensed.
Grabbing Eisenhower by the shoulders, he said,
“We had better take Berlin and quick, and on to the Oder [River] to prevent Russian advances.”
“Who would want it [Berlin]?” replied Eisenhower.
“I think history will answer that for you,” said Patton.
He would later muse, “I wonder how the dead will speak… when they know that for the first time in centuries we have opened Central and Western Europe to the forces of Genghis Khan.”
America’s first MAGA general?
The cigar-chomping general with the ivory-handled pistol in his holster, in Victor Davis Hanson’s view, was more in keeping with the durble romantic archetype we can trace back to America’s frontier.
“Every great western is based on the same theme as George Patton’s fate. He’s a western hero. He comes on the scene. He shocks. He wins the war. He tells us how he’s going to win it, what is the nature of evil.
“And when he’s done, we say, ‘You know what? We never really liked you. We don’t believe in these things you say. You use too much profanity. We don’t like you slapping soldiers. So, you’re gone. Don’t bother us until we need you again.’
“That’s the American way.”
So, did Patton die at the hands of Soviet assassins? Or was it a Stalin-friendly Washington, with the aid of the U.S. military-industrial complex, that dispatched this colorful, America-first war hero?
To discover the answers, consider renting and downloading “Silence Patton” at Google Play.