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Individualism & Teamwork in the Defense of Freedom
[June 6, 2002]

By Nicholas Provenzo

In his June 6th column, Ross Mackenzie reprints a salty speech by US Third Army General George Patton to his men prior to the invasion of D-Day in 1944. In his speech, Patton is reported to have made the following comments:

"An Army is a team—lives, sleeps, eats, fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is a lot of crap. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for The Saturday Evening Post don't know any more about real fighting, under fire, than they do about fornicating..."

Patton then goes on to comment that every man in the Army is crucial to its military success. He says:

"Every man has a job to do. Every man is a link in the great chain. What if every truck driver decided he didn't like the whine of the shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into the ditch? He could say to himself, "They won't miss me—just one in thousands." What if every man said that? Where in hell would we be now?..."

What Patton seemed to seek was an army of "Message to Garcia" type men—the 19th century socialist ideal of a man who acts without question toward the goals he has been given by his superiors. Nowhere in Patton's speech does he address the larger picture of the war. Nowhere does he define the issue of defeating Nazism in a way that makes it clear that the self-preservation of his own men demands that they defeat Hitler. The closest Patton comes to a statement on the American character is by arguing that Americans admire feats of physical strength, so they are not afraid of a fight.

The problem is, how is what Patton said about men in the US Army any different from the men of any other army in the world? The same speech could have been made by Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, except in Nazi Germany, there would have been no "crap" about individual feats of bravery. In fact, Patton's speech would have applied to Rommel's men more that it did to his own men.

The ultimate difference between the US Army and the German Army was the men of the German Army were literal serfs, duty bound to sacrifice their lives for the Aryan racial collective, where the ranks of the US Army was composed of free men acting in defense of their own freedom. The ultimate reason an American fought on the battlefield was his own self-interest. The ultimate reason a German fought was the renunciation of his self-interest. This fundamental distinction guided every aspect of how the war was fought and who ultimately prevailed.

The American fighting man, then and now, is not just someone who unquestionably does what he is told ala the "Message to Garcia" ideal. Instead, he understands the larger threats to his well-being (dare I say the philosophical threats), appreciates the need to work in concert with other men to defend his values, follows the lawful orders of the team he voluntarily joins, and acts independently when the situation demands. The American military man is at his best when he understands first and then acts appropriately. This model, when adhered to, has allowed the US military to endure every hardship, overcome every obstacle and prevail over every enemy. When the US didn't adhere to this model, it suffered humiliating defeat, such as it did in Vietnam.

That's not to say that in the life or death pressures of the battlefield, one ponders the nuances of political philosophy. The answers to these questions are properly the domain of other spheres. But the questions remain and they must be answered if one's life and freedom is what one seeks to consciously defend.

Patton was courageous on the battlefield and he did inspire his men to victory. But as much as he understood warfare, he didn't understand the larger picture of the mission of an army of free men. In today's uncertain times, I think our ultimate victory hinges on whether the men of both ideas and action step up to face the challenges of the day. So far, I do not think they have.


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