Wednesday, July 18, 2012

War Without End (General Patton + Lord Russell)

God of Endless War?

There is now much talk of perpetual war, endless war or "war without end" as John Burdett termed it (see earlier post, Ping Pong with John Burdett, 7/16/12) .  The conflict in Afghanistan that was initiated by President Bush and escalated by President Obama, is now the longest lasting armed conflict in US military history.  The history of Afghanistan itself seems to be a study in perpetual conflict over a strategically central position at the fulcrum of Asia.

In the period immediately following the conclusion of the Second World War there were voices on the right and left who advocated a continuation of the conflict -- a violent face off between the West and the Soviet Union.

George S. Patton, 1885 - 1945
George S. Patton (, "old blood and guts," has become, for those on the right a symbol of America's indomitable fighting spirit.  For those on the left, he is remembered as a slapper of soldiers and a lunatic advocate of perpetual war.

Patton 1970
I consider the movie Patton (http:/ to be one of the great war films of all time (see earlier post, Commander Kelly's Top 10 War Movies, 2/17/12) .  Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant script makes use of many genuine Patton quotes and captures the essential spirit of the man who was a true "war lover" or fan of endless war ("God help me, but I do love it so.").  Coppolla makes it clear in the film's Blu-Ray introductory remarks that he made a conscious effort to make the film (written during the 1960s and the Vietnam war)  acceptable to viewers of both the left and right.  The movie displays Patton's military genius, his dynamic energy and his ability to inspire his men, but it also reveal his darker side.  Near the end of the movie, Patton is frustrated by the war's victorious conclusion and seems to long dementedly for a fight to the finish with the Soviet Union.

The historic Patton, as distinct from George C. Scott's portrayal, had legitimate reasons to be distressed by the Soviets.  After the Nazi surrender of May 8, 1945, General Patton was among the first to realize (along with Winston Churchill) the Soviet Union would cease to be an ally of the United States. According to Wikipedia, "He was concerned that some 25,000 American POWs had been liberated from POW camps by the Soviets, but never returned to the US. In fact, he urged his superiors to evict the Soviets from central and eastern Europe. Patton thought that the Red Army was weak, under-supplied, and vulnerable, and the United States should act on these weaknesses before the Soviets could consolidate their position."

While Patton can be held us as an advocate for "war without end" he can also be remembered as a man whose leadership shortened the war, ultimately saving lives on both sides.  As commander of the US 3rd Army he led an army that advanced "farther and faster than any army in military history, crossing 24 major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles (211,000 km2) of territory, including more than 12,000 cities and towns. With a normal strength of around 250,000–300,000 men, the Third had killed, wounded, or captured some 1,811,388 enemy soldiers, six times its strength in personnel. By comparison, the Third Army suffered 16,596 killed, 96,241 wounded, and 26,809 missing in action for a total of 139,646 men, a ratio of enemy to U.S. losses of nearly thirteen to one."  (

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel credited Patton with executing "the most astonishing achievement in mobile warfare." His role is assisting the Allied disinformation efforts prior to the D-Day landings (see earlier post, Double Cross -- the D-Day Spies, 7/1/12) should not be underestimated as well.

Patton's jingoism is well-documented and unsurprising.  He was, after all, the grandson of George Smith Patton, a Confederate general who was killed in the US civil war.  Robert E. Lee, regarding through his field glasses the carnage of the battle of Fredericksburg commented, "It is well that war is so terrible -- we should grow too fond of it."  What is far less understood and appreciated is the astonishing jingoism of the pacifist left in the post war years.

In Christopher Hitchens' book Why Orwell Matters (http:/ he writes, "In the haunted and febrile years of the late 1940s, when new fears about nuclear fission competed with fears of Stalinism and were superimposed upon the other disillusionments of the 1930s, a number of formerly pacifistic intellectuals actually proposed a preventive nuclear war with the USSR.  Among these were Bertrand Russell, Orwell's co-editor at Polemic, and John Middleton Murry ( , the ex-husband of Katherine Mansfield and Orwell's former literary patron at the Adelphi.  They thought that the temporary Western advantage in nuclear armaments should be employed to coerce or to destroy the Russian bear."
Bertrand Russell, 1872 - 1970

Bertrand Russell was a logician, mathematician and philosopher who won a Nobel prize for literature and was a titan of the British left. He was, paradoxically, a pacifist who felt logically compelled in 1948 to argue for a unilateral atomic attack on the Soviet Union.

Here is what Lord Lawson, an eyewitness to Russell's speech wrote to The Economist.

"Your review of “The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell” (“Love, Bertie ”, July 21st) states that the book's editor, Nicholas Griffin, “scotches, for example, the often repeated claim that Russell once advocated a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. ” Let me unscotch it. I was in the audience at the public meeting at which Russell advocated precisely this, and it made a big impression on me at the time. The occasion was a gathering organised by some peace-loving foundation whose name I forget (my records are in store at present), held in 1948 or thereabouts, in the still roofless hall of Westminster School, of which I was then a pupil. When, some 20 years later, I recalled the event in the Spectator, which I then edited, I received (and published) a letter from the man who had organized the meeting. He corroborated my account and added how surprised and shocked he had been at Russell's proposal.

Needless to say, Russell advocated a preemptive nuclear strike on strictly humanitarian grounds. In a nutshell, he pointed out that at the time the Soviet Union did not yet possess a nuclear capability but that it would very soon do so, after which all history made it clear that sooner or later there would be a nuclear war between the two superpowers that would be infinitely more devastating than either of the two world wars through which he had lived. The only sure way of preventing this Armageddon, he concluded with remorseless if unpalatable logic, was for America to launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union before it acquired the bomb: after that it would be too late."

Russell's Formula would be...(Bomb + Logic = Armageddon).

Commander Kelly is once more compelled to warn against fanaticism of all stripes ...reminding his readers that...

                       "The best lack all conviction, while the worst
                         Are full of passionate intensity."
                                                                           WB Yeats

Here is a slice of the real Patton
Narrated by Ronald Reagan

Great Patton Quotes

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