“Killing Patton” lacks almost any narrative at all. It is a Great Dismal Swamp of a book, with themes suddenly arising from the mist of some researcher’s industrious endeavors. As Lawrence O’Donnell illustrated the other night on his MSNBC show, you can open the book anywhere and find some transparent diversion from the essential Patton story. “Killing Patton” is as padded as a puffy winter coat.
O’Donnell dropped the book on his desk to see where it opened. The passage was a lengthy description of Hitler’s diet. This is typical. I opened the book at random and found a chapter that begins with Franklin Roosevelt’s death at Warm Springs, Ga. We learn what we already knew: that his former – or maybe current –mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherford, was with him at the time. She quickly vacated the place, lest she be discovered by the president’s wife, Eleanor, who was then in Washington. All of this is better told in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “No Ordinary Time.” Unlike O’Reilly, she can write.
I flip open the book one more time. Now I am at a chapter that begins with the Potsdam Conference of 1945. “President Truman wants a word with Joseph Stalin,” it begins –and then meanders all over the place. We learn that the “tablecloth and chairs at the negotiating table are bright Russian red.” We learn that Truman is offended when an army officer offers “anything you like while you’re here – anything in the way of wine and women.” We learn a bit about Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the development of the atomic bomb. All of this is mildly interesting, although hardly new, and has almost nothing to do with Patton. He was neither in FDR’s bedroom nor at Potsdam.
Soon, though, Patton would become the commanding officer in Southern Germany and, with the end of the war, be responsible for the so-called Displaced Persons camps in Bavaria and elsewhere. Many of these displaced persons were Holocaust survivors. Patton had contempt for them. He called them “animals” and, in letters to his wife and in diary entries, made his anti-Semitism as plain as could be. Here, in reference to a critical report on the condition of the DPs by an official named Earl G. Harrison, is a sample diary entry: “Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to Jews who are lower than animals.”
When asked on his show how he could have left out these passages, O’Reilly summoned his inner Joe McCarthy: “The far left is desperate, desperate to disparage ‘Killing Patton’ because they despise General Patton and they despise me. It pains them to see the overwhelming success of the book.” Give him credit for not mentioning communists in the State Department or, for that matter, Benghazi.
But how is it possible to write over 300 pages on Patton and not once mention his rancid Jew-hatred? How is it possible to mention the flower beds at the Potsdam Conference and not pause to cite Patton’s mistreatment of people who, just a short time before, had been in Auschwitz? How is it possible not to mention that Patton ran his camps in such a manner that President Harry Truman, in a letter to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, said, “As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.” Golly, gee, Bill, isn’t that colorful enough for you?
O’Reilly, like Patton, forgets why World War II was fought in the first place – to combat the evils of Nazism. Foremost among the evils was anti-Semitism, which provided the rationale for the Holocaust. O’Reilly could easily have mentioned Patton’s repellent anti-Semitism, but it clearly was not all that important to him. He didn’t have a tight narrative. He has a narrow mind.