“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
George Patton – June 5th, 1944
One thing Patton was not was politically correct. However, several of his quotes, including this one, speak to the false notion many have about the “romance” of war.
While some speak highly of heroes, the truth of the matter is wars get won on this simple principle, at least back in the days of World War Two is was. It also shows Patton was not one to mince words for motivational purposes.
Patton Preaching Focus
While some can take the quote and apply it to war, the real message this quote offers is for one to focus on the basic principles of the task at hand and not get distracted by things that have no real bearing on success or failure.
Patton gave this speech before the Allied invasion of France, somewhere in England and called operation “Overlord”. Patton knew the success of the invasion would come down to how many people died or more powerfully, who did not die.
We Need Living Soldiers
Maintaining an effective force relied on keeping people alive and this was critical for long-term success of the European campaign. To Patton, it was much more important to not die than die a hero or to put it into words that apply to the ordinary man; it is cool to go down in a blaze of glory but did it really serve any purpose other than get yourself in trouble for the sake of your reputation?
While certainly there will be admirers for this choice but in the interest of one’s own goals it does little. (This does not take away from our hero’s, after all if you do go down in a blaze of glory you deserve the fame that goes with it irrelevant the impact it has on the broader goal)
Patton Was Brutally Honest
The other feature of the quote to look at is the directness and honesty. Patton established in a rough and crude way what the goal was. The fact is, he said it in the way he did only highlights the honesty behind it.
Sometimes things are ugly and trying to find “romance” in the task at hand distracts from the simple reality and necessity of what needs accomplished. Patton pulled no punches when speaking to his troops as he knew they deserved honesty for they were about to face something we all hope never to see.
This is why Patton gained the respect of his soldiers. He did not pander to grand illusions; he gave it to them straight. While the movie about Patton is correct to a point, the speech to which the quote is attributed was edited for political correctness. However, there are copies of what he said available although they are not for the faint of heart.