• ‘Patton’ kicks off History vs. Hollywood series

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    The Fort Leavenworth Historical Society kicked off its 2019 “History vs. Hollywood” speaker series with a presentation on “Patton” by Dr. Greg Hospodor, FLHS member and associate professor of military history at the Command and General Staff College, Jan. 17 in the Jahn Room of the Leavenworth Public Library.
    “It is just a lighthearted way to look at Hollywood and look at history and see where the truth lies and see where the poetic license has been taken,” said Chris Johnson, FLHS president and CGSC Department of Military History instructor. “One of the things about history is I think history tells a story and most good movies tell stories. When you see that common denominator, I think, as people, we understand that human condition. I think those stories are what we start to connect to and what comes behind it interests us.”
    “Patton,” starring George C. Scott as Gen. George S. Patton Jr., was released in 1970 and follows the World War II phase of Patton’s career. The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Scott and Best Director for Franklin J. Schaffner.
    During his presentation, Hospodor focused on the plans to invade Sicily.
    “From Patton’s point of view, and it comes across in the movie, for him, this is a race (against Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of the British Army) to Messina,” Hospodor said. “We have to get there first. We have to prove that we’re just as good. We’re an equal partner if not better than the British.
    “That does illustrate something that I think the movie does really, really well, which is it captures coalition warfare at a key point in time,” he said.
    A specific scene Hospodor focused on was the scene at a field hospital in Sicily when Patton slaps a private who is crying. Hospodor said the scene was an example of two separate incidents Aug. 3 and 10, 1943, both with privates who were considered to be psychiatric cases.
    “It was standard operating procedure for psychiatric casualties to be moved into evacuation hospitals,” he said. “So, it should not have surprised Patton that someone like that was in there.”
    Hospodor said, although there was no excuse for Patton’s actions, there are theories that could explain what was going through his mind at the time.
    “(Patton’s) family will even say after the war that he did not allow that such a thing as combat fatigue could exist. He was probably himself suffering from the effects of prolonging exposure to stress. One theory that goes into why he reacted that way is he saw the very thing he could not allow in himself manifested in front of him in this field hospital,” he said. “His hyper reaction is he knew it was in him and he almost had to go after that thing. It was almost like he was attacking it within himself.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Hospodor said there were some inaccuracies in the film as well. One inaccuracy was in the portrayal of Gen. Omar Bradley. When it came time to write the screenplay, one of the sources used was Bradley’s autobiography, “A Soldier’s Story,” and Bradley was paid a $50,000 consultant fee. As a result, Bradley was portrayed as a much nicer guy than he was actually known to be, Hospodor said.
    “What you see here is Bradley carefully crafting his legacy,” Hospodor said. “He’s a pretty cold-hearted, ruthless character, which he needed to be to be an effective corps commander. He will fire, during the war, more people than George Patton does, but what you see here is the image that Bradley wants to portray of himself as the soldier’s general.”
    Small things, such as the brass bands shown in the celebratory scene after Patton invades Messina, were inaccurate as well.
    Overall, despite the inaccuracies, Hospodor said he gives the movie a thumbs up.
    “It is not because it is perfectly and historically accurate, but if you’ve read anything about George S. Patton, an incredibly complex man with great strength and incredible weaknesses as well, I think those emerge just taking this snippet of the movie based upon Sicily,” Hospodor said.
    “Some of his great strengths were his drive. There might not have been any other general in the American Army who could drive folks quite as quickly as he did. But by the same token, as the movie portrays, the parts of him you go, ‘That’s really neat and something to admire,’ there is this troubling side as well. That is part of the story, and why we keep coming back to Patton is he is endlessly fascinating. He said some things that please us and did some things that shouldn’t please any of us, but it is the part of the enigma that he is and still remains.”
    The FLHS has been active for more than 30 years and has hosted a speaker series each year for most of that time.
    “The purpose behind it is to celebrate history and to raise awareness of it,” Johnson said. “It is also an outreach for members and to share our love of history.”
    Along with the series, the FLHS partners with the Frontier Army Museum as well as supports different awards at CGSC.
    The next lecture in the “History vs. Hollywood” series, “Robin Hood,” will be presented by Dr. David Mills, CGSC assistant professor of military history, at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Leavenworth Public Library.
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