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Courage and Self-Sacrifice (Part 2)

Reading: “Speech to the Third Army” By George S. Patton Jr.

Introduction

How To Use This Discussion Guide

Materials Included | Begin by reading George S. Patton’s Speech to the Third Army on our site or in your copy of What So Proudly We Hail.

Materials for this guide include background information about the author and discussion questions to enhance your understanding and stimulate conversation about the story. In addition, the guide includes a series of short video discussions about the story, conducted by Eliot A. Cohen (Johns Hopkins SAIS) with the editors of the anthology. These seminars help capture the experience of high-level discourse as participants interact and elicit meaning from a classic American text. These videos are meant to raise additional questions and augment discussion, not replace it.

Learning Objectives | Students will be able to:

  • Explore the virtue of courage and how it can be cultivated, especially among self-interested citizens oriented toward the pursuit of their own happiness;
  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it;
  • Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text;
  • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development
  • Summarize the key supporting details and ideas;
  • Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text;
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone;
  • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to one another and the whole; and
  • Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Common Core State Standards Addressed | Literacy in History/Social Studies:

  • RH.9-10.1, RH.9-10.2, RH.9-10.5, RH.9-10.6, RH.11-12.1, RH.11-12.2, RH.11-12.4, RH.11-12.5, RH.11-12.9

English Language Arts: 

  • RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.4, RL.11-12.1, RL.11-12.3, RL.11-12.4

Writing Prompts | Based on Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies:

  • How do you encourage men and women to be courageous? After reading “Chamberlain” and Patton’s “Speech to the Third Army,” write an essay that compares Chamberlain’s and Patton’s understandings of courage and leadership and argues for one mode of leadership over the other. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.(Argumentation/Comparison; Task 4)
  • Would either of these speeches work today? Could the speakers get away with their high-minded appeals to manliness or national greatness and superiority? Whose speech—if either of them—would be most at home in our modern era?—or are they both simply relics of a bygone past? After reading “Chamberlain” and Patton’s “Speech to the Third Army,” write an essay that compares the approaches taken by Chamberlain and Patton to inspire their men to fight courageously, and argues for one approach over the other. Which speech would work better today? Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts. (Argumentation/ComparisonTask 4)
  • What is the function of Patton’s profanity? What are its effects on the men—and why is it effective? How might these effects contribute to attaining Patton’s overall purpose? After reading Patton’s “Speech to the Third Army,” write an essay that discusses Patton’s use of profanity and evaluates it as a rhetorical strategy. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. (Argumentation/Evaluation; Task 6)

About the Author

According to Charles M. Province, founder of the George S. Patton Jr. Historical Societyand author of several books about General Patton under whom he served with great pride, George Smith Patton Jr. (1885–1945) was a man of many—even self-contradictory—ways: “He was a noted horseman and polo player, a well-known champion swordsman, and a competent sailor and sportsman . . . an amateur poet . . . a rough and tough soldier . . . a thoughtful and sentimental man. Unpredictable in his actions, [yet] always dependable . . . outgoing, yet introverted.” Hailing from a military family that traced its lineage back well beyond the American Revolution, Patton was already determined during childhood to become a hero. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1909, he received a commission in the United States Army and never left it. He began as a cavalryman and swordsman, but soon became aide to General John J. Pershing, first in Mexico and then in World War I in Europe. There he became an early expert in a new form of battle machine—the tank—which he later used to full effectiveness as commander of the Third Army during World War II.

Though they often referred to him as “Old Blood and Guts” (a description he disliked), most of the men who served with Patton regarded him as a charismatic leader and, despite—or, according to some, because of—his copious use of profanity, an inspirational speaker. He commanded respect not only for his technical expertise, but also for his keen understanding of the human psyche (especially in wartime) and his prodigious knowledge of history and warfare. The much-celebrated movie Patton (made in 1970) makes evident his complex character, his competence, and his view of history as coherent and contiguous. It begins with his famous speech to the troops—in a much cleaned-up version.

The video seminar helps capture the experience of high-level discourse as particpants interact and elicit meaning from classic American texts. To watch the full conversation, click here. Otherwise click below to continue.

Thinking about the Text

Summary

General Patton’s speech to the Third Army was given on June 5, 1944, the eve of the Allied invasion of Europe. This third-person account of the speech comes from The Unknown Patton by Charles M. Province, who compiled it from innumerable sources.  The first part presents the background, the second the speech itself, interrupted by brief comments on the reaction of the troops. Readers will no doubt be struck by Patton’s harsh and often foul language, and his profuse reliance on profanity. But they should not make the mistake of thinking that Patton had not carefully rehearsed every word, chosen precisely for its desired persuasive effect. The speech repays careful analysis, and, when one identifies the problems it is designed to address, its genius and power will become evident.


Section Overview

General Patton, a lifelong professional soldier born into a family of professional soldiers, addresses civilian soldiers—most of them draftees—the majority of whom had never yet been in battle. We examine the speech mainly to discover how it seeks to accomplish its rhetorical purposes. We are also interested in what it reveals about the nature of leadership in the American democratic republic. On all these matters, comparison with Chamberlain’s speech to the mutineers will prove instructive.


A. The Rhetorical Situation
  1. What are Patton’s concerns about his men?
  2. What fears and hopes does he have to address?
  3. What does he want to accomplish by his speech?
Video Excerpt 1
WATCH: What are Patton’s concerns about his men? What does he want to accomplish by his speech?

B. The Rhetorical Strategy
  1. How does Patton address the fears and hopes of his men (4)? How much does he do directly? How much does he do indirectly? Under similar circumstances, what appeal would best address your own fears and hopes?
  2. To what does he mainly appeal: honor, duty, manhood and manliness, pride and shame, identification with team or country or himself, desire for glory and reputation, hatred of the enemy, purpose of the war, or American principles and ideals? Look at pages 5 and 6 for some clues. Why do you think he emphasizes the things he does?
  3. What is the function of Patton’s profanity (7)? What are its effects on the men—and why is it effective? How might these effects contribute to attaining Patton’s overall purpose?
Video Excerpt 2
WATCH: What case does Patton make?

C. Analysis of the Speech

Imagine yourself in the audience of soldiers. Pause after each paragraph and try to assess what he said, why he said it, and what effect it would have had on you.

  1. The Opening Paragraph (3): How does Patton begin? To what does he first appeal? Are the reasons he suggests that the men are gathered, ready to fight, plausible to you?
  2. Second Paragraph, a direct address to the fear of dying (4): Here Patton makes many separate points. Why so many? Why this order? Which appeal is most powerful: to honor, to duty, to country, or to manhood? Does he succeed here in quieting your fear of death? Why or why not?
  3. Third Paragraph, about alertness (4): What is the point? Why make it here?
  4. Paragraphs Four to Eight, about the army as a team (45): Trace the several stages in this presentation of the army as a team, with each person having a crucial part to play. How does this section help address the men’s fears? Does the laughter at the beginning help make the men a team?
  5. Paragraph Nine, about keeping Patton’s presence a secret (6): Why is this here?
  6. Paragraph 10, the purple-prose paragraph about the mission—to clean up the German mess and to clean out the Japanese nest, “before the [*^#%^] Marines get all the credit” (6): In the next paragraph, Province remarks: “This statement had real significance behind it. . . . [The men] knew that they themselves were going to play a very great part in the making of world history.” What is the real significance in what Patton said and in how he said it?
  7. Paragraphs 11 to 14, about advancing and pushing hard (78): How do these paragraphs speak to the fears and hopes of the men?
  8. Last Paragraph, on what you will be able to say after the war (8): What is accomplished by this closing? Notice especially the very last sentence and the speech Patton invents for you to make to your grandson: What is the effect of that closing, both for your fears and hopes and for your relation to your team and its leaders? Why does he have you speaking in imitation of his own profanity-laced speech?
Video Excerpt 3
WATCH: What is the function of Patton’s profanity? What are its effects on the men—and why is it effective?

D. Comparison with Chamberlains speech

Chamberlain and Patton were addressing different sorts of soldiers, under greatly different circumstances and requiring different rhetorical appeals. Nevertheless, some comparisons are fruitful.

  1. Unlike Chamberlain, Patton never mentions the causes of the war or the reasons that Americans were fighting it. Why not? Given the circumstances, is this a significant omission?
  2. Also unlike Chamberlain, Patton never seems to appeal to specifically American principles and ideals in trying to inspire the men. Why not? Given the circumstances, is this a significant omission?
  3. Is Patton’s appeal for manly courage in battle, and the arguments he uses to make it, independent of the cause for which the men are being summoned to fight? Could the same speech have been made by a German or Japanese general to his soldiers?
  4. Compare the ways in which Chamberlain and Patton attempt to gain the confidence and trust of their men. What is to be said for and against the ways of each?
  5. Would either of these speeches work today? Could the speakers get away with their high-minded appeals to manliness or national greatness and superiority? Their degradation of the enemy? The use of profanity? Even if they were allowed to make these appeals, in these ways, would they be successful with contemporary soldiers without consciously being more cynical or ironical in their speech and thought? Whose speech—if either of them—would be most at home in our modern era?—or are they both simply relics of a bygone past?

The video seminar helps capture the experience of high-level discourse as particpants interact and elicit meaning from classic American texts. To watch the full conversation, click here. Otherwise click below to continue.

Thinking With The Text

Section Overview

Patton’s speech, like Chamberlain’s, invites questions about the importance of courage and self-sacrifice, as well as the difficulty in obtaining them. It also raises interesting questions about leadership and about the military in American society. (Many of the following questions were asked also in the Shaara/Chamberlain Discussion Guide.)


A. Encouraging Courage and Self-Sacrifice
  1. What is courage? What makes it so difficult? Is Patton’s definition of courage—fighting even though scared—correct? Is there more to courage than this definition?
  2. How can one get ordinary citizens—especially in a republic dedicated to safeguarding their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to risk their lives in the service of the nation? Conversely, how do you temper a Patton-like martial spirit and the love of war and glory? Which is the bigger challenge in modern American life?
  3. How exactly does one encourage public-spiritedness and self-sacrifice? How effective can speech be toward this goal? What sorts of speech? By whom?
  4. How important—and effective—are honor and duty for inspiring men to fight? Is there a difference between fighting for your honor and manhood—to avoid being a coward—and fighting for a cause or for public service? Which is more likely to inspire people today to fight?
  5. Is patriotism—love of country—necessary for the common defense? How can it be instilled in ordinary citizens? How can it be summoned?
  6. Should military service—or some other form of national service—be a civic duty? Why or why not?
  7. What is the difference between military courage (and military service) and other sorts of courage (and public service)? Give concrete examples of civic courage not related to war. Which sort of courage do you regard as most important? Why?
Video Excerpt 1
WATCH: What is courage? Is Patton’s definition of courage—fighting even though scared—correct?
Video Excerpt 2
WATCH: What is the difference between military courage (and military service) and other sorts of courage (and public service)?

B. Leadership and the Military
  1. What are the virtues necessary for leaders in a democratic republic? Are the virtues needed for military leaders different from those of civilian leaders?
  2. On the one hand, most Americans want excellent leaders, people whom we can admire and follow. On the other hand, most Americans do not wish to be led, and many do not believe that some people are really better than others. What does this tension imply for leadership in America? If you are inclined to follow one of the two military commanders, Chamberlain or Patton, which one would it be? Why?
  3. The United States maintains civil control of the military. It also has a volunteer army, comprising mainly citizens who serve for only a short time, who are not and will not become professional soldiers. These citizen-soldiers are, however, ruled by a cadre of professional soldiers whose entire career is spent in uniform. What special challenges of leadership do these arrangements produce?
Video Excerpt 3
WATCH: Compare Patton and Chamberlain’s speeches. How are they different? Why?

The video seminar helps capture the experience of high-level discourse as particpants interact and elicit meaning from classic American texts. To watch the full conversation, click here. Otherwise click below to continue.

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