Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A WWI Inspiration for Patton's Most Famous Quote?

Patton after the War
You've seen the movie: with a massive American flag behind him. A medal-bedecked George Patton, played by George C. Scott, mounts the stage and asks his GI audience (and you) to remember:

No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

According to the highly informative Quote Investigator (QI) Website, the script for the 1970 film sourced a 1958 work by Lt. General James Gavin, that said Patton had made almost that exact statement in a 1943 pep talk to troops in North Africa. QI, though, points out that the sentiment had been expressed in some forms previously, the closest of which comes from the First World War, in which Patton himself fought. We also know from Patton's own writings that he was an avid reader of all the Great War's literature, including poetry.

In 1917 a collection titled “War Poems” was published with the author name “X." Later “X” was revealed to be the British author and journalist Thomas William Hodgson Crosland. The poem “Dying for Your Country” contained a precursor in its fourth stanza.

So, Johnny, keep your barrel bright,
And go where you are told to go,
And when you meet, by day or night,
Our friend the enemy, lay him low;
And you must neither boast nor quake,
Though big guns roar and whizz-bangs whizz—
Don’t die for your dear country’s sake,
But let the other chap die for his.

Patton's version is certainly more "rough and tumble," and I know of no proof that he ever read Crosland's poem, but he certainly captured the same sentiment.

Patton at Fort Meade Where He Would Meet Dwight Eisenhower

Source:  Quote Investigator


  1. If you research Patton's early years as a child in California, you will learn that he spent countless hours in the company of none other than the "Gray Ghost" aka: John Singleton Mosby. Upon further research, you will find Mosby expressed this sentiment. “…It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country;
    but whoever has seen the horrors of a battle-field feels that it is far sweeter to live for it."

    Mosby and young "Georgie" would reenact battles from the American Civil War on horseback in the hills near Sacramento, probably when the young Patton should have been in school. It was there, with Mosby, that he directed the movements of imaginary armies, like that one he alleged to command so as to mislead Hitler into believing the real invasion of France would occur at the Pas de Calais, led by Patton's imaginary army.