What Bill O’Reilly ignored about George Patton

tags: Bill O’Reilly, Patton

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post. He also contributes to the PostPartisan blog. Cohen joined The Post in 1968 as a reporter and covered night police, city hall, education, state government and national politics.

It’s a fortunate thing that Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, “Killing Patton,” was written by him and not someone else. If not, O’Reilly would have taken the poor person apart, criticizing the book for its chaotic structure, its considerable padding and its repellent admiration of a war-loving martinet who fought the Nazis and really never understood why. George S. Patton stood almost shoulder to shoulder with them in his anti-Semitism — not that O’Reilly seems to have noticed or, for that matter, mentioned it in his book.

It is, of course, permissible to admire Patton for his generalship and astonishing bravery. It is even possible to give him a pass for some of the foolish things he said that were repeatedly getting him into trouble and finally caused Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to effectively sack him. Even Patton’s likening some Nazis to Republican or Democratic apparatchiks, while tasteless and heroically impolitic, had an explicable context: Plenty of people became Nazis for career, rather than ideological, reasons.

Patton’s anti-Semitism is a different matter. As far as I know, he never made his views public, but he was repulsively candid in letters home to his wife, Beatrice, and in diary entries. What’s more, he acted on those views. It was Patton’s job after the defeat of Germany to run the displaced-persons (DP) camps in southern Germany, where he was commanding officer. In the view of some, including an outraged President Harry S. Truman, he treated these Holocaust survivors little better than the Nazis did.

In a letter to Eisenhower, Truman quoted from a report on conditions in the DP camps. “As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of SS troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy.” ...

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