Monday, October 11, 2010

General George S. Patton & Sgt. Bill Mauldin

While I was growing up, there were 3 small WWII cartoon books in our home library that Dad had purchased while he was in the Army Air Force. I discovered them sometime in the mid-1950s when I was about 10 and many times went through them cover to cover. Those little books no doubt had a significant part in shaping my sense of humor.

The books were: Sad Sack, by Sgt. George Baker, who worked for Yank, the Army Weekly; Private Breger in Britain, by Sgt. Dave Breger, who also worked for Yank, the Army Weekly; and the last one was Up Front, by Sgt. Bill Mauldin, who worked for Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper.

Bill Mauldin’s book was the most interesting of the 3 because Mauldin drew the most attention from the Army brass and most especially, the attention of General George S. Patton. A Wikipedia article rightly relates, “Those officers who had served in the army before the war were generally offended by Mauldin, who parodied the spit-shine and obedience-to-order-without-question view that was more easily maintained during that time of peace. General George S. Patton once summoned Mauldin to his office and threatened to "throw his ass in jail" for "spreading dissent," this after one of Mauldin's cartoons made fun of Patton's demand that all soldiers must be clean-shaven at all times, even in combat.

But Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander European Theater, told Patton to leave Mauldin alone, because he felt that Mauldin's cartoons gave the soldiers an outlet for their frustrations. Mauldin told an interviewer later, "I always admired Patton. Oh, sure, the stupid bastard was crazy. He was insane. He thought he was living in the Dark Ages. Soldiers were peasants to him. I didn't like that attitude, but I certainly respected his theories and the techniques he used to get his men out of their foxholes.”

Mauldin described walking into Patton’s office for that meeting as “gazing into four of the meanest eyes I had ever seen.” The extra pair of mean eyes belonged to Patton’s dog, Willie. The Mauldin cartoon of the magnificent scenery is one that particularly rankled Patton.

Mauldin wrote, ”The ideal officer in any army knows his business. He is firm and just. He is saluted and given the respect a man who knows enough about war to boss soldiers around in it should have. He is given many privileges, which all officers are happy to accept and he is required, in return, to give certain things which a few officers chose to ignore. I try to make life as miserable as possible for those few.

”Since I am an enlisted man, and have served under many officers, I have a great deal of respect for the good ones and a great deal of contempt for the bad ones. A man accepts a commission with his eyes open, and if he does not intend to take responsibilities as well as privileges, he is far lower than the buck private who realizes his own limitations and keeps that rank.

”I never worry about hurting the feelings of the good officers when I draw officer cartoons. I build a shoe and if somebody wants to put it on and loudly announce that it fits, that’s his own affair."


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