Lennon and Patton, two enduring cult heroes in America, but you can really have only one.
That’s because each one defined and lived their world worlds apart. Lennon sang “give peace a chance.” Patton growled “war is when you come fully alive.” Lennon sang “imagine a world of peace” while the general barked “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country, he won it by making the other poor damn bastard die for his.”
It’s hard not to resonate with both of their canticles. One praising the joy of human harmony; the other saluting the victory of human courage. You just can’t embrace both at the same time.
Knowing men who fought under Patton, I know something of their mixed emotions about this spit & polish sonofabitch who spared no life to win a battle. Still, I’ve heard them grudgingly admit he was right about one thing — while war brings out the worst in us, at the same time the best in us. The record shows that a nation at war kicks into high gear 24/7, organizing its manpower and its technical genius in ways peacetime never provides.
Patton, like generals from Caesar to MacArthur, claimed: “When you are in a fight for your life, every sleeping cell and muscle in your body awakens, for your very survival depends on your best best!” Men become not only killers but heroes. Their bodies and their hearts are responding to challenges they never even suspected in peacetime. The pressure of combat pushes their envelopes in ways where even little men somehow find grace under fire and nobility in struggle.
Today both Lennon and Patton remain folk heroes to millions. But such different messengers! Such contrary disciples. History reports at least one incontrovertible conclusion. The man of peace is likely to live a good life. The man of war is often able to live a great life. Which is the richer reward? Chances are we don’t get the chance to choose, for peace and war are usually a result not a choice….
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