On dying for your country

The movie Patton (1970) begins with a monologue by General Patton which is composed of statements he made at various times in speeches and letters. The movie makers combined these statements into a single speech to introduce the character of the general to the movie audience. One of Patton’s statements included in the monologue is, “I want you to remember that no [soldier] ever won a war by dying for his country. They won by making the other poor dumb [soldier] die for his country.”

President Trump appears to agree with General Patton regarding which soldiers are most successful. In fact, I strongly suspect that the President once quoted that line from the movie in the presence of some person or persons who misunderstood the context of the quote and exaggerated its impact when they repeated the line to a reporter. People who know the President insist that he did not make such a statement under the circumstances that have been reported. Even if, at some time, President Trump did speak those words that came from General Patton, such a statement would not have been meant as an insult to American soldiers who fought for their country and lost their lives on the battlefield.

Ideally, the armed forces of the United States should be so powerful and so respected that they do not have to fight. No other country would dare challenge our nation militarily. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, we should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” For that purpose, the United States trains and equips the members of our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard so they can do their best, not only in wartime conditions but also in every other task that is required of them. Nevertheless, they risk their lives by doing their duty. We thank them, honor and respect them for their service to the country, and support them as well as we can both while they are in uniform and when they are veterans. We also honor those who lost their lives. We wish they had not died, but we honor and respect them and are grateful for their sacrifice.

President Trump frequently says things that jar the sensibilities of his audience. He did so long before entering politics; this tendency is part of the image he created and marketed, and his supporters expect him to continue speaking this way. When he quotes movies, his witnesses should at least have the presence of mind to know the origin and context of the quote. Failing that basic knowledge, they do not need to be telling reporters what the President said and what he meant when he said it. J.