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“You Will Be Afraid”
Next to Winston Churchill, Gen. George Patton gave the war’s most famous speeches. But nobody knew quite what he said—until now.
June/July 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 3
“Forget about hitting the ground. You must shoot at the German and keep on shooting....”
“You will be afraid. But you must attack—quickly and decisively. Forget about foxholes. Forget about hitting the ground. You must shoot at the German and keep on shooting. If you don’t know where he is, shoot at where you think he is.... But if you go out there holding your gun in one hand and getting up and lying down and wandering around, then I will have to write letters to your wives and mothers and sweethearts saying that Willie Jones got his goddamn ass shot off because he didn’t do as he was told.
“Here’s the way it works. The soldier goes out, and pretty soon one of those guys’ guns goes g-r-r-p, and the soldier lies down. That’s just what the German wants him to do. He has mortars zeroed in on that point. So down come the mortars, and the soldier gets blown to hell.... But if you shoot and keep shooting, the German keeps his head down, and your chances of survival are 90 percent better.
“The rifle is the deadliest goddamn weapon in the world, and the German is scared to death of it. So use it.... If you will resolve to fire 100 rounds every time you go into battle, you will live forever.... A rifle or a machine gun that does not fire is of about as much use as a pecker to the pope.
“You will be afraid. Any man who says he is not afraid in battle is either a fool or a liar, but there is a difference in being afraid and being a coward. You must have a desperate determination to close with the enemy. Because when you do, he has a desperate determination to get the hell out of there.... Don’t wait until you see the whites of his eyes. The sons of bitches’ eyes are yellow.
[Here the listeners roared with laughter, and General Patton’s normally scowling face changed into a slow, catlike grin.]
“Friend of mine, General Scott, a little fellow about so high [here the general held his hand out level with his lower rib], once said to me, ‘I would be willing to get into the ring with Joe Louis if the son of a bitch would promise to defend himself.’ It was his way of saying that defending yourself is the surest way in the world to get yourself killed. You must always attack, attack, attack.
“If a German tries to surrender, make him come to you. We’ve had a number of men lost because some German came out with his hands up and our soldiers said, ‘Goody, goody. There’s one. Let’s go get him.’ And when they ran out, they were mowed down by machine guns.
”... If you have a man who thinks he is a psychoneurotic, make fun of him, kick his ass....”
“A while ago there was a truckload of German prisoners brought by where I was standing. They had been searched, but one of them pulled out a pistol from somewhere—I don’t know where, he must have had it stuck up his ass—and he shot one of my captains. Some guns around there went off by mistake and, do you know, every one of the Germans in that truck was killed.
“Now I do not advocate standing Germans up against the wall and shooting them. We are a superior race, and that is not a sporting thing to do. So shoot the sons of bitches before you get them to the wall.
“Another thing: Take care of yourself. The only reason for getting trench foot is carelessness. And a soldier has to live with his feet for the rest of his life.
“I want to say a word about those low characters known as psychoneurotics. They are sons of bitches, bastards, and lice. In the last war they had ‘shell shock,’ and in the next war they will have some other kind of shock. But every one of them that quits means that more of a burden is thrown on you brave men who continue to fight. So if you have a man who thinks he is a psychoneurotic, make fun of him, kick his ass, and shake him out of it.
“There is another low, cowardly bastard known as the SIW, or self-inflicted wound. It is usually the middle finger of the left hand or a middle toe of the left foot. So if you see a man wounded in one of those places, you know he is probably one of those SIW bastards.
“You, the American soldier, are the greatest soldier in the world. You are part of an army that has done the greatest thing in the world. You are fighting for the greatest country in the world. And now the fight is won and almost over, so you can’t help but be goddamn heroes.
“You men are lucky, very lucky. Now, when you go back home, and in later years when your descendants ask you, ‘Grandpop, what did you do in the Second World War?’ you won’t have to say, ‘Well, sonny, I shoveled shit in Alabama.’”
At about this point the chimes in the clock tower of the church began to strike and General Patton concluded his talk.
“You have the makings of a good division. Right now you are a better division than the best American division at the close of the First World War, and I know, because I was part of that division. You have the best equipment of any soldiers who ever lived. And you have the best reason for fighting that any people have ever had.
“But you must remember what I have told you. Namely, shoot and keep shooting. Attack quickly and decisively. Take care of yourself. Never trust a German.”