Wednesday, May 18, 2005

George S. Patton and other Difficult Characters

There’s no doubt about it; some people are harder to write about than others. Once I wrote a small novel about the 1874 murder of my great-grandfather. It was a straightforward tale. The Klan was killing citizens and he took steps to stop them, so they killed him along with the others. Yes, he was warned, but he was brave and took a bullet anyway.

In order to spice up the story, which was factual in every other way, I introduced a young woman, the only person who did not exist in the real-life drama. Her name was Sheba Good. Sheba just about ran away with story. I spent too much time on her. Readers also took quite an interest in the girl, which took some of the edge from the outrage of crooked officials, courts and legal systems of the time.

Sheba turned out to be a rascal, an unintended handful. I still like her.

In a small history due to be out soon, I wrote about my cousin’s adventures during WWII in North Africa and Italy under Generals Patton, Clark, and Truscott. My cousin, Laban Jackson, was Headquarters Commandant for these generals and was well acquainted with them.

Of the two better-known generals, Patton was much more of a “character” than Mark W. Clark. I had more material on Clark, but Patton’s nature was overpowering. It was the same way with my cousin, as he wrote about the two men. He had several humorous stories about Patton, but none about Clark. Jackson admired both men, but he quietly favored one over the other

While I was writing, I made the mistake of driving over to San Gabriel, CA, where the Pattons went to church. That was a mistake. A life-sized statue of Patton dominated a garden area, while some of his family were buried nearby. His presence seemed to inhabit the place. I should have stayed away and maintained my neutrality.
It is enough to make these observations and let readers decide what motivates people. A few decades ago it was expected that biographers would at least attempt a psychological analysis of their subjects. I don’t care for the method and have no desire to use such banal tools as “pop psychology” when I write. Most of it is junk anyway. And like most writers, I am unqualified to analyze. All I know about Patton and Clark is what the facts stated. These men’s lives needed no interpretation.

Patton, like Sheba, was a bit of a rascal. I like them both.

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