Jewish World Review July 16, 2003 / 16 Tamuz 5763

Paul Greenberg

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MY, WHAT LANGUAGE! | Frank Lautenberg, the senator and septuagenarian from New Jersey, was shocked, shocked. The president of the United States had said some disrespectful things about the enemy in Iraq, even taunted them. The commander-in-chief had dared them to try something. He had . well, listen:

"There are some who feel they can attack us there," George W. Bush said of the suicide bombers and bushwhackers that have been attacking American troops. "My answer is: Bring 'em on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation."

That's no way to talk, says Senator Lautenberg. Or even how they talked in his Army days. "I am shaking my head in disbelief," said the senator. "When I served in the Army in Europe during World War II, I never heard any military commander — let alone the commander-in-chief — invite enemies to attack U.S. troops."

Really? During his European tour, he must never have run across a fella named Patton, whose rip-roaring, piss-profane, goddam on-the-mark remarks to American GIs have become classics. Not classics of senatorial posturing, but of the American Vulgate.

General Patton's speeches may have lacked the politesse they practice in the U.S. Senate — consider the bloated effulgences of Robert Byrd, for example — but Old Blood and Guts didn't have time for, or interest in, the niceties. He had a war to win, a reputation to make and people to kill — before they killed more of us. He had to be simple, clear and direct. And he was.

The general may be remembered best for telling the men of the Sixth Armored: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

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Bring 'em on? George S. Patton would have found so mild a taunt a puny thing indeed. And he'd probably have found being offended by it even punier. He might even have suspected that the senator's oh-so-offended reaction to the president's language is just a cheap pose for political purposes — although George S. Patton might have used a shorter, more descriptive phrase for it.

There was nothing delicate about the general's style. Here he is addressing the troops on the eve of their embarkation to points East:

"Don't forget, you men don't know that I'm here. No mention of that fact is to be made in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell happened to me. I'm not supposed to be commanding this Army. I'm not even supposed to be here in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the goddamned Germans. Some day I want to see them raise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl, 'Jesus Christ, it's the goddamned Third Army again and that son-of-a-f-ing bitch Patton.'"

Goodness gracious.

By the linguistic standards of a Patton, or even a first sergeant or two I used to know, Bring 'em on! is almost a term of endearment. The general would surely have phrased it differently, as he did in 1944:

"We want to get the hell over there. The quicker we clean up this goddamned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple-pissing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the goddamned Marines get all of the credit."

Patton's language would have put a meek little Bring 'em on! in the genteel shade. And if Senator Lautenberg disapproves of this president's language, what do you suppose he would have made of Harry Truman's?

That good Democrat — who could tell off Douglas MacArthur, Joe Stalin and any music critic who gave Margaret a hard time, and then get down to some serious cussin' — would have made George W. sound like a Sunday School teacher.

In his high-toned farewell to the U.S. Senate, Arkansas's Dale Bumpers had to bowdlerize Harry's comment on the danger to this country of having a lyin' so-and-so in the White House — and even that bowdlerized version of HST's counsel never made it into the Congressional Record. (After all, the Clinton impeachment was coming up.)

With an election year approaching, Senator Lautenberg wasn't the only politico offended by the president's little pleasantry. John Kerry, with a military record of his own that includes three Purple Hearts earned in Vietnam, was critical of the president's language, too. After all, he's running for president.

"Bush's comment," said Senator Kerry, "was unwise, unworthy of the office and his role as commander-in-chief, and unhelpful to American soldiers under fire. The deteriorating situation in Iraq requires less swagger and more thoughtfulness and statesmanship."

Uh huh. Less swagger, more statesmanship. That's the kind of high-class bovine excrement that makes you wish for a time machine. Because I'd liked to have been there to see John Kerry try telling that to Georgie Patton. Just to see the air turn blue. Custom never staled nor age withered the infinite variety of the general's obscenities. And Old Blood and Guts fought the way he cussed. ("Our blood, his guts," one GI editorialized.)

Weapons and technology have changed considerably since the old M-1 rifles and Sherman tanks of the general's day, but I'd bet the language — and spirit — of the U.S. Army hasn't. For which let us give thanks. It's a spirit that might best be summed up, in a family newspaper, as: Bring 'em on!

It's not George W. Bush's comment that offends — grown-ups know we're in a war to the finish against a fanatical enemy — but his critics' calculated reaction to it. Their sniffy criticism sounds phony. Like just another political ploy.

Presidential contenders tempted to criticize W.'s brusque way with words might do well to remember this standard rule of American politics: Any candidate who criticizes his opponent's language as too vivid is in trouble. You could look it up. See under Dewey, Thomas E.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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