George Patton? T. W. H. Crosland? Edmund Kozalla? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: General George S. Patton made the most incisive remark about war that I have ever heard. He was rallying Allied troops who were attempting to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II. His assertion about the two-edged sword of patriotism was cloaked in grim humor:
No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
I am not certain of the exact wording. Interestingly, some claim that this comment was not spoken by the general and actually originated with the 1970 movie “Patton”. Would you please explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence known to QI appeared in the 1958 book “War and Peace in the Space Age” by Lt. General James M. Gavin. The author stated that he and other military personnel heard an address by Patton shortly before leaving Africa in 1943. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
George Patton’s last words to us before we left Africa came home with meaning: “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”
The speech was not publicized contemporaneously because of war time restrictions on information and because it contained language that was considered coarse for the era. Patton delivered many speeches during the war and some of the soldiers who heard his words recounted them in the following years. Unsurprisingly, the precise phrasing of the quotation under examination varied in these accounts.
An interesting precursor to the statement was in circulation during World War I, and similar remarks were printed in newspapers by 1942. Detailed information is further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1958, War and Peace in the Space Age by Lt. General James M. Gavin (James Maurice Gavin), Quote Page 64, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩