If you want to be more memorable BUILD yourself into a symbol.
In business they call it a brand. BORING!
In politics they may label you a caricature. INSULTING!
Whereas symbols are the stuff of superheroes…
“As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” — Batman
And few men have become as much of a symbol as General George S. Patton Jr.
“Though I may walk in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest motherf*cker in the valley.” — Patton
Become a symbol by marching to the beat of Patton’s steps…
Since Patton was a boy he loved reading about the great heroes and battles of history and like most boys he saw himself between the lines.
“By perseverance, study, and eternal desire, any man can become great.” — Patton
But unlike most boys, he literally saw himself in those battles because he believed he was the reincarnation of previous war heroes.
One day while walking along the beaches of Normandy, Patton turned to his future-wife and to her astonishment said that he had fought here before, “in a previous life,” when the Roman legions came to conquer two thousand years ago, and that someday he would fight here again someday. Three decades later he would fulfill his prophesy.
In addition to his spirit, he also felt connected to the past through his blood.
When he went to Virginia Military Institute and was being fitting into his uniform, the old tailor told the young Patton that he had the exact same measurements as his father and grandfather.
Then with a clear understanding of what he wanted and who he wanted to be, Patton began to cultivate his image.
“For Patton, leadership was never simply about making plans and giving orders, it was about transforming oneself into a symbol” — Alan Axelrod, historian
At V.M.I. he decided to no longer smile because he believed it was unbecoming a serious military man. Instead he would practice his “war face” in front of the mirror.
To further capture the essence of who he wanted to be he wrote down “Characteristics of a cavalry leader” in a notebook he kept…
1. indomitable courage 2. quick perception of the right moment to attack 3. capacity of inspiring confidence in troops 4. always work like Hell at all things and all times.
He especially cultivated his courage (although one may say it’s a fine line between courage and stupidity).
While students were practicing their shot, Patton would walk out and stand between the targets. When word got out to his mother, his mother was told he was attempting suicide, but George reassured her that he just wanted to see what it felt like to have bullets whizz by.
After graduating top of his class, George S. Patton Jr. was desperate for a war to fight in.
He soon got that fight in the “War to End All Wars”, i.e. WW1.
“Better to fight for something than live for nothing.” — George S. Patton Jr.
He fought bravely earning multiple medals.
Then peace came.
But peace didn’t last as long as the idealists had hoped because decades later a new war was commencing that was starting to look bloodier and more costly than the last.
Now as an older man and a general, Patton felt this was his chance to achieve the glory he had dreamed about as a boy.
Sometimes in history the man rises to the times, but on other occasions steeped in lore, the times rise to the man.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, turns to the map on the wall. He points to the Western Front and says, “The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster!”
The men sitting around the table look uninspired.
Eisenhower continues,“There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.” But it’s hard to blame these military officers for not smiling considering how their lack of foresight cost thousands of their troops lives and may cost hundreds of thousands more. You see days prior to this frosty meeting the generals were debating who should get the glory of riding into Berlin on a metaphorical white horse but now after a Nazi surprise attack that broke a hole in the Allied defenses they are now forced to ponder how to retake the land they had just spent months acquiring, and not only that, but how to do it faster than before because each passing day means thousands of more troops will die who are trapped behind enemy lines.
But as we shall soon find out there was one man who didn’t fail to see this coming.
It is the same man who was often mocked in the media for his brashness and criticized by his colleagues for his aggressiveness.
His name is George S. Patton Junior and this is his moment!
He interjects, “Hell, let’s have the guts to let the sons of b*tches go all the way to Paris. Then we’ll really cut them up and chew em up!”
The generals grunt their approval, before returning to their resting face.
Eisenhower likes the way Patton’s talking but wants to get real, “George, that’s fine, but the enemy must never be allowed to cross the Meuse.”
Patton puffs at his cigar.
Ike continues, “A counterattack with at least three divisions. When can you start?”
“As soon as you’re through with me,” Patton responds.
“When can you attack?” Eisenhower presses.
“The morning of December twenty-first,” referring to two days from now, and adding, “with three divisions,” while still clutching his lighted cigar.
The room goes silent.
The idea of 100,000 men with enough supplies to build a small city moving over 100 miles in just 48 hours is ridiculous. And then to attempt such a feat in the dead of winter, on narrow, icy roads borders on the insane. Once again it seems Patton’s big mouth got the best of him.
“Don’t be fatuous, George,” Eisenhower says.
Patton looks to his deputy chief of staff who says nothing but nods, confirming that Patton stands on solid ground.
“We can do that,” Patton says staring straight into Eisenhower’s eyes.
Patton’s aide-de-camp would later write of “a stir, a shuffling of feet, those present straightened up in their chairs. In some faces, skepticism. But through the room, the current of excitement leaped like a flame.”
Patton then got up and over the next hour presented a detailed strategy for how to turn the tide of the war.
As the meeting ended, Eisenhower, whose scheduled to receive his fifth star tomorrow, jokes with his old friend,, “Funny thing, George, every time I get a new star I get attacked.”
“Yes,” Patton shoots back. “And every time you get attacked, I bail you out.”
Then with his headquarters on the other end, Patton grabbed the phone and simply stated, “Play ball.”
With that command Patton put hundreds of thousands of men in motion and as history would someday write: saved the trapped troops, shoved back the Germans, and served as the final nail in the Nazi coffin.
But as Patton’s army was rushing 100 miles north to save their trapped comrades, Patton didn’t simply stay behind in a warm tent.
“No good decision was ever made in swivel chair.” — Patton
If you happened to be a solider in Patton’s 3rd Army then you would have likely heard a loud horn in the distance moving faster and faster toward you.
As you marched, head down to reduce your face’s exposure to the harsh wind, you would have then seen a man standing up in an open-air jeep.
As General Patton sped by, gripping his cigar, you might have been able to make out his words of encouragement and profanity such as,
“May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t!”
This is the stuff of the Patton legend, which journalists loved to write about because Patton’s personality popped from the page, for better and sometimes for worse, but during this moment in time, General Patton so clearly represented the sort of leader nervous mothers and fathers wished for their sons and for whom those boys looked up to as the embodiment of a living breathing action hero.
There are cons to turning yourself into a symbol. The biggest one is that there is a fine line between being a symbol and being a stereotype, which means people can easily write you off and put you in a box as had happened to Patton on several occasions where people saw him as too aggressive and too honest, but the benefit of becoming a symbol is that when people are in need of such a box they know exactly where to find you.
And then once found, may you never be forgotten.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this essay then you may appreciate my video essay playlist: The Great Life: Life Lessons from History’s Greats