I Dare Say – Twigs and trees (12-3-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 3, 1943)


Twigs and trees

By Florence Fisher Parry

I’m glad that the Gen. Patton incident has been placed back in the hands of the Army, where from the first it strictly belonged. Congress asks to meddle into too many matters outside its jurisdiction anyway. In the last analysis, it’s the Army, from general to foot soldier, who is fighting this war. Its ways are not our ways any more than its deaths are our deaths.

Who is to say whose shell shock was the greater, the soldier’s whom Gen. Patton cursed and hit, or that of the general himself, who, soon after he left the soldier he had insulted, broke down and sobbed at the sight of wounded men?

The training of any man into a hardened soldier is in itself one of the most relentless conditioning processes known. Ralph Ingersoll, in his remarkable book The Battle Is the Payoff, brings this fact brutally home. It is not enough to make iron bodies. It is the iron nerve that counts. Generals know this. They cannot be mollycoddlers. And while in no way condoning Gen. Patton’s lamentable act, I can understand and have compassion for it.

“Nerves” take strange outlets. In the case of the poor fellow who was the victim of Gen. Patton’s outburst, he could “hear the shells come over” but he couldn’t hear them burst. In the case of Gen. Patton, it was his taut control breaking suddenly, one instant into curses and violence and the next instant into sentimental tears.

As twig is bent

This unfortunate incident reminded me of a story out of the last World War: A French soldier lay dying. In a few moments he would be gone forever. The will to live had left him. His eyes were glazing and his breath had stopped. But at that moment the general passed by, brutally slapped the boy’s face, jerked him up by his chest and shook him.

How dare you die, you coward, when the country needs you so?! How dare you give up now and leave us fighting?! Coward!

The eyes of the dying soldier lost their glaze. Sharp points of fury focused them. Angry blood suffused his face. His heart began to pump its outrage, and life returned and flowed again within him.

“As the twig is bent, the tree inclines.” Mostly, but not always. Gen. Patton, for example, has had a soldier’s life – unsparing, bitter, hard – a lean, taut, basic life, no place for faltering nerves. His standards for human conduct are bound to be quite different from those of others.

Compare, for example, his “conditioning” with that of our President, who in temperament provides as sharp an antithesis as could be had. The current Time gives us a chronological reminder of our President’s preparation for the biggest single job ever one man’s to hold. That he should now have become the statesman who sits with three other world leaders at the greatest conference table in all history, provides astounding commentary upon the man’s elastic capacity for growth; and we would have chary souls, indeed, if at this towering moment we were to begrudge or deny our President his moment of fulfillment.

The transformation

Consider how this twig was bent:

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in a large estate, son of a country squire. His first trip to Europe was when he was three. He had his own pony at seven. He made yearly trips to Europe surrounded by tutors, costly toys, and doting parents. When he was 19, he entered Groton, a privileged boys’ prep school.

From there to Harvard, clubs, sports and the pleasant pastime of writing reform editorials in the Harvard Crimson. At 31, he married a timid, plain young cousin and had a long and carefree European honeymoon.

Two years later he is managing his Hyde Park estate, and a few years later is seen campaigning for State Senator in a bright red, open car. He is then 36 years old. He has never done a stroke of work in his life. But politics appeal to him as a gentleman’s occupation.

At 47 (mind you), we see him as vice president of the Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland at a salary of $25,000 a year. It is in that year that he is stricken by infantile paralysis and goes into communion with his own soul.

He comes out of that with a set chin and a smile which even then might have served as a warning to any adversary.

Eleven years later, he is in the White House, the most firmly entrenched President in history. Now ensconced in the seats of the Mighty, he occupies the principal chair and will forever sit in the halls of history, the greatest simple example that mankind can proffer to disprove the old saw, “As the twig is bent, the tree inclines.”

This old adage may hold true in the Army. Gen. Patton is a supreme example of its truth. But present now at some historic rendezvous sits President Roosevelt grinning defiance at the adage – mama’s boy into politician, into statesman, into the history books, and so into immortality.


Again, I find Florance to be wise beyond her generation. Her perspective of Patton situation is one I have not heard before. It aligns with what most Americans expressed at that time. Even the soldier involved did not harbor any ill will towards Patton.