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Posted on Nov 14, 2006 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Gen. George S: Patton, Jr. at West Point, 1904-1909

By Carlo D'Este

Note to the reader: Although this month’s article is about Patton at West Point and his struggles to graduate and obtain a commission as an Army officer, it also focuses on dyslexia and the dramatic effect it had on his early life. I’d venture the opinion that everyone who reads this article knows at least one person who is dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a disorder that is believed to presently afflict as many as forty million Americans and 20-percent of the world’s population. It has afflicted many prominent people, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Albert Einstein, Thomas A. Edison, Woodrow Wilson, Nelson Rockefeller, and numerous others. First diagnosed in 1896 by two British physicians, dyslexia was virtually unknown in the United States until the 1920s, and although great strides have been made since then in what has become an enormous and important field of study, dyslexia still remains a complex and frustrating problem for both its sufferers and those who treat it.

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Dyslexia has long perplexed the medical and scientific communities. There is no specific definition of exactly what it is or what causes it. The usual definition of dyslexia as merely a learning disorder characterized by reading, writing and spelling difficulty is highly misleading, and while certainly a factor, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Dyslexia is far more complex and has many wide-ranging effects that may include some or all of the following: an inability to concentrate; sharp mood swings; obsessiveness; hyperactivity; impulsiveness; compulsiveness; a tendency to boast, and nearly always, feelings of inferiority and stupidity. Renowned dyslexia expert, Dr. Harold S. Levinson, has written that: “most dyslexics feel dumb, despite being smart . . . Most often a dyslexic’s compulsion to succeed is motivated by an overwhelming desire to prove to himself and others that he is not really as stupid as he feels. Accordingly, the dyslexic disorder frequently serves as a potent stimulus to achieve, reflecting a desperate attempt to reverse the humiliating feelings of inferiority that are invariably present.” Moreover, as Levinson notes, “Unfortunately, tangible success and peer recognition, even adulation, do not neutralize or eliminate a dyslexic’s feeling dumb. All too often, accomplished, even famous, dyslexics merely feel that they have succeeded in fooling everyone around them, and that others are not truly aware of how inept they really are. They attribute their successes to chance, a lucky break, a fluke of nature.” (1)

Dyslexics experience a need to justify to themselves and those who have no grasp of the nature of their problem that they are as good or better than ordinary people. In many, it often becomes a near-obsessive driving force in which the dyslexic seems to be saying to himself, but secretly hoping that others will notice that: “I’m smart too! I’m just as good as you!” This feeling of inferiority, the need for the dyslexic to prove not only to himself, but to others that he or she is a person of intelligence and ability is the key, not only to understanding the source of Patton’s drive to succeed, but of the authoritarian, macho, warrior personality he deliberately created for himself.

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As Patton grew to manhood it was dyslexia that fueled the fires of his ancestor-hero worship of the Civil War Pattons, lit by his father and his Aunt Nannie. He spent virtually his entire life proving himself worthy of his Patton heritage. It would obsess him so powerfully, so single-mindedly, so outlandishly, that few could comprehend how anyone could have his life dominated by such demons.

As an adult, Patton would lampoon his inability to spell, once advising his nephew, “any idiot can spell a word the same way time after time. But it calls for imagination and is much more distinguished to be able to spell it several different ways as I do.”

Virtually every symptom of dyslexia described above applied to Patton. Throughout his life he would deprecatingly refer to himself as having been slow, lazy and stupid as a student. During his plebe year at West Point he wrote to his future wife, Beatrice Banning Ayer, that, “I am either very lazy or very stupid or both for it is beastly hard for me to learn and as a natural result I hate to study.” (2)

This is the story of how he overcame his affliction at West Point and became a US Army officer.

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From the time of his youth in Southern California when he decided he would one day become a great general, it seemed unlikely that George S. Patton would ever achieve his dream. Patton suffered from lifelong, undiagnosed dyslexia, a complex malady that is far more than a learning disorder. Patton was eleven before he even learned to read and write and during his six years of formal schooling he did poorly in most academic subjects. His intense desire to attend West Point and attain an Army commission seemed little more than a far-fetched, childish dream.

Instead, his father sent him to the Virginia Military Institute in 1903 where he was a model cadet. By dint of intense study and dedication Patton succeeded in obtaining a Senatorial appointment to West Point in 1904, after beating out his competition to finish first. That Patton survived West Point to receive a commission in the cavalry was one of the crowning achievements of his life, and the subject of this article.

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10 Comments

  1. Patton was an amazing man. He is a symbol of our freedom, here, in the United States of America. We love you Patton. (speaking on behalf of all fellow Americans.

    • GO AMERICA

      • NO CRAP

    • Yes! A true leader. Natural, raw, and not politically driven. Very refreshing in a leader. Why Eisenhower subjugated a man far more superior than himself, is beyond me. It takes a certain degree of narcissism to produce that person who possesses the spirit of a champion. Patton’s spirit was all encompassing as a leader; to this very day he still stands a head above the rest. His romanticism made him a true individual, capable of great insight and perspectives necessary to accommodate the objectives of our nation.

  2. I LOVE AMERICA

  3. MURICA!!

  4. In my patriotic USAF endeavors I have always struggled often feeling isolated and that others are out for my position.At the Department of Veterans Affairs Police with corruption it was true.I wonder if I am like Patton,with the same condition. The Fighting Pattons are great Americans. I call my family the Fighting Bennetts,unfortunately and Dad, his brother and his nephew were all disabled World War Two veterans passing away early,with CPT Stephen Bennett serving in WW1 and WW2.

  5. This article is poorly researched. Although it describes Patton and dyslexia quite well it is wrong about Leonardo dad Vinci and Albert Einstein being dyslexic. These are old myths the author is parroting. If I didn’t already know something about Patton or dyslexia I’d be very skeptical of the entire article.

    Yes. All of da Vinci’s personal notes are written in mirror image. He did that on purpose so people could not read his material.

    The people who say Einstein was dyslexic are banking on the myth that he failed algebra in high school. He didn’t fail algebra in high school. He failed in entrance exam for a tough engineering college that he took at the age of 16. He was two years younger than the typical applicant and he didn’t want to be an engineer. From what he said later in life, he may have took the test just to please his dad and failed it on purpose.

    I am dyslexic myself and a big World War II buff. I’d love to be able to claim da Vinci and Einstein but, the historical record just does not support that.

  6. Holly crap! I did not realize who I was talking to. I did not see who the author of the article was. Carlo D’Este is a way better historian than I would ever dream of being.

    I am not retracting my statements about him being wrong about Einstein and Da Vinci. However, I am going to double check that.

    However, I am going to retract my statement about questioning the veracity of the rest of the article. Hell, a huge chunk of what I know about Patton I only know because of Carlo D’Este. Him and Martin Bluemsom.

    Carlo D’Este», if you read this. Please forgive the harshness of my previous post.

  7. I am researching the U S military men who influenced the outcome of the U S foreign wars as cadets and midshipmen of the US military Academy and US Naval Academy. I hoped to draw similarities among them in the context of ” honor/ courage / country” and publish it as a historian

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