Sundays in my childhood home meant old movies (and football, if it was Fall). My father, who I can't recall ever watching television on any other day of the week (certainly not on a work day), spent lunch and sometimes part of the late afternoon occupied with the likes of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Marlon Brando. His favorites, and by extension my favorites, were "spaghetti westerns" and World War II films.

One of our top picks was Patton starring George C. Scott. the film follows the career of the famous American General George S. Patton during the span of WWII. Scott's portrayal of Patton (loosely based on his biography) focuses on the general's reputation as uncompromising, vulgar, and proud, to name a few qualities. Essentially, Scott portrays Patton as the quintessential American "hard-nose," brutal and tough, but right for the "job" of winning WWII. Though unimportant here, it's easy to make an argument for seeing Patton as contemporary American propaganda.

PattonGeneral Patton as portrayed by George C. Scott.

As a child of four or five, though, I did not know or care about any of this. Patton was a war movie, which was my only real chance to see on-screen violence without going behind my parents' back; it was "cool." The problems of world war, political intrigue, ethics, and death did not concern me. The Americans shot the "bad guys," and Patton was unflinchingly and justly cruel to them. He was G.I. Joe incarnate.

I only remember bits of the movie: The opening sequence where Patton addresses his troops backdropped by an impossibly large American flag, Patton feverishly directing tanks stuck in the mud, a close up of the general that resembled my grandfather (also an American who served in WWII), Patton making off-color remarks about Russians behind their backs. In those glimpses from my childhood, Patton was an emblem of American superiority.

Revisiting Patton was a very different experience. My childhood memories of the simple, almost saintly hero were dashed within the first thirty seconds of dialogue. Scott's portrayal of Patton is maniacal and bizarre. The American general, though effective and powerful, is also selfish and vain. War, for him, is a stage for personal glory at the expense of human life (though he deeply respects fallen soldiers). For instance, the film relays the events of the capture of Sicily, whereby Patton ignored orders, redirects the American general Bradley to cover his flank at the expense of many lives, and all to beat the British commander Montgomery's in a race to Italy. In another scene, the general demands that any soldiers suffering from "battle fatigue" (likely similar to today's PTSD) be removed from hospital care immediately.

My views on Patton as an adult are conflicted, though. He is strange and grotesque at times, yet also incredibly successful and thoughtful. His policies and demands throughout the film seem extreme, yet (as a civilian) I am unable to fully comprehend the circumstances in which he was cast.

Don Quixote"Don Quixote" by Pablo Picasso.

What is important here, I think, is not how I come down on Patton as an interesting historical figure (something I haven't fully grappled with). Rather, that the Patton of my childhood was uncomplicated, and the Patton I see now is deeply conflicted and intriguing. In the film, the German officer assigned to studying Patton describes him as a 20th Century "Don Quixote" for his attachment to romantic ideals of chivalry and honor in battle. Watching the film today, I wonder what to make of this. Patton the historical figure was instrumental in the success of WWII, yet also responsible for positions that were outdated and condemnable in the 40's, much less today.

It's uncomfortable for me to imagine this figure in such a light, not only because it conflicts with my simple childhood view, but because that view still pervades my current disposition at times. It butts up against ideology that I have developed as an adult, and beckons to a tradition and worldview that I have mostly shed in moving from the uncomplicated home of my childhood to the conflicted unknown of adulthood. Patton now draws me to a mediation position between two ways of seeing and knowing. I am caught up in wondering about Patton as "Don Quixote," and whether my own childhood home and community paradigm—deeply conservative and at times anti-academic—have led me off to occasionally tilt at windmills of my own.