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Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
Eric Poole is a reporter and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger, a small newspaper nestled near the Ohio state line in the heart of Steelers Country. He has a wife, a son and a daughter (so there will be some daddy stuff on this blog). A former steelworker and retired rugby player, Poole has a wide range of interests, which was reflected in the 2008 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards, when Poole won first-prize honors for best columns and best special project. His upcoming book, "Company of Heroes," due out March 17, 2015, from Osprey Publishing, tells the story of Vietnam War hero Leslie Sabo and his comrades. Sabo was awarded the Medal of Honor May 16, 2012, in a White House ceremony.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Patton's biggest defeat

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about one of the most important rules of comedy - Always Punch Upward. Basically, that's the reason it's funny when female or black comics can get away with making fun of Old White Guys, but if we Old White Guys return the favor, it's bullying.

We Old White Guys are at the top of the social ladder, so when people make fun of us, they're usually punching upward. If we respond in kind, it's bullying.

Now, you can aim the comedy at yourself - that's the Foxworthy Rule, named for the comic who once said, "You can't make fun of rednecks unless you are one. And I are one."

But when it comes to punching upward, few did it with more panache than cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who got his start while serving in the 45th Infantry Division during World War II. Mauldin, a grunt, presented the war from the foxhole perspective, which often meant exposing the foibles of those guys with stars on their helmets.

One cartoon, perhaps Mauldin's most famous, depicted two officers on a mountainside watching a breathtaking sunset that inspires one to ask the other, "Beautiful view. Is there one for the enlisted men?"

George Patton, Mauldin's commanding general, didn't appreciate Mauldin's cartoons, which shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. Patton, a patrician with a tendency to punch downward - both figuratively and literally - wasn't known for his sense of humor. When I made that Facebook post about the comedy of punching upward, my friend and former co-worker Merle Jantz related a story in which Patton asked why Mauldin didn't do more cartoons about the stupid things privates do.

But there was apparently more to the story than that. Patton apparently tried repeatedly to prevent Mauldin from publishing cartoons. Mauldin's Wikipedia bio has a story about Patton chewing out Mauldin, only to have his own superior officer, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, intervene on the cartoonist's behalf.

In the terrific book, "The Generals," longtime military affairs journalist and author Thomas Ricks tells a story where Patton pressured Mauldin's division commander to drop Mauldin's cartoons from the 45th Division's newspaper. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton, actually liked Mauldin's work because it was good for the grunts' morale and it got them to read the newspaper, which he used to rebut rumors in the unit.

Middleton, aware of Mauldin's popularity among the enlisted men, demanded that Patton put the order in writing. Patton, aware that Mauldin had fans both in the foxholes and in London and Washington, D.C., backed down.

Yeah, Old Blood and Guts might have been the most feared Allied combat general as far as the Germans were concerned. But one man did manage to defeat him during World War II.

And he did it with a pen, not a sword.

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