Military History Psychiatric Casualties
Eric Dorn Brose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0048


Most readers from the United States, Britain, and many other countries who have yet to investigate the extensive literature on the topic of psychiatric casualties will no doubt remember the scene in the motion picture Patton (1970), in which George C. Scott’s character, General George Patton, strikes a soldier who is not physically wounded but who had broken down emotionally in combat. Patton actually struck two soldiers in Sicily, in August 1943, about a week apart, and the resulting controversy threatened his career. The so-called slapping incidents are a useful introductory window through which to view this topic, for they demonstrate, first, that the long-held, deeply entrenched, traditional view of psychiatric breakdown in combat as solely a “lack of character” issue had not died out as late as 1943 (this despite the experience of World War I) and, second, that even beforehand (witness the controversy), views were indeed changing and becoming more tolerant. Cowardice and fraudulent behavior on the battlefield do happen, but they do not explain all or even most cases of mental breakdown.

Introductory Works

D’Este 1996 is an excellent biography of the controversial general and also the best secondary source on his problems in Sicily. The Official Website of George S. Patton, Jr. has valuable primary material in addition to that on the slapping incidents.

  • D’Este, Carlo. A Genius for War: A Life of General George S. Patton. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.

    NNNContains the most complete discussion of the slapping incidents (pp. 521–546).

  • The Official Website of George S. Patton, Jr.

    NNNIncludes both doctors’ reports detailing the slapping incidents. Also here is President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s letter of reprimand to Patton.

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