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On August 3, 1943, General George S. Patton entered a tent in a military hospital in Sicily to visit wounded soldiers. He had just been briefed by one of his commanders that malingering was thinning out the ranks at the front. Amid the wounded warriors was an enlisted man crouched on a stool, his face hazed over. When Patton learned from him that he was suffering from battle fatigue, the general forced him out of the tent and ordered him to be sent back to the front, after first slapping him with his glove. After a second such incident, Patton was privately censured by the commanding general, Dwight Eisenhower. When muckraking reporter Drew Pearson got hold of the story, he raised such a hue and cry that it was feared Patton, the most successful American general of the war, would be sent home in disgrace. He was relieved of his command on the Italian front. Patton wondered, could such a tiny incident destroy an illustrious career?

What the high command did with this ten second mistake was, however, masterful. In England, they built an entire fake army around Patton, complete with blow-up tanks and planes. Adolf Hitler was so convinced that Patton would lead the invasion of France that he treated the June, 1944 landings at Normandy as a diversion, holding back his armored reserve for an assault that never came, and giving the Allies the foothold they needed so that Patton, commanding Third Army on the offensive’s right flank, could be the hammer that broke the German lines and led the push that drove them out of France. Just one year had passed since he slapped the soldier. A ten-second mistake changed the course of history.

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