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Making Patton

A Classic War Film's Epic Journey to the Silver Screen


Forever known for its blazing cinematic image of General George S. Patton (portrayed by George C. Scott) addressing his troops in front of a mammoth American flag, Patton won seven Oscars in 1971, including those for Best Picture and Best Actor. In doing so, it grossed $60 million despite an intense anti-war climate.  It was also a film that almost did not get made.

Sarantakes offers an engaging and richly detailed production history of what became a critically acclaimed box office hit. He takes readers behind the scenes, even long before any scenes were ever conceived, to recount the trials and tribulations that attended the epic efforts of producer Frank McCarthy and Twentieth Century Fox to finally bring Patton to the screen after eighteen years of planning.

Sarantakes recounts how filmmakers had to overcome the reluctance of Patton’s family, copyright issues with biographers, competing efforts for a biopic, and Department of Defense red tape. He chronicles the long search for a leading man—including discussions with Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, and even Ronald Reagan—before settling on Scott, a brilliant actor who brought to the part both enthusiasm for the project and identification with Patton’s passionate persona. He also tracks the struggles to shoot the movie with a large multinational cast, huge outlays for military equipment, and filming in six countries. And he provides revealing insider stories concerning, for example, Scott’s legendary drinking bouts and the origins of and debate over his famous opening monologue.

Drawing on extensive research in the papers of Frank McCarthy and director Franklin Schaffner, studio archives, records of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, contemporary journalism, and oral histories, Sarantakes ultimately shows us that Patton spoke to national ideals while exposing complex truths about power in the mid-twentieth century.

Dropping the Torch

Jimmy Carter, the Olympic Boycott, and the Cold War


In this book, Sarantakes offers a diplomatic history of the 1980 Olympic boycott. Broad in its focus, it looks at events in Washington, D.C., as well as the opposition to the boycott among the international Olympic movement both in the United States and abroad.  He examines not only the diplomatic efforts to stop this gathering, but also how this attempted embargo ultimately affected the athletic contests in Moscow.   Jimmy Carter based his foreign policy on assumptions that had fundamental flaws and reflected a superficial familiarity with the Olympic movement. These basic mistakes led to a campaign that failed to meet its basic mission objectives but did manage to insult the Soviets just enough to destroy détente and restart the Cold War. The book also includes a military history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which provoked the boycott, and an examination of the boycott’s impact four years later at the Los Angeles Olympics, where the Soviet Union retaliated with its own boycott. 

Despite the title, this book has an international focus.  Sarantakes based his account on a diverse set of records from the Carter White House to minutes of the International Olympic Committee.  All in all, he cites material in six different languages (English, French, German, Russian, and Japanese) from over 20 countries.

Allies against the Rising Sun

The United States, the British Nations, and the Defeat of Imperial Japan


The role of America’s British allies in the Pacific Theater has been largely ignored. Nicholas Sarantakes now revisits this seldom-studied chapter, offering the most detailed assessment ever published of the U.S. alliance with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Sarantakes examines Britain’s motivations for participating in the invasion of Japan, the roles envisioned by its Commonwealth nations, and the United States’ decision to accept their participation. He shows how maintaining the coalition, even in the face of a number of disputes, served the interests of ever coalition member.

Sarantakes describes how Churchill favored British-led operations to revive the colonial empire, while his generals argued that Britain would be further marginalized if it did not fight alongside the United States in the assault on Japan’s home islands. Commonwealth partners saw an opportunity to support the mother country in service of their own separatist ambitions. And even though the United States called the shots, it welcomed allies to share the predicted casualties of an invasion.

Sarantakes takes readers into the halls of both civil and military power in all five nations to show how policies and actions were debated resolved. He not only describes the participation of major heads of state but also brings in a cast of military leaders including General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz on the American side and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke on the British. He also paints vivid scenes of battle, including the attack of the British Pacific Fleet on Japan and ground fighting on Okinawa.

Blending diplomatic, political, and military history encompassing naval, air, and land forces, Sarantakes’s work reveals behind-the-scenes political factors in warfare alliances and explains why the Anglo-America coalition survived World War II when it had collapsed after World War I.

Seven Stars

The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Joseph Stilwell


Battle diaries are essential for understanding what generals are thinking as they work their way through the fog of battle. Nicholas Sarantakes juxtaposes the diaries of two very different generals who both fought at Okinawa: Lt. Gen. Buckner, a by–the–numbers man who favored the use of artillery and tanks to reduce entrenched positions, and Gen. Stilwell, a prickly outsider who preferred maneuver to set–piece battles. Sarantakes identifies individuals, includes explanations of important events alluded to by the generals and provides glossaries of main characters and military terms. The result is a record of how Buckner and Stilwell came to grips with the problems of command on a war-torn island at the end of a long logistical tether.

With the background information provided by Sarantakes, the diaries of these men become accessible to the reader. Buckner is the more restrained, a southern gentleman whose career was average and whose diary entries are interspersed with letters to his wife. He shuttles between forward command posts and shipboard conferences, noting how much rain has fallen, how many enemy have been killed, and how many aircraft have been shot down.

Stilwell is a self-styled outsider, a brilliant warrior with the social graces of a porcupine. He dislikes Buckner and has little patience for his irreverent humor. Stilwell’s entries are peppered with frank and often acrid observations about everything and everybody. He dismisses the British as “hoggish, inconsiderate” Limeys and atomic scientists as “temperamental bugs.”

The battle for Okinawa was a pivotal event in World War II and has the distinction of being the single bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States Navy. This book is a fascinating exploration of the art of leading troops in battle and will interest scholars and students of the Pacific War.


The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S.-Japanese Relations


Following the battle of Okinawa in 1945, the United States ruled this island its surrounding atolls as a colony in everything but name until 1972. The island had been the strategic keystone of the American postwar base system of double containment in the Pacific and the only spot in that chain that American officials insisted on governing under the legal cover of “residual sovereignty.”

Why had the United States insisted on administering an entire province of a country that it otherwise called an ally? And why did the Americans return Okinawa when they did? In this thoroughly researched, carefully argued work, Sarantakes argues that policy makers in Washington worried that the Japanese might return to their aggressive and expansionistic prewar foreign policies after the occupation of Japan ended. Even after it was abundantly clear that Japan posed no threat to its neighbors, the United States insisted on retaining the island, fearing that Japan might adopt a policy of neutrality during the Cold War.

Sarantakes uses recently declassified documents to examine America's larger strategic purposes during this period. The story he tells includes soldiers fighting in combat, mobs rioting, diplomats navigating the dangerous waters of power, and clever politicians on both sides of the indigo-colored Pacific taking high-risk gambles. In telling this tale, he brings our attention to an episode in American foreign relations that has been taken for granted for half a century.