By Jeanne Holden, USIA Senior Staff Writer

George Catlett Marshall
"A History"

    Army General, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense -- George Catlett Marshall served the United States and the world as a soldier and a statesman.

    According to Marshall's civilian superior during World War II, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Marshall was "one of the most selfless public officials" he had ever known. It is not by chance that his name is given to what Sir Winston Churchill described as "the most unsordid act in history" -- the Marshall Plan -- through which thousands of millions of U.S. dollars were channeled to a war-torn Europe for economic reconstruction.

    The son of a coal merchant, Marshall was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1880. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901. Commissioned a lieutenant of the infantry, Marshall was first assigned to serve in the Philippines. There, according to historians and biographers, he developed the self-discipline, study habits, and other attributes of command that would allow him to excel.

    During World War I, Marshall served as Chief of Operations of the First Army and gained recognition for his role in preparing the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918. He later served as Assistant Commandant for Instruction of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. At the school, Marshall made changes in instruction methods and influenced several generals who became prominent in World War II.

    Marshall became Chief of the War Department's War Plans Division in 1938. Nominated for Army Chief of Staff by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1939, he served as acting chief for two months and then took full control on September 1, 1939 -- the day that World War II began with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland.

    As head of the army, Marshall directed the American military buildup for World War II. He presided over the raising of new divisions, the training of troops, the procurement of equipment, and the selection of top commanders. Under his leadership, the U.S. Army grew in less than four years from fewer than 200,000 men to a well-trained and well-equipped force of 8.3 million men.

    As Chief of Staff and principal U.S. war planner, Marshall strongly advocated an Allied drive on Nazi forces across the English Channel, which evolved into the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, and the campaign to liberate Western Europe.

    Marshall's later career has often been discussed in terms of whether it was desirable to have a "military mind" in a high civilian post. U.S. statesman Dean Acheson pointed out that, "Nothing could be more mistaken than to believe that General Marshall's mind was a military mind in the sense that it was dominated by military considerations, that is, considerations relating to the use of force." Acheson wrote in his 1959 book, Sketches From Life, that Marshall not only kept military concerns from ruling his civilian decisions, but also, "when he thought about military problems, nonmilitary factors played a controlling part." Bernard Baruch, an American businessman and statesman, called him "the first global strategist."

    Marshall recommended that his protégé, Dwight D. Eisenhower, lead the Allied forces in Europe, after Roosevelt decided that Marshall himself was too indispensable in Washington. In late 1944, Marshall was named General of the Army.

    Marshall retired as Chief of Staff in November 1945 at the age of 65. Only days after Marshall left the army, President Harry Truman persuaded him to go to China, as his special representative, to try to mediate the bitter civil war there. Although his efforts were unsuccessful, Truman asked him to accept the post of Secretary of State. The U.S. Senate disregarded precedent and unanimously approved the nomination without a hearing on January 8, 1947, making Marshall the first military leader to become the head of the U.S. Department of State. As secretary, Marshall directed his staff to formulate a program of economic recovery for Europe, which he outlined in a brief but historic address to Harvard University's graduating class on June 5, 1947.

    Marshall worked at the United Nations and in other forums for treaties with the defeated powers that would restore them to places of respect and equality in the family of nations. He championed rearming Western Europe to bolster the region against potential Soviet aggression, and he indicated a willingness for the United States to participate in a regional arrangement for collective defense. He also initiated a series of regional alliances for the United States and Latin America, which were designed to promote hemispheric cooperation. Ill health led to his resignation from the State Department in early 1949.

    After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, President Truman asked Marshall to return to government as the head of the Department of Defense. In the year that he served, Marshall increased the size of the army, promoted a plan for universal military training, and helped to develop the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

    Marshall was dedicated to building a strong defense, but he also labored to find peaceful solutions to world conflicts. In December 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his contributions to the economic rehabilitation of Europe. He was the first soldier to win that honor.

    Not long before Marshall's death in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1959, Winston Churchill paid him the following tribute: "During my long and close association with successive American administrations, there are few men whose qualities of mind and character have impressed me so deeply as those of General Marshall. He is a great American, but he is far more than that. In war he was as wise and understanding in counsel as he was resolute in action. In peace he was the architect who planned the restoration of our battered European economy and, at the same time, labored tirelessly to establish a system of Western defense. He has always fought victoriously against defeatism, discouragement, and disillusion. Succeeding generations must not be allowed to forget his achievements and his example."

3rd Secretary of Defense of the United States, sworn in by Harry S. Truman, September 21, 1950

born December 31, 1880
Uniontown, Pennsylvania
died October 16, 1959
Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, DC
buried at Arlington National Cemetery


Military Career

Career Track

Miscellaneous Honors

Of Interest

During the red scare, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy spoke before congress and submitted a 60,000 word paper outlining the career of George C. Marshall and giving evidence as to why he was the leader of a conspiracy with the Soviet Union against the United States. Despite this, he is known as one of the greatest modern military leaders due to his involvement with the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan (see The Marshall Plan Speech), the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, and negotiation of the NATO pact.

Nobel Peace Prize Presentation Speech

by Carl Joachim Hambro

When Cadet First Captain George Catlett Marshall graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament was meeting to discuss the awarding of Nobel's Peace Prize for the first time. And on the day when Marshall, who had not yet completed his twenty-first year, received a letter from the Adjutant General of the Army informing him that the examining board had found him eminently suitable for appointment to the Regular Army and that his commission would be issued to him after his twenty-first birthday - on that very day the first Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo. It was given to Henri Dunant, who had founded the Red Cross, and to Frédéric Passy, who had organized the first French peace society and was a pioneer in the work for international arbitration agreements.

If anybody at that time had told Lieutenant George Marshall that fifty years later he would not only be president of the American Red Cross, but also that he himself would some day receive the Peace Prize - the prediction would hardly have been believed and still less welcomed. Young George Marshall may have seen himself as a future general; but he had a long way to travel before he arrived at the clear and passionate understanding that the final object to be obtained by war, the only justifiable goal, is to make another war impossible. It was a way that would take him over larger areas of the earth and the oceans and under the skies than any commander has traveled before him, and let him see more battlefields and a greater devastation than any general has seen before him, and let him plan and direct larger armies and fleets and air forces than history has ever known.

Two things stand out for those trying to follow Marshall’s development. On the one hand the insatiable desire to learn, to know, to understand, and on the other hand his keen and wide-awake interest in the individual soldier, his indefatigable work for the welfare of the soldier. Both things have had a far-reaching influence on his work and on the spiritual and social evolution of his mind.

His eagerness to find out everything about the human beings for whom he felt responsible made him a sometimes rather terrifying phenomenon among his contemporaries. Twenty-one years old, he was made commanding officer of some of the small and utterly lonely outposts in the Philippines; he studied the language and customs and mentality of the natives; he realized that the discipline he valued so highly depended first of all on his own self-discipline and his capacity for keeping his men intelligently occupied, for giving them tasks which could awaken their interest. Two words above all others became his guide - as he underlined it years later in an address to the graduating class at his old military school - the words honor and self-sacrifice.

The young officer demanded much from his men, but still more from himself. When he graduated from V.M.I. after four years, there was not a single demerit beside his name. And so it has continued throughout his life. His record has always been perfectly clean and bright. He was as straight and erect morally as he was physically. Wherever he was sent by his superiors he won the same reputation for eminent ability. Typical of the high esteem in which he was held is what happened in 1916 when he returned to the States from his second long stay in the Philippines. He took over the training program of a camp in Utah; and when the camp closed, the commanding officer was required to make an efficiency report on the officers under his command. One standard question is: "Would you desire to have him under your immediate command in peace and in war?"

The Colonel wrote in reply concerning Marshall: "Yes, but I would prefer to serve under his command... In my judgment there are not five officers in the Army so well qualified as he to command a division in the field."

The Colonel then recommended that he be promoted to brigadier general, notwithstanding regulations, and then added to underscore his statement: "He is my junior by over 1,800 files."

With this reputation and such military recommendations, Marshall sailed for France in June, 1917, with the first ship in the first convoy of American troops. The incredible want of preparedness, the confusion, the chaos, the lack of arms and munitions which resulted in 25,000 casualties in this first division of 27,000 were destined to be Marshall’s nightmare for many years to come. It was made his task to organize both this division and others; he became chief of operations of the division and later the aide to General Pershing. In the American official military records it is stated laconically: "He was assigned to general headquarters at Chaumont and given the task of drafting the plans for the St. Mihiel offensive... As that battle got under way, he was given the task of transferring some 500,000 troops and 2,700 guns to the Argonne front in preparation for that battle." He was made a temporary major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel; he was recommended for promotion to brigadier general by General Pershing whose right-hand man he had become. Pershing's recommendation, however, was not accepted by higher authority, and after the Armistice Marshall became captain once more; for under American law promotion in times of peace can only be given under the strictest rules of seniority. And Marshall had to wait for fifteen years before he was made a colonel again.

It is not hard to understand why, once made chief of staff, he demanded that the rules of promotion be amended. The amendment was passed in September, 1940, and before the end of the year a certain Major Eisenhower was made colonel and then brigadier general, jumping 366 senior colonels.

During the years between the wars, Marshall was stationed in Tientsin for three years. And just as in the Philippines he had become an authority on the history and ethnography of the islands, so in Tientsin he studied Chinese civilization, history, and language. He was the only American officer who could examine Chinese witnesses that appeared before him without the aid of interpreters. And his few spare hours he utilized to learn to write Chinese.

During the years of depression when he was colonel once again, the soldiers' pay was reduced to such an extent that the married men suffered real hardship, and their regimental commander started his first Marshall aid. He taught his troops to raise chickens and hogs; he showed them how to start vegetable gardens. He instituted a lunch-pail system by which, on the payment of fifteen cents, each member of the family was fed; the price was the same, however many members there were in the family. He and Mrs. Marshall ate the same dinner so that it should not smack of condescending charity. Marshall had under his command an ever increasing number of C.C.C. camps4, that curious attempt to combine some kind of military training with the effort to fight unemployment. For the undernourished, anemic, helpless young men of these camps he had an absorbing interest. He organized schools for them, had them start news-sheets, amateur theatricals; he had their teeth taken care of; he stopped all drunkenness among them. And when Marshall in 1938 became assistant chief of staff and then deputy chief and in 1939 was appointed chief of staff, he took with him to Washington this active sympathy for the private soldier, this strong feeling that the soldier has needs other than the merely physical. The United States at that time had an active army of approximately 174,000 enlisted men scattered over 130 posts, camps, and stations. In Marshall’s first biennial report5 on the state of the armed forces he remarks:

"As an army we were ineffective. Our equipment, modern at the conclusion of the World War, was now, in a large measure, obsolescent. In fact, during the postwar period, continuous paring of appropriations had reduced the Army virtually to the status of that of a third-rate power."

The United States had no military strength that could prevent war or even an attack on America. And Marshall, who saw the total war approaching and his own country powerless, clearly realized the truth of Alfred Nobel's words: "Good intentions alone can never secure peace."

It was during these years before America was attacked that the ground had to be laid for the later overwhelming war effort. It was during these years that Mrs. Marshall, who was closest to him, prayed every night: "O, Lord, grant him time."

The task before Marshall, the burdens he had to shoulder during these years of war, seemed beyond the power of man to bear. That he did not break down was probably due to what Senator Russell6 expressed in the words: "Most men are slaves of their ambition. General Marshall is the slave of his duties."

This deep-rooted, one might say fanatic, sense of duty imposed upon him an iron self-discipline which came close to having the character of a mystic faith. He made it articulate in the most spontaneous and open speech he had ever made. In June, 1941, he gave an address at Trinity College, an Episcopalian institution in Hartford, Connecticut. He himself belongs to the Episcopalian faith and is an active churchgoer. He said in his opening remarks: "I know that being with you here today is good for my soul." Then he added: "If I were back in my office, I would not be using the word soul." He goes on to define what he means by discipline; his doing so makes this address important for the understanding of the man and his work.

"We are replacing force of habit of body with force of habit of mind. We are basing the discipline of the individual on respect rather than on fear... It is morale that wins the victory. It is not enough to fight. It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue.

The soldier's heart, the soldier's spirit, the soldier's soul, are everything. Unless the soldier's soul sustains him he cannot be relied on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end... It is morale that wins the victory. . . The French never found an adequate "dictionary" definition for the word...

It is more than a word - more than any one word, or several words, can measure.

Morale is a state of mind. It is steadfastness and courage and hope. It is confidence and zeal and loyalty. It is élan, esprit de corps and determination.

It is staying power, the spirit which endures to the end - the will to win.

With it all things are possible, without it everything else, planning, preparation, production, count for naught.

I have just said it is the spirit which endures to the end. And so it is."

This remarkable address is at the same time a creed and a program. It is the only speech in which Marshall directly and openly expressed the ideas which occupied him most - outside his daily work.

"We are building that morale - not on supreme confidence in our ability to conquer and subdue other peoples; not in reliance on things of steel and the super-excellence of guns and planes and bombsights.

We are building it on things infinitely more potent. We are building it on belief, for it is what men believe that makes them invincible. We have sought for something more than enthusiasm, something finer and higher than optimism or self-confidence, something not merely of the intellect or the emotions but rather something in the spirit of the man, something encompassed only by the soul.

This army of ours already possesses a morale based on what we allude to as the noblest aspirations of mankind - on the spiritual forces which rule the world and will continue to do so.

Let me call it the morale of omnipotence. With your endorsement and support this omnipotent morale will be sustained as long as the things of the spirit are stronger than the things of earth."

But after the Trinity address Marshall retired behind his protective armor. And the passion always smoldering in his mind was not expressed in words until 1945 when he wrote his biennial report on the course of the war; in this his words of sympathy for the common soldier have an almost explosive quality:

"It is impossible for the Nation to compensate for the services of a fighting man. There is no pay scale that is high enough to buy the services of a single soldier during even a few minutes of the agony of combat, the physical miseries of the campaign, or of the extreme personal inconvenience of leaving his home to go out to the most unpleasant and dangerous spots on earth to serve his Nation."

Nobel's Peace Prize is not given to Marshall for what he accomplished during the war. Nevertheless, what he has done, after the war, for peace is a corollary to this achievement, and it is this great work for the establishment of peace which the Nobel Committee has wanted to honor.

But two documents give some idea of General Marshall’s importance to the democratic world during the years of war.

When the victory was won on May 8, 1945, Marshall was summoned to the office of the secretary of war, the venerable Republican Henry Stimson, one time law partner of Elihu Root, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1912. Mr. Stimson had invited fourteen generals and high officials to be present. The seventy-eight-year-old statesman then turned to Marshall and said:

"I want to acknowledge my great personal debt to you, Sir, in common with the whole country. No one who is thinking of himself can rise to true heights. You have never thought of yourself... I have never seen a task of such magnitude performed by man.

It is rare in late life to make new friends; at my age it is a slow process, but there is no one for whom I have such deep respect and, I think, greater affection.

I have seen a great many soldiers in my lifetime and you, Sir, are the finest soldier I have ever known.

It is fortunate for this country that we have you in this position!"

And when Marshall at his own request resigned as chief of staff in November, 1945, he received from his British colleagues in the combined chiefs of staff a message which is surely without parallel. It was signed by Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir Alan Brooke (now Lord Alanbrooke), by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, and by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Portal of Hungerford. It reads: "On your retirement after six years as Chief of Staff of the United States Army, we, your British colleagues in the Combined Chiefs of Staff, send you this message of farewell.

We regret that Field Marshal Sir John Dill and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, two of your greatest friends and admirers, are not alive today to add their names to ours. As architect and builder of the finest and most powerful Army in American History, your name will be honoured among those of the greatest soldiers of your own or any other country.

Throughout your association with us in the higher direction of the armed forces of America and Britain, your unfailing wisdom, high principles, and breadth of view have commanded the deep respect and admiration of us all. Always you have honoured us by your frankness, charmed us by your courtesy, and inspired us by your singleness of purpose and your selfless devotion to our common cause.

Above all would we record our thankfulness to you for the leading part which you have always taken in forging and strengthening the bond of mutual trust and cooperation between the armed forces of our two countries which has contributed so much to final victory and will, we believe, endure to the benefit of civilization in the years to come.

In bidding farewell to you who have earned our personal affection no less than our professional respect, we would address to you a tribute written more than 200 years ago. ... Friend to truth! Of soul sincere,
In action raithful, and in honour clear;
Who broke no promise, served no private end,
Who gained no title, and who lost no friend."

Between Mr. Stimson's words of national gratitude and the message from the British chiefs of staff, we have General Marshall’s third biennial report which contains both his military testament and an introduction to what later came to be called the Marshall Aid.

It is particularly the last section of the report which is of importance here. Marshall called it "For the Common Defense". He opened with the statement that to fulfill its responsibility for protection of the nation against foreign enemies, the army must project its planning beyond the immediate future. "For years men have been concerned with individual security... But effective insurance against the disasters which have slaughtered millions of people and levelled their homes is long overdue." He then points to Washington's plans for a national military policy and goes on:

"We must start, I think, with a correction of the tragic misunderstanding that a security policy is a war policy. War has been defined by a people who have thought a lot about it - the Germans. They have started most of the recent ones. The German soldier-philosopher Clausewitz described war as a special violent form of political action. Frederick of Prussia, who left Germany the belligerent legacy which has now destroyed her, viewed war as a device to enforce his will whether he was right or wrong. He held that with an invincible offensive military force he could win any political argument. It is the doctrine Hitler carried to the verge of complete success. This is the doctrine of Japan. It is a criminal doctrine, and like other forms of crime, it has cropped up again and again since man began to live with his neighbors in communities and nations. There has long been an effort to outlaw war for exactly the same reason that man has outlawed murder. But the law prohibiting murder does not of itself prevent murder. It must be enforced. The enforcing power, however, must be maintained on a strictly democratic basis. There must not be a large standing army subject to the behest of a group of schemers. The citizen-soldier is the guarantee against such a misuse of power."

He concludes by emphasizing:

"If this Nation is to remain great, it must bear in mind now and in the future that war is not the choice of those who wish passionately for peace. It is the choice of those who are willing to resort to violence for political advantage."

Marshall had hardly had a week's rest after his resignation as chief of staff when President Truman sent him to China as a special ambassador to try to stop the pending civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang, i.e. Chiang Kai-shek. He did not succeed; for when Marshall was gone, neither of the two parties honored the agreements they had undertaken. But what Marshall had seen and experienced in China strengthened the conviction which the devastations of the war had planted in his mind and which now received initial amplification in his report from China to President Truman:

"It was his Marshall's opinion that steps had to be taken to assist China and its people in the increasingly serious economic situation and to facilitate the efforts being made toward peace and unity in China... General Marshall felt that Chinese political and military unity could only be consolidated and made lasting through the rehabilitation of the country and the permanent general improvement of economic conditions."

It is an opinion which Marshall in another connection has formulated more generally in these words: "The historians have failed in their task; they should have been able to discover and reveal the causes of war and make war impossible."

And when in 1947 Marshall at the insistent request of President Truman accepted an appointment as secretary of state, it was because he believed that he saw the causes of war and chaos and because he intended to remove those causes insofar as humanly possible, and in this way make war impossible.

His apprehension, his fear of war, his feeling that another war would mean the complete collapse of human civilization is closely akin to the apprehension in Nobel's mind when he was drafting his will. In 1893 he wrote in a letter8:

"I should like to dispose of a part of my fortune by founding a prize to be given every five years (say six times; for if we have not succeeded in reforming our present system within thirty years we shall inevitably revert to barbarism).

This prize would be awarded to the man or woman who had achieved most in furthering the idea of a general peace in Europe."

And he also wrote:

"Une nouvelle tyrannie-celle des bas fonds-s'agite dans les ténèbres, et on croit entendre son grondement lointain."

Marshall wanted to prevent what Nobel feared. Less than four months after entering the State Department, he presented his plan for that tremendous aid to Europe which has become inseparably connected with his name. He stated in his famous speech at Harvard University:

"Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist. Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative."

Marshall carried out his plan, fighting for it for two years in public and in Congress. And when the Marshall Plan had become a living reality, with the agencies for its operation established, Marshall stepped back.

But again he was called to service, being made secretary of defense in September, 1950. When he assumed this responsibility, it was only to be in a position to put into effect his idea of building the future defense of the United States on a democratic conscription and not on a standing army. When this had been accomplished, he retired once more, this time to realize at last the dream of his life - to grow a vegetable garden on his small estate in Virginia.

The years that have gone by since he submitted his program have demonstrated its constructive character. And the organs which have grown from the Marshall Aid have, more than anything else in these difficult years, contributed to what Nobel termed "the idea of a general peace in Europe and to a realistic materialization of the idea Nobel in his testament called brotherhood among nations, although within a more narrow framework than Marshall had desired.

The Nobel Peace Prize, therefore, is awarded to George Catlett Marshall."


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