The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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George C. Marshall was born in Pennsylvania and
graduated from the
Institute in 1901, receiving his commission
the next year. He graduated
first in the 1907 class of the Infantry
and Cavalry School. He
served as a
under Pershing in World War I, rising to the rank of colonel, but in
Army regulations he reverted to his peacetime rank of captain at
the end of the war. He would not become a colonel again until
the 1930’s, when
he was appointed commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning,
Marshall planned the redeployment of the AEF from St.
Mihiel to participate in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and thereby
established himself as one of the Army's premier logisticians.
He also planned the final Meuse-Argonne offensive. However, he had the
perspicacity to realize that the American experience of the First World
War was potentially deeply misleading, since it was limited to
participation in the final stages of a static, semi-siege
campaign, and that future warfare would more likely to be a war of
movement in which confusion would reign. Marshall became an expert trainer of troops in
a more roundabout fashion. During the depths of the Depression, he ran
Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Illinois and Washington and was an
instructor for the Illinois National
Guard. These experiences would
serve him well during the massive expansion of the Army in the early
years of the Second World War.
Marshall had once witnessed a bright and promising lieutenant fold up in a field exercise in China. The lieutenant had superb marks from West Point and knew “the book” inside and out, but when an unexpected situation arose, he was completely at a loss. "The man was no fool, but he had been taught an absurd system.... I learned that he had stood first at Benning, and I then and there formed an intense desire to get my hands on Benning" (Larrabee 1987). Marshall decided that the primary goal of the Infantry School would be to teach officers how to cope with the confusion that always reigns on the battlefield. He did this in two ways: First, the school taught only one tactic, the hook. This tactic was simplicity itself: Two maneuver units would attack to pin down the enemy at the objective, and a third maneuver unit would attempt to get around behind the enemy. This tactic was appropriate for the triangular organization then being adopted by the Army, was applicable at any level from platoon to army group, and did not require extensive communications and coordination — which Marshall expected to see break down on any future battlefield anyway.
The second method used by Marshall to teach officers how to deal with confusion was to deliberately generate as much of it as possible. Officers at the Infantry School were given ambiguous orders. On field exercises, they might discover that road signs had been switched. Or they might discover that the maps they were supplied with were (literally) written in Greek. Many officers concluded that Marshall was off his nut. But some caught on to what Marshall was up to. The names of these officers often found their way into Marshall’s black notebook of prospective future generals.
Marshall became chief of staff of the Army
in September 1938, despite the
opposition of rival general Douglas
because of the patronage of Pershing. He proved to be a
superb choice, putting an end to the second-class status of Army aviation, successfully lobbying Congress to relax the strict
seniority rules for officer promotion (so that he could promote
promising young officers over older incompetents), quietly supporting
civilian Grenville Clark's successful call in 1940 for a peacetime draft,
managing the complete reorganization of the old Army bureau system
into Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces, and Army Service Forces.
Marshall is rightly regarded as one of the
of the Allied victory, yet until late 1941 he was doubtful of the
wisdom of American intervention in the war. However, his extraordinary
cost him the opportunity
the Allied assault on
Europe, a posting that went to Eisenhower
could not bear to see Marshall out of
Marshall was guilty of perhaps only one major mistake in the management of the Army prior to and during the war, but it was a real boner: He believed that individual riflemen could be trained to be interchangeable parts that could be installed anywhere in the military machine. Marshall thought this would make it possible to keep a division in the field indefinitely, so that fewer divisions would be required. Instead of rotating a division out of the line when it became depleted, fully trained replacements would be sent forward to keep the division at strength. This was a disastrous policy. The replacements had not trained with their new unit, and unit cohesiveness suffered accordingly. Wounded soldiers who recovered were returned to a different unit than the one they had left, which was disastrous for morale. The replacement depots charged with implementing these policies quickly acquired a deservedly foul reputation for being little better than prisons. It is noteworthy that neither the Marines nor the Army’s own airborne divisions, which were elite units, adopted Marshall’s replacement policy.
Despite serving as Chief of Staff during the greatest war in the nation’s history, Marshall is little known today as a military commander. He is probably best known for the postwar Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, which he promoted while serving as secretary of state under Truman. For his contribution to this plan, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, the only professional soldier to ever be so honored. Perhaps predictably, there were widespread Communist-orchestrated protests of the award.
Marshall had a fierce temper, but this more often expressed itself as cold contempt than as a volcanic outburst. Eisenhower wrote in 1942 that "I've never seen a man who apparently developes a higher pressure of anger at some piece of stupidity. Yet the outburst is so fleeting ..." (Larrabee 1987). Marshall's determination to rapidly silence his anger led some associates to make the mistake of believing it was the initial anger that was put on. Marshall could also be ruthless in preparing the Army for its greatest test in combat. When an old friend objected to being sent overseas on the grounds that his wife was away and his furniture unpacked, Marshall took the phone to tell him he would be retired immediately.
Marshall became the target of some of the most scurrilous accusations leveled by Joseph McCarthy. Marshall retained his dignity and refused to strike back, but it is clear that both the accusations and the failure of President Eisenhower to come to his defense smarted. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Venona decrypts, released in the 1990s, proved that there really were a number of Communist agents in key positions within the United States government in the postwar years; but McCarthy’s demagoguery and knack for picking the wrong targets did far more damage to the anti-Communist movement than to the Communists.
||Born in Pennsylvania
||Graduates from Virginia Military
||30 Regiment, Philippines
||Infantry and Cavalry School
||Army Staff CollegeMarshall|
||Instructor, Army Staff College
||Military observer, Europe
||Chief of staff, VIII Corps
||G3, 1 Army; planned St. Mihiel
||Aide-de-camp to Pershing
||Executive officer, 15 Regiment
||Assistant commandant, Infantry
||Commander, 8 Regiment
||Senior instructor, Illinois
||Commander, 5 Brigade
||Director of War Plans, War
||Deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army
||Chief of staff, U.S.
||General of the
||Secretary of State
||Secretary of Defense
||Dies at Walter Reed Hospital
Dupuy et al. (1992)
Generals.de (accessed 2007-11-26)
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2007, 2010, 2012 by Kent G. Budge. Index
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