The Papers of George Catlett Marshall

The Papers of George Catlett Marshall

“The Man of the Age” October 1, 1949-October 16, 1959, vol. 7

Edited by Mark Stoler and Daniel Holt

The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2016, 1,200 pages

Book Review published on: March 24, 2017

The final volume of George Marshall’s papers contains unique insights from his time as secretary of defense, and other national positions, including correspondence about earlier years as world leaders review their roles in shaping the twentieth century. Marshall was candid whether providing top-secret guidance to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower concerning the formation of NATO or mentioning medical news to his wife about Gen. Hoyt Vanderberg “dying in the next room” at Walter Reed Hospital. He was also pragmatic as he prepared to evacuate our military forces from Korea in the event of anticipated Communist Chinese gains. The editors’ commentary adds considerable value by putting significant documents into context or expertly connecting them with the writings of Marshall’s contemporaries. This recent effort complements the works of scholar Forrest C. Pogue while illuminating the foundations of America’s strategies for today’s military officers. Marshall observed that one of the great struggles of conducting strategy in a long war is the “political necessity for action compared to the military necessity of making haste slowly.”

Although Marshall was occupied with managing the war in Korea, he also focused on American military preparedness and multilateral security with other NATO nations. Marshall faulted the American public for not supporting his mentor, Gen. John Pershing, after World War I, which lengthened America’s wars and increased the number of deaths suffered. He saw a similar situation after World War II as he fought to increase the active force while creating a ready reserve through Universal Military Training and the Selective Service Act. Interestingly, ahead of his times, he selected Anna Rosenberg as his assistant secretary of defense and leader of this effort, privately making his proposal without presidential approval in the face of strong opposition from Sen. Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy would continue to clash with Marshall, viciously denouncing him on the Senate floor for over three hours in 1951. Marshall chose his battles well, even if it meant going against public opinion to recommend Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s firing and defend it in days of congressional testimony.

He guided through an effort to temporarily reinforce NATO’s forces Europe although he felt Europeans should normally provide ground forces while the United States would concentrate on naval and air forces. The French defense minister took his much of his attention as France opposed German rearmament while also requesting American assistance. The only easy decision was the selection of Eisenhower as NATO’s first military commander. Even before he was Army chief of staff, Marshall was touting the skills of this officer who he intended to promote “over the heads of plenty of officers who outranked him.”

It would simplistic to only note his role as a military leader. It is apparent from his writing that his wife and family played a major role in his life. He relished his vacation time at Pinehurst with Katherine and kept his many friends appraised of her medical challenges. His special compassion and leadership was ultimately recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in 1953, a first for a military officer.

Book Review written by: James Cricks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas