George Catlett Marshall

George Catlett Marshall (1880-1959), American soldier and statesman, was one of the most important military leaders during World War II.

George C. Marshall was born at Uniontown, Pa., on Dec. 31, 1880. He early chose a military career and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1902. His first assignment was in the Philippines (1902-1903). In World War I he served as chief of operations of the 1st Army and chief of staff of the 1st Army Corps. In these capacities he directed operations in France at Saint-Mihiel in September 1918 and then transferred a military force of almost 250,000 men to the front in the Argonne. At the end of the war he was assigned to the staff of Gen. John Pershing (1919-1924) and served in China (1924-1927). From 1927 to 1932 Marshall was in charge of instruction at the military school at Fort Benning, Ga., where he left an important mark on American military doctrine and made contact with many of the military figures who were to play important roles in World War II.

In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Marshall chief of staff of the army, and during the next 2 years he had a central role in preparing for United States entrance into World War II. Austere in person, Marshall was an administrator of the first order. He was a strong advocate of universal military training and played an important role in the passage of the draft law of 1941.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came in December 1941. This surprise attack has been the subject of much controversy. Marshall has been criticized for his failure to give more specific warning to the commanders on the spot, for the War Department, when informed of the increasing diplomatic tension, never alerted the Hawaiian base except against sabotage. Much of the responsibility must lie, however, with the local commanders.

Marshall directed the war operations from 1941 to 1945. He would have dearly liked to be in command of the operations in Europe, but he accepted with his customary coolness, detachment, and patriotism the nomination of Dwight Eisenhower to that important post. Marshall had, however, a highly positive influence on the general strategy of the war. His belief that the primary task was the defeat of Germany's Adolf Hitler brought him into conflict with Gen. Douglas MacArthur and with powerful elements in the Navy, but his view prevailed.

Marshall not only organized the immense armed forces of the United States but served as an adviser to President Roosevelt at the wartime conferences at Casablanca, Teheran, and Yalta. On the President's death in 1945, he retained his post and enjoyed the entire confidence of the new president, Harry Truman. Marshall was present at Potsdam in July 1945 and shared in the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

Resigning in November 1945, Marshall undertook, with reluctance but in obedience to his strong sense of duty, a mission to China. His purpose was to bring about an understanding between the Nationalist government of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and the growing Communist forces under Mao Tse-tung. He failed in this effort because of the intransigence of both sides.

On Jan. 21, 1947, Marshall was named secretary of state. He had a principal part in negotiations with the Soviet Union. More important, at Harvard on June 5, 1947, he propounded the plan for the rehabilitation of Europe (the Marshall Plan). The credit for this plan must go in no small part to the men Marshall had placed around him, notably William Clayton, Dean Acheson, and George Kennan, but Marshall lent it the immense prestige of his name. (In 1953 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on this plan.) He was also central in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Marshall resigned in January 1949 but was called back by President Truman to serve as secretary of defense in the period of the Korean War. His voice was important during the crisis created by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's defiance of the civil authority, when MacArthur took the war across the 38th parallel into North Korea. Marshall favored removal of the general.

There has rarely been a more disinterested public servant than Marshall. His judgments were sound rather than brilliant, but his record of achievement stands almost unequaled. Primarily a military man, he served with immense distinction in other fields, and he had much to do with bringing out many of the distinguished soldiers of the war period. Marshall died in Washington Oct. 16, 1959, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Further Reading on George Catlett Marshall

An authoritative biography of Marshall in three volumes is in preparation by Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall (2 vols., 1963, 1967). The first two volumes carry his career to 1943. Pogue also wrote George C. Marshall: Global Commander (1968). A specialized study of Marshall is John Robinson Beal, Marshall in China (1970). See also Rose Page Wilson, General Marshall Remembered (1968). Marshall's career as secretary of state is covered in Robert H. Ferrell, ed., The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, vol. 15 (1966), and in George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950 (1967).