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
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