Gen. Colin Powell: 1937-2021

General Colin G. Powell passed away on October 18, 2021, at 84. Gen. Powell was the first African-American person to hold the positions of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. Like Marshall, he was well-respected across the political spectrum and was noted for his reluctance to foster political ambitions. A longtime supporter of the Marshall Foundation, Gen. Powell served on its Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2002 and its Council of Advisors from 2005 until his death.

In light of his passing, the George C. Marshall Foundation presents excerpts from Gen. Powell’s speech, given in 2003 upon receiving the Marshall Award.

Gen. Powell converses with VMI Cadets at the 2003 Marshall Awards Gala.

George C. Marshall is a personal hero of mine, and so this Award will always mean a great deal to me. His portrait hangs in my office at the State Department. When I look out of my inner office to my outer office, I’m staring right at him, at a distance of about ten meters. To the right, I can’t quite see it, but I see it when I go out, is a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State. When I sit in my office and I’m dealing with the most difficult problems, or I’m on the phone with somebody, I look straight ahead at George. And the picture is not unlike the pictures you have seen up all evening long. Whether as a young cadet on the football team or as Secretary of State or as General Marshall, that same visage looks back at me, looking squarely back at me in a blue-grey business suit, ramrod straight, the very embodiment of dignity and steely resolve.

My admiration for General Marshall as a soldier and a statesman grows deeper with each passing year. He truly was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. George Marshall, as you have heard, did not crave power or glory. They meant nothing to him. He knew, as a great student of history, that the price of power and glory too often is paid for in human lives, the lives of young people.

General Marshall never confused Honor with Pride. Honor for George C. Marshall was that quiet thing at the very core of his being that he lived by every single day of his life.

We have so much still to learn from General Marshall — from his character, from his courage, his compassion and his commitment to our nation and his commitment to all humankind.

Yesterday, in the United States and earlier in the week in many other countries around the globe we commemorated Veterans Day, or, as Jack Straw called it, Remembrance Day. And there are similar names shared by other countries around the world. November 11th, 1918 was the date on which the armistice ending the First World War was signed. On Veterans Day we paid our respect to those who fought and died in that terrible war and all the wars that have followed. They laid down their lives so that we might live in liberty, so that others might breathe free.

The horrors that George C. Marshall saw as a young soldier in World War One were seared into his soul, and the pyrrhic peace that followed that “War to End All Wars” made him think hard over the intervening years about how to construct the foundation for a peace that would last when his time came.

And when the time came for George Marshall to meet the superhuman challenge of organizing the allied victory over Fascism in World War Two, he was prepared. He knew what had to be done. He knew what had to be done to ready the country for war. He also knew what had to be done to secure the peace that would follow.

George Marshall understood that an enduring peace had to be built on more than military might or a traditional balance of power. A permanent peace could be achieved only in a world in which men and women everywhere could live in freedom, in dignity and in hope.

And so, when the victory over Fascism was complete, and he was called back to service by his President to help us face a new tyranny, Communism, George Marshall knew what to do. His first act as Secretary of State was to make one of the most remarkable humanitarian gestures, and the most far-reaching investment in democracy in all of history: The Marshall Plan.

The contribution to peace, as you have heard, was so extraordinary that the Nobel Committee awarded him the Peace Prize in 1953.

All of us heard earlier President Ciampi’s heartfelt personal testament of what the Marshall Plan meant to him personally, and to the peoples of Europe.

 

The push for democracy that we are witnessing all around the world today is the pulse of human liberty. This force for freedom is not a foreign import or imposition. It can be found in every culture, on every continent, in every region and religion.

The United States and other democratic nations must work across the globe to ensure that hope does not fail those who act on democracy’s impulse.

General Marshall was right. He said: “Democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs.” As General Marshall said, “There must be material effort.”

We must work to strengthen civil societies and promote the rule of law. We must help citizens develop democratic institutions and independent media. And we must do all we can to encourage good government and sound economic management.

 

My friends, my dear friends, of all the challenges to peace in the world today, the one that should worry us most is the loss of hope.

We, the democratic nations that General Marshall did so much to defend, liberate, secure and prosper, can pay him no higher tribute than to continue to work in partnership to build a world of hope where terrorists and tyrants cannot thrive.

May all of us leave here tonight with a renewed commitment to the democratic values that George C. Marshall embodied and that unite us as free peoples. Like the wonderful George C. Marshall Foundation, may each of us find far-reaching ways to perpetuate General Marshall’s legacy of service to all humankind.

I thank the George C. Marshall Foundation for this extraordinary honor. I am deeply grateful, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. God bless you all.

The thoughts of the Marshall Foundation staff, trustees and advisors are with Gen. Powell’s family in this trying time.