On Saturday January 9th, the George C. Marshall Foundation together with the Society for Military History (SMH) co-hosted the annual Marshall Lecture at the American Historical Society. Since the late 90s, the Marshall Foundation and SMH have sponsored this event aimed surely at both keeping Marshall’s memory alive and stimulating interest in the study of military history more broadly. This year’s AHA meeting was held in Atlanta, Georgia and this year’s Marshall Lecturer was Rick Atkinson.
Rick Atkinson, as many of you will know, is a double Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and historian (he received the Pulitzer Prize for his sterling endeavors within both these spheres. His historical works works are many and include The Long Gray Line, a masterful study of the West Point class of 1966 and, of particular note for those associated with the Marshall Foundation, his epic Liberation Trilogy tracing the course of the US involvement in WW2 from the first hesitant efforts by the US military in North Africa and onward through the dramatic and bloody years of the allied invasion of southern Europe and then, finally, the landings in Normandy and the drive to Germany itself.
Rick Atkinson’s works are highly recommended, charting as they do the challenges that the US experienced and overcame to fight, successfully, that ‘great crusade’ as Eisenhower termed it. Astonishingly, much of how that course was charted had been discussed in some detail two years before they US entered the war.
In December of 1939, at a joint meeting of the American Military Institute and the AHA, held then in Washington DC, none other than Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George C. Marshall himself stood to deliver a wide ranging lecture entitled National Organization for War. Marshall, in true Marshall Fashion, explored what he saw as the way in which the United States should deal with the coming war, well under way in continental Europe at this point. He lamented, too, the paucity of history being taught in American schools and especially the teaching of military history. Without knowledge of what war was, what its fundamental nature was and is, and Marshall termed it a disease, then success in war was less likely. Marshall returned in this address to many of the prescient warmings he had articulated over the preceding twenty years. Marshall’s address is available on our website.
We like to think that the Marshal lecture, delivered each year, would have pleased the General. In 2017 the Marshall lecture at the AHA, in Denver Colorado, will be delivered by Professor Craig Symonds of the Naval War College.