6-151 Speech to the Pilgrims Society, December 12, 1947

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 12, 1947

Subject: Postwar

December 12, 1947
London, England

I am not quite certain of the facts but I believe I attended a dinner of the Pilgrims Society in New York in 1921 or 22.2 Other than that occasion my knowledge of the Pilgrims has been confined to reports of your dinners and meetings and to the knowledge of your fine contribution to the development of understanding and good will between Great Britain and the United States. Considering the early history of my country and the circumstances of its break with the mother country, I think it is a great tribute to the English-speaking people that such warm friendship and mutual trust have developed between us. That our joint participation in two world wars has increased this feeling is plainly evident and it is even more evident that such relationship is of great importance to the world today.

I first saw London almost 40 years ago but after that first visit I did not return until the great Victory Parade of 1919. My next visit was in April 1942 when I arrived to make the initial proposal for the channel crossing operation. That was a difficult mission. We were not only on the defensive around the world but I had only American prospects to offer and very naturally my faith was far greater for the early and successful maturity of these prospects than was possible for others.

Despite the appalling situation, filled with forebodings, I was confident in our ability to create an adequate military force far more rapidly and far more powerful than was deemed possible by the rest of the world.

I returned again in July of that year for another review of our plans and it was then decided to have a go at North Africa. Tobruk had fallen; the Japanese were pushing into the Coral Sea en route to Australia; the Russian armies were being driven back with appalling losses. We faced a gloomy prospect. And yet within three weeks the initiative was wrested from the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. A few weeks later there came in rapid succession the great victory at El Alamein and the landings on the African coast. Stalingrad was but another few weeks beyond. Then the world suddenly realized that the tide had fully turned. We had gained the initiative in Europe, in Africa and in the Pacific. Our enemies were now desperately guessing as to what was next to come. Their best guesses, their most pessimistic calculations fell far short of the calamities which were to befall them.

While I traveled to many parts of the world after the summer of 1942 I did not return to London until the week of the landing in Normandy some two years after the initial decision to launch that operation.

Now I am back again engaged in quite a different effort to find a basis for peace in the world.

The great desire of all mankind is for peace and understanding, the latter essential to the former. Peace and understanding. They should not be so difficult to secure when the common people throughout the world are hoping and praying for such a result. They are sick unto death of war. The thought of war is violently repugnant to them. Yet people are again fearful of war, to such lengths have the propagandists gone.

We must make a supreme effort I think to brush aside such insinuations and rise above our difficulties in what might be termed a spiritual conquest of our present weakness and frailties. We must restore the belief that we all can live together in peace and understanding.

We do have economic troubles, ideological troubles, but the greatest trouble I believe lies in a spiritual apathy that is not an unnatural result of the horrors suffered during the past years and the want and despair which have followed.

Now to turn to my own country. We are engaged as you well know in debates in our Congress of vital concern to the people of Europe. The most impressive factor at the moment to my mind is the great surge of American public opinion in support of an effort to alleviate the sufferings and hardships of the people on this side of the Atlantic. When one considers the length and breadth of America and how remote most of our people are from the European scene, I think the present public state of mind in my country is remarkable evidence of a genuine and generous desire to help the other fellow.

Pertinent to that comment is the fact that we now have scattered throughout our people millions of young men and women who know a lot about the British people and their intimate life, about France, Belgium, Italy, and other countries. More than five million of our young people recently served abroad for a year or more and at least three million were overseas for several years. Some for longer periods. They returned to the United States with a fair knowledge of the countries in which they served and along with that they had undergone a supreme test of themselves. They witnessed the inspiring exhibitions of courage and devotion on the part of their allies.

Returning home large numbers resumed their education and many who had previously dropped any idea of further schooling were inspired to secure the benefits of college or university training. So we now have an extensive citizenship of young Americans of the world who early in life have had a most unusual experience and who are topping that off with an extensive education. This process gives us, I think, a new type of citizen and one whose judgment will be of immense value in the coming years with relation to the international problems of their country.

Important results may well flow from this development. One of the most difficult factors in international relationships these days is the inability of the people of one country to understand the point of view and the conditions of life of the people of other countries. This is particularly true when there have been great differences in the sufferings from the disastrous effects of war.

Europe is a small area and, in the past, now seemingly the very distant past, people could travel freely through most of the nations. The Europeans therefore had a good understanding of each other. This was not true of the people of America because of the intervening ocean and the tremendous area of America with its contrasting surroundings. We have tall buildings and extensive deserts, small farms and vast ranches, high mountains and great plains. It is very difficult for people in such varied surroundings to have a deep comprehension of the conditions, habits of life and points of view of the people of Europe, and it is more difficult, I think, for the people of Europe to understand Americans.

But today we have the very special situation which I have just outlined—millions of young people who have gone through a tremendous experience early in life, who have seen the world not hurriedly but through long periods of service and intimate contact with other peoples, and these same individuals are completing that very special education, if I may so term it, with an intensive educational effort. So I think I am on firm ground when I say that Europe in particular will be far better understood by America than America will be understood by Europe. Just what this will mean to the future is a matter for careful analysis and the passage of time. But I have great confidence that it will be very helpful in meeting the world problems which are now on us and which will continue to arise.

Reverting to my opening comment on the state of mutual trust which exists between our two countries, despite the differences we have had the manner in which we have resolved those differences has been a strong cementing influence. There was our war of American Independence. It was followed by another, called in my country the War of 1812. This later affair was a curious freak of history for war was declared after the cause for which it was fought had been removed and the greatest battle was fought after the peace treaty had been signed. Whether or not communications of today would have saved us from becoming involved in this unfortunate conflict is a matter of opinion. Certainly they would have prevented the final battle.

There followed after the two struggles I have just mentioned, a number of serious difficulties, at times crises, and it is to the manner of settlement of those differences that I would draw your attention. England took a strong position regarding inclusion of the present State of Texas in our Federal Union. She took a stronger position regarding our Northwestern Boundary. “54-40 or fight” was the battle slogan in my country at that time.3 Later came the period when vessels were fitted out in England to support the Southern Confederacy during our War Between the States. This gave rise to the famous Alabama claims.4 For a brief period consideration was given by your leaders to support of the ill-fated venture of Maximilian in Mexico.5 An issue over the fur seal in the Bering Sea developed into a very serious matter.6 And there were times when America looked upon Canada with envious eyes—for Americans know a good thing when they see it. As late as 1895 came the Venezuela incident which drew so strong a statement from the President of the United States that war was actually threatened.7 Yet all of these and other differences, extremely critical as some may have been, were satisfactorily settled either by respect for commitments made, by the process of negotiation or by invoking arbitration. This record, I think, is an unparalleled chronicle in the history of international relations. As a direct result there has developed a feeling of confidence in the mutual integrity of our relationship recently demonstrated by the complete merging of our personnel and materiel in the war effort. I know of no better example in history of what can be accomplished by nations who are willing to negotiate in the spirit of frankness and with a genuine desire to resolve their difficulties.

The steady growth in the relations between our countries has not been accidental. It is a natural growth in the case of two peoples enjoying a common heritage and sharing a common outlook on the fundamentals of human society.

Those who see this close and even fraternal relationship as evidence of calculated political combinations are confusing cause and effect. There is no more natural relationship in international life than that between the United States and the British Commonwealth. This relationship requires no special political initiative. It is not embodied in any formal treaty or pact.

It has been said that the differences in our economic systems may hamper or even obstruct this natural development in the future. I see no reasons for such fears. The American people and the British people are not given to fanatical devotion to any one doctrine—except the doctrine of liberty. Our national traditions run more to the practical than to the abstract. We tend to rely on common sense and to judge by result. Our peoples, because of the different circumstances in which they find themselves, have evolved and are evolving within the orbit of truly free political processes somewhat varying approaches to the economic problems which beset the modern world. But I am confident that this difference offers no serious difficulties to our future relationship.

We must not conjure up imaginary ghosts when so many real specters are at large in the world today. We should proclaim the existence of a relationship unique in history. It is a relationship which menaces no one—harms no one. On the contrary, it is truly beneficent in its influence on world developments.

GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Secretary of State, Speeches)

1. Founded in 1902 in London and the following year in New York, the Pilgrims Society seeks to promote good Anglo-American relations. It has an elite membership of politicians, diplomats, businessmen, and writers. The reigning monarch is always the British society’s patron. Marshall spoke at the Dorchester Hotel beginning at 9:25 p,m. local time. BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Home Service and the Columbia Broadcasting System broadcast the speech.

2. Marshall is probably referring to the October 27, 1921, meeting at which Admiral Lord Beatty, commander of the fifty-two-ship British battle cruiser fleet at the battle of Jutland (May 31–June 1, 1916), spoke to a gathering the New York Times labeled “one of the most brilliant in the history of the Pilgrim dinners.” (New York Times, October 28, 1921, p. 1.)

3. “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” was a slogan inspired by the American claim in the 1840s to the entire Oregon territory in the Pacific Northwest up to 54 degrees 40 minutes north latitude, the southern boundary of Alaska. In an 1846 treaty the United States agreed instead to a division of the territory at the 49th degree north latitude.

4. The Alabama Claims by the United States against Great Britain were for direct and indirect damages during the Civil War caused by Confederate commerce raiders such as the Alabama that had been built in England but armed elsewhere in order to circumvent British neutrality laws. In the 1871 Treaty of Washington the British expressed regret and agreed to arbitration by a judicial tribunal that awarded the United States $15.5 million in the following year.

5. The “ill-fated venture of Maximilian” refers to the French invasion of Mexico in 1861 and placement of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria on a Mexican throne. After the American Civil War the French withdrew their troops under pressure from the United States and Maximilian was executed in 1867.

6. In 1889–90 Britain and the United States clashed sharply over Canadian “pelagic” hunting of seals that lived in the American Pribilof Islands near the Aleutians when they wandered onto the high seas in search of food. In 1891 London and Washington agreed to halt such hunting temporarily and eventually to submit the matter to an arbitral tribunal that in 1893 sided with the British.

7. In 1895 the United States demanded the right to arbitrate a dispute over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. Britain agreed in the following year to establish an arbitration board to establish the boundary, which it did in 1899.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Mark A. Stoler, Sharon Ritenour Stevens and Daniel D. Holt (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 2013- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947-September 30, 1949 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 287-291.