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DRAFT REMARKS TO THE VIRGINIA AMERICAN LEGION AND THE VMI CLUB 1
February 23, 1948
I have only had two opportunities to visit Richmond in recent years: once in 1940 when I talked to a group of VMI men, and in the fall of 1945, just before the completion of my tour as Chief of Staff, when I came here to attend a wedding.2 Richmond is a very short distance from Washington and I had both the desire and a number of cordial invitations to come here, but the preoccupations of the war and my present duties have not permitted.
I appreciate very much the fact that committees of the Legion and the VMI Alumni coordinated their plans and arranged for this joint meeting. Also I am glad to have the honor of meeting the members of the Virginia Assembly as well as some of your Representatives in Congress who are here tonight.
In these troubled times, people’s interests and thoughts turn primarily to the critical situations overseas, and our relation to them. In Europe, in the Mediterranean, in the Far East, and even in the Antarctic, are issues which trouble us greatly.
Turning back to the history of the past, I do not believe there is any precedent for the world upheaval of the present day. Europe had a somewhat similar situation during and following the Napoleonic wars, but in the main, the troubles were confined to that continent, though Napoleon fought in the shadow of the Pyramids, and at Aden, and we ourselves suffered on the seas, and finally became involved in war on this continent. But nothing approximating the present world turbulence has ever been known before. Rapidity of communication has brought all areas of the world so close together, in their interests and their differences, that we find ourselves daily, almost hourly, in a struggle to maintain our rights, to provide for our security, and, above all, to compose a dangerous world situation.
The other day I had a visit from seven little Cub Scouts. . . . And those little boys signified to me by their action that, young as they were, they recognized the great responsibility which is now ours.3
Just how we should meet that responsibility is now the urgent problem. Being true Americans we have many and divergent views, but I think there is a common realization of the critical decision which we must make. And I think there is a general realization of the dangers of the situation, and therefore, the necessity for some action on our part, rather than inaction—as in the past—to hold aloof, comfortable in our oceanic isolation, until the world exploded about us.
We cannot stand aloof, we can no longer follow a purely negative course without the abdication of leadership, without the refusal to accept responsibility, in a suffering world in which we find ourselves blessed above and beyond any other people on earth. The issue is: what do we do? That is our problem that Congress is now debating and that the Administration must contend with daily.
I have had to make a number of public statements recently and it is inadvisable for me to continue to reiterate what I have already said. I will, therefore, not go further into such matters tonight. It will be more pleasant for me, and I think also for you, to turn to the subject of Virginia.
Virginians are a very fortunate people, in their surroundings, in their great heritage of courage in war and in pressing for the rights of the individual man and the development of that democracy we hope for the world.
I spent my early manhood in Virginia, and since then I have been intimately associated with many Virginians; in the Army, and in the home. A kinsman of my first wife lies buried at the foot of the chancel in the old Bruton Chapel at Williamsburg. The home of the grandfather of the present Mrs. Marshall was located, I am told, where your Capitol building now stands here in Richmond. And I myself am the proud possessor of a home in Loudon County, at Leesburg, Virginia. Also, I have the honor of being a member of the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute.
Incidentally, I think I have ridden horseback over more of Virginia than probably any of you present here tonight. I have enjoyed and appreciated the country more than those who merely see it from a rapidly moving automobile. The Blue Ridge, the Alleghenies, the Shenandoah and the James River and the Massanutten Mountains always make a definite picture in my mind. I never fly over them in my frequent air journeys to and from Washington, that I do not thrill over the beauties of the landscape and the youthful memories they recall.
Apropos of my previous remarks on the rapid development of this country, a visit to White Sulphur Springs a few months ago recalled a remarkable statement I heard made by Uncle Joe Cannon, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives. At a dinner in Washington, shortly after the First World War, Mr. Cannon spoke of the movement of his family from North Carolina to the territory of the Illinois. He was about six years old at the time. The party had paused on the trail, or so-called road, on the slopes of the mountain above the White Sulphur Springs to make their nooning, that is, to cook their midday meal. He was fascinated by this first sight of wealth and luxury, the lovely ladies promenading on the lawn with their escorts in top hats and tight-fitting trousers, the band playing, the magnificent hotel buildings. 4 It was a marvelous sight to this little boy accustomed only to a cabin, and the isolation of life in a sparsely settled country district.
After they finished their lunch and packed up to continue on their way, he told us he could recall, as clearly as though it had been yesterday, his mother waving her hand towards the brilliant scene below them and calling back, “Goodbye, civilization.”
The remarkable thing, to me, in this, was the fact that a frontier of civilization could have been conceived of in the State of Virginia, within the recollection of a man who sat in the Congress of the United States when this country had grown to be acknowledged the richest, if not yet quite the most powerful country in the world. It didn’t seem possible that so great a change could have taken place within the recollection of a single individual.
Now the problem is not where is the frontier of civilization. The question is: what are we doing with this civilization of today? Are we to further its future development, or are we to witness its disastrous decline?
As I have already said, there will be many views as to what is the right thing to do. But I am certain we must do something and not merely sit and wait and talk and concentrate solely on our own affairs. The world is now at our door. We cannot escape its troubles and dangers. We must do our best to eliminate them.
GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Secretary of State, Speeches)
1. Two groups had asked Marshall to speak in Richmond: the Virginia American Legion and the local Virginia Military Institute alumni club. He told Richmond businessman and VMI graduate Spencer L. Carter that he was being pressed by two veterans organizations to speak at their gatherings in Washington, so he could hardly accept the American Legion invitation without “creating an incident.” On the other hand, he could hardly speak at the VMI dinner, which he very much wished to do, and turn down the Richmond veterans. (Marshall to Carter, February 11, 1948, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Secretary of State, General].)
Frank McCarthy was visiting his home in Richmond at this time and had helped to arrange the joint meeting. In a memorandum for the secretary of state, Marshall Carter noted: “Frank reports general ‘anti’ attitude about European Recovery Program. The general consensus there is that the two Virginia Senators will probably go along with it but that the Virginia Congressmen will at the very best split about 50-50. All of them will try to reduce the amount. Frank further reports that Dr. [Douglas Southall] Freeman [historian and former editor of the Richmond News Leader] is the bitterest critic of all in that area.” (Carter Memorandum for the Secretary, February 12, 1948, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Secretary of State, Categorical, Invitations].) The audience included the governor, members of the General Assembly, and the state’s congressional delegation.
Marshall insisted that his remarks were not for direct quotation in the press. Carter informed both groups that the secretary “would speak with the understanding that his remarks would be extemporaneous and therefore not repeat not for direct quotation in the press. This would preclude radio hook-up.” (Carter to E. Tucker Carlton, February 13, 1948, ibid.)
Marshall arrived in Richmond at 4:30 p.m. “After an hour’s meeting with the [VMI] Board of Visitors,” he observed the next day, “a group of legislators came in with the Lieutenant Governor and the head of the State Budget. The issue was one of drastic reductions made in the estimates for the maintenance of the VMI by the Governor’s Committee. I was asked to talk to the legislators and did so. They tell me with excellent results. The dinner was a packed house—too much tobacco smoke, but fortunately not many speeches.” (Marshall to Mrs. Marshall, February 24, 1948, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Secretary of State, General].)
2. Clifton S. Brown Jr., one of Marshall’s stepsons, had married Emily Bowles Locker on August 25, 1945 in Richmond, Virginia.
3. About 450 words have been omitted here. On the Cub Scouts story, see Report of a Meeting with Cub Scouts, February 10, 1948, pp. 354–56.
4. Joseph G. Cannon was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1836 and moved to Annapolis, Indiana, in 1840. He moved to Illinois in 1858. A member of the Republican Party, he served in the House of Representatives 1873–91, 1893–1913, and 1915–22 and was Speaker 1903–11. He died in 1926.
Marshall was referring to the Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs, which had been founded in 1778 in Greenbrier County, Virginia. During the US Civil War Greenbrier and counties to the north, south, and west separated from Virginia to form the new state of West Virginia.
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. 382-385.
Digital Downloads6-192 Draft Remarks to the Virginia American Legion and the VMI Club
CollectionLeadership, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Volume 6: The Whole World Hangs in the Balance