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C.B.S. Radio Address On Selective Service1
September 16, 1940 Washington, D.C.
This afternoon President Roosevelt gave the final approval to the act of Congress creating a system of selective service for compulsory military training, a great fundamental stride toward the preparation of this country to defend itself, to protect its form of government and its compelling interests in the Western Hemisphere. This morning some 60,000 citizen soldiers of the National Guard left comfortable homes, their families and their jobs to fulfill their patriotic mission as members of the Army of the United States.
Within the next ten days most of these troops will concentrate in divisional camps in New Jersey, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and the State of Washington, to start on a period of intensive military training. Along the East and West Coasts of the United States, Harbor Defense and other units of the Guard will move into camps and commence their training in the handling of heavy seacoast guns and smaller weapons. Antiaircraft regiments will assemble at special firing centers to commence practical training in this vital service. National Guard air squadrons of observation planes will move to air fields to perfect their coordinated training with other branches of the Army.
I wish to emphasize the importance of these preparations. We are at peace with every nation in the world. Nevertheless it is the feeling of the War Department that the next six months include the possibility of being the most critical period in the history of this nation. Ordinary common sense indicates that our preparations should be made accordingly.
The situation today is utterly different from that of 1917. Then we were at war—but we foresaw small possibility of military danger to this country. Today though at peace, such a possibility trembles on the verge of becoming a probability. Then we could proceed with deliberation. We could wait until we built cantonments, until we first trained officers later to train the men, until we were prepared to form a field Army. We did not need to worry about arms, equipment and ammunition—our Allies were prepared to supply those necessities.
Today time is at a premium and modern arms and equipment must be provided by our own industries—not by allies. We must be prepared to stand alone. We cannot depend on others for protection during a prolonged period of preparation.
Therefore, the mobilization this morning of the first increment of the National Guard is the first long step in the preparation of an adequate Army of citizen-soldiers to man our defenses.
Testifying before a Congressional Committee last February, I made the statement that our preparations for defense should be carried out in an orderly, businesslike manner, proceeding step by step, in accordance with the major developments abroad; that if Europe blazed in the late Spring or Summer, we must put our house in order before the sparks reached the Western Hemisphere. Even so, it must be admitted that I only partially visualized the full extent of the conflagration, and the rapidity with which it was to overwhelm the Continent of Europe. Yet, at the time, there was severe criticism of that statement as being unnecessarily alarming.
Today the public and the press are demanding action, immediate and all-inclusive, and there is a general appreciation of the hazards of our situation. But I fear that there is not so clear an understanding of just what is required in order to produce the desired results. The time-consuming process in manufacturing materiel—planes, guns, tanks, and other munitions—is partially comprehended, though impatience and forebodings are productive of demands for miracles to overcome delays due to past public indifference.
Also, I fear that we expect too much of machines. We fail to realize two things: First, that the finest plane or tank or gun in the world is literally worthless without technicians trained as soldiers—hardened, seasoned, and highly disciplined to maintain and operate it; and second, that success in combat depends primarily upon the development of the trained combat team composed of all arms. This battle team is the most difficult, the most complicated of all teams to create, because it must operate on unknown ground, in darkness, as well as in daylight, amidst incredible confusion, danger, hardship, and discouragements. It is a team of many parts, the decisive element of which remains the same little-advertised, hard-bitten foot soldier with his artillery support.
From a foreign source, a distinguished veteran of the recent fighting, we get this comment: “Wars are still fought by men even though they use elaborate weapons. Troops of all kinds must therefore have physical fitness and toughness that will guarantee their vitality and endurance under prolonged strain.”
A German general staff officer is credited with this summary of that army’s recent campaign. He stated: “Our success is due to close team work between the air force, armored troops, motorized engineers and infantry. Of course the infantry must finally hold the ground, but all others help to bring it up. Our methods are simple in the extreme; they are understood by every soldier in the Army. Our foot infantry is the best in the world. Their principal job is marching, and the job of every other arm is to keep them marching forward into enemy land.” “We move,” he says, “on a broad front with armored divisions and air force. Where the initial resistance is too strong for the armored troops to penetrate, it is broken by dive bombers and additional artillery. The way must be cleared for the infantry with whom the final decision lies. This requires perfect communication and coordination between arms; further, it requires a singleness of command and purpose.” He is describing a highly-organized team, a balanced team, in contrast to a few highly developed specialties each operating somewhat according to its own theory of combat.
The War Department has carefully followed the development of the War in Europe for the purpose of analyzing the reasons for the success of one army or the failure of another. The importance of specialized training is apparent to all observers, but the tremendous importance of seasoned soldiers, welded into a perfect team is the outstanding impression. There is no royal road to such training. It cannot be obtained by reading books or sitting in barracks. The only way we can prepare ourselves for the future is to get out in the open, in all kinds of weather, and take advantage of the lessons forced on nations who are less fortunately situated.
The original recommendation of the War Department that this first increment of the National Guard be ordered into active service last July, was based on the necessity for hurrying to develop a special, seasoned reenforcement for the small body of mobile troops of the Regular Army avail able in Continental United States. Today, the entry of this portion of the National Guard on active duty must also serve another purpose. These divisions, these regiments and squadrons that joined the active Army of the United States this morning, must prepare themselves as quickly as possible to receive and train their portion of the young men selected under the democratic terms of the new law just given force and effect by the signature of the President.
Both the troops of the Regular establishment and those of the National Guard must absorb in their ranks the men of the Selective Service Act and give them their military training. Furthermore, thousands of officers of the Reserve Corps, mainly products of the ROTC in our colleges and universities, are either on active duty or are being called to such duty to provide the necessary additional leaders. In other words, the National Defense Act of 1920, the lesson of our lack of preparation in 1917 and 1918, is being put into effect in a progressive, business-like manner. The Selective Service Act has added the final touch of authority to enable America to go to work effectively at the business of preparing herself against the uncertainties, the threatening dangers of the immediate future.
The consummation of the War Department plans must be governed by the speed with which adequate shelter can be provided. Until funds were made available the Department could only plan for such important details. Now the problem is the prompt completion of temporary hospitals, sewage and water systems, buildings and other necessities of healthful life. So long as the international situation permits, we will proceed only as rapidly as adequate shelter can be provided. In turn, the trainees under the Selective Service Act will be called out only as rapidly as units of the Regular Establishment and National Guard are prepared to receive them—both from the viewpoint of training and of shelter—the first increment probably about the middle of November.
October 15th it is planned to order a second increment of the National Guard to join the active Army—the 27th Division from New York, the 37th Division of Ohio, the 32d Division from Michigan and Wisconsin, and air squadrons of observation planes from New York, Michigan and Mississippi. Also included will be the entire National Guard of Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
For years the National Guard has been preparing for service in the event of a great national emergency. Today that emergency is recognized, and the first of these troops of citizen-soldiers have reported for duty. Their task is most difficult. They must establish themselves in camp and in the shortest possible time season and prepare their small nucleus of men—about thirty per cent of full strength—to receive and train treble their number.
This means long hours of arduous work. For the officers and non commissioned officers it means not only hard physical work but also intensive daily study of the manuals covering the latest technique in warfare. It is only through discomfort and fatigue that progress can be made toward the triumph of mind and muscles over the softness of the life to which we have all become accustomed.
All this not only takes time, but requires wholehearted effort. It demands a standard of discipline which will prevail over fatigue, hunger, confusion, or disaster. Given the opportunity to prepare himself, the American makes the finest soldier in the world, and for the first time in our history we are beginning in time of peace to prepare against the possibility of war. We are starting to train an army of citizen-soldiers which may save us from the tragedy of war.
If we are strong enough, peace, democracy, and our American way of life should be the reward.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. Marshall delivered this address over the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Washington, D.C., affiliate WJSV at 10:15 P.M. This speech was printed in the Army and Navy Journal of September 21, 1940, pp. 78-82.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 308-312.