2-507 Editorial Note on 1939-41 Biennial Report

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: July 1, 1941

Editorial Note on 1939-41 Biennial Report

July 1, 1941

United States “interests are imperiled,” Marshall wrote in his July 1, 1941, biennial report; “a grave national emergency exists.” The army’s ability to defend these interests was severely restricted by laws limiting the service of Reserve officers, National Guard troops, and draftees to twelve months and restricting the deployment of these forces to the Western Hemisphere. These restrictions should be removed, he asserted. (“Biennial Report,” in Report of the Secretary of War to the President, 1941, pp.56-57.)

“The Regular Army divisions contain from 75 to 90 percent Reserve officers whose term of service is legally limited to 12 months. In other words, some 600 officers in a division under the law would soon be entitled to drop their present duties and return to their homes. The 12 months’ service period of many, if not most of the officers in the first priority divisions, is now nearly completed. Must we replace most of the trained officer personnel of a division—the leaders—at the moment of departure for strategic localities? In two of the Regular divisions we have restricted the enlisted personnel to 3-year men, but in the others, of necessity, the number of selectees varies from 25 to 50 percent. The problem here is the same as for the Reserve officer personnel. The National Guard units involve three distinct limitations as to personnel—that for the National Guard unit, that for the 10 percent Reserve officers in their regiments and now being increased, and that pertaining to selectees who comprise more than 50 percent of the men in the ranks. Furthermore, a task force involves all components. While we may select regular units as the divisional components for task forces, we must utilize National Guard organizations for the special supporting units—antiaircraft, heavy artillery, engineers, etc. So we have become involved in a complete confusion of restrictive details regarding personnel.” (Ibid., PP S7-58.)

The service-time limitation, he told the Senate Military Affairs Commit tee on July 9, meant that garrisoning distant posts such as Alaska and Hawaii was difficult. Units could not be sent there if a large portion of their personnel soon had to be replaced. The geographical limitation meant that units of the all-volunteer Marine Corps had to be sent instead of the United States Army to protect the nation’s interests in places such as Iceland. (Senate Military Affairs Committee, Strengthening the National Defense, Hearing [Washington: GPO, 1941], pp. 3-4, 10-11.)

Marshall’s use of the words “task force” in his biennial report had immediate repercussions in the press and in Congress; fears were voiced that the army was preparing a 1917-style A.E.F. for action in Europe. In his testimony of July 9, the chief of staff rejected such a “confused” interpretation of the term. “As to the `task forces’ referred to in my report—I used that expression deliberately because I thought it was time that the public should become accustomed to the term. It should have no sinister significance. It means simply this: We determine for a particular, a possible mission the size and composition of the force necessary to carry it out. It may be 5,000, or 15,000, or 30,000. It is, as I have explained, a self-contained, self-supporting force. Instead of waiting until the last moment to assemble such a force as we have always done in the past—for the Santiago campaign in Cuba, the Philippines in 1898, for Siberia and Russia in 1918, and for France and Italy in 1917—we are deliberately organizing them now so far as we can foresee the possibility and are training them for their possible employment.” (Ibid., p. 4.)

The political objections to removal of the geographical restrictions endangered the issue Marshall considered most important: removal of the service time limitations. In a White House meeting on Monday, July 14, Marshall further discussed with the president and congressional leaders the timely need for lifting the legal limitations on the army. In the interest of quick passage of the service extension resolutions, the group agreed, at least for the immediate time, not to pursue abolition of the territorial restrictions. (Orlando Ward Notes on Conference in the Office of the Secretary of War, July 16, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, War Council Minutes]; New York Times, July 15, 1941, pp. 1, 11.)

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. 565-566.

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