1-527 Editorial Note on Beginnings of Mobilization

Publisher: The George C. Marshall Foundation

Editorial Note on Beginnings of Mobilization

September-November 1938

The September war scare in Europe forced Britain, France, and the United States to reevaluate their military positions with regard to Germany. The latter’s air superiority emerged as the most threatening aspect of the imbalance of power. United States Ambassador William C. Bullitt was told by French Intelligence that Germany had sixty-five hundred modern planes, two-thirds of them bombers. France was unprepared to meet such a massive assault.

For a time, to help redress the balance of power in Europe while avoiding the prohibitions of the United States Neutrality Act of 1935, Bullitt sought President Roosevelt’s support for a scheme to build factories in Canada to produce planes for sale to France and Britain using United States tools, machines, and designs. Bullitt unsuccessfully sought to convince Charles A. Lindbergh to return from England to the United States to assist in the enterprise. (Bullitt to Roosevelt, September 28, 1938, in Orville H. Bullitt, editor, For the President, Personal and Secret: Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972], pp. 297-99; Charles A. Lindbergh, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970], pp. 80-81, 83, 87.)

Evidence of White House concern over the growing power of the German-Italian alliance surfaced immediately after Ambassador Bullitt returned to Washington, D.C., on October 13. Bullitt helped to convince Roosevelt that United States aircraft production had to be stimulated at once. The president’s private remarks led to conjectures in the press that he would soon ask Congress to appropriate money for ten thousand aircraft plus increased production facilities. (Mark S. Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1950], pp. 131-32.)

One of the most important of the meetings on military policy Marshall attended as deputy chief of staff occurred in the White House on the afternoon of November 14, one month after he took over the post. The Western Hemisphere was vulnerable to attack, President Roosevelt asserted, and this situation demanded the immediate creation of a huge air force so that the United States would not need to have a huge army. It was politically impossible to send a large army abroad. A powerful air force was essential to back up the administration’s foreign policy. The United States needed ten thousand airplanes and the capacity to produce twenty thousand more per year. (See Herman Oliphant’s account of the meeting in the Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Diary, 150: 337-42, FDRL/H. Morgenthau, Jr., Papers. See also Memorandum for the Chief of Staff by Henry H. Arnold, November 15, 1938, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Conferences].)

Marshall believed that the president’s new program was unbalanced and underfunded. Not only did it favor the Air Corps over the army as a whole, it concentrated too much on machinery at the expense of other Air Corps needs. The White House meeting, he recalled, was “quite an assembly of men and a great many of the New Deal protagonists; it had to do with these appropriations we were trying to get of a military way. There was a great difference of opinion as to what it should be. The president, of course, was all for the increase in the air, but he wasn’t much for getting the men to man the airships nor for the munitions and things that they required. He was principally thinking at that time of getting airships for England and France.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 108.)

Marshall remembered sitting “on a lounge way off to the side” in the White House meeting room. Roosevelt finished his presentation and began asking the other participants’ opinions. “Most of them agreed with him entirely, had very little to say, and were very soothing in their comments. He, of course, did the major portion of the talking. He finally came around to me, . . . and I remember he called me `George.’ I don’t think he ever did it again. That rather irritated me, because I didn’t know him on that basis. Of course, the president can call you pretty much what he wants to, but nevertheless I wasn’t very enthusiastic over such a misrepresentation of our intimacy. So he turned to me at the end of this general outlining . . . and said, `Don’t you think so, George?’ And I replied, `Mr. President, I am sorry, but I don’t agree with that at all.’ I know that ended the conference, and the president gave me a very startled look.

“When I went out, they all bade me goodbye and said my tour in Washington was over. But I want to say in compliment to the president that that didn’t antagonize him at all. Maybe he thought I would tell him the truth so far as I personally was concerned—which I certainly tried to do in all of our later conversations. He thought I was too intent on things, of course, and he was having a very hard time raising the public backing for the money, and there was a debt limitation during these early periods. But my job was to see that the country was armed, if it was possible to do so, which meant large appropriations.“ (Ibid., pp. 108-9.)

The day following the meeting, Assistant Secretary of War Johnson sent Army Chief of Staff Craig a memorandum instructing him to prepare budget estimates for a rearmament program which went significantly beyond the president’s airplanes-only approach. On November 17, Marshall wrote to Major General Embick: “As you can tell from the papers, things are very, very busy here. Occasionally I have time to turn around, but not often.” (GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Marshall, who was in charge of the army’s appropriations requests, called in his assistants and apportioned the work.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 650-652.

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