1-575 Editorial Note on Brazil Trip, 1939

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Brazil Trip

May-June 1939

The threat of German and Italian commercial, political, and military penetration of Latin America “was no mere conjuring by an excited fancy,” Secretary of State Cordell Hull asserted several years later; “our diplomatic representatives in Latin America had given us literally hundreds of concrete instances.” (The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, 2 vols. 1. New York: Macmillan, 1948], 1:601.) Brazil—with its large, well-organized German and Italian communities (variously estimated at between three and four million persons), its history of revolts and coups, and its twenty-five hundred miles of largely undefended coastline containing several excellent harbors—particularly worried United States military planners. There were no doubts in Washington regarding Brazil’s traditional friendship and trade with the United States or its support of the principles of hemispheric independence. The chief problem, from the point of view of the United States, was how to counter German-Italian propaganda and influence, particularly in the strategic southern states and in the field of aviation. (Colonel E. R. W. McCabe, G-2, Memorandum for the Assistant Chief of Staff, WPD, January 25, 1939, NA/RG 165 [War Plans Division, File 4115].)

Internal dissent involving pro-Fascist and pro-Nazi groups might lead to an attempt to overthrow the government—as had happened in May, 1938. One possibility was the establishment of a pro-Fascist regime in part of Brazil which would be gradually reinforced by Germany and Italy, as had been the case in Spain since 1936. “If successful in establishing a Fascist regime in Brazil, our vital interests would immediately be affected and the Panama Canal menaced. The movement would also tend to spread to neighboring countries. It is this trend of events which is believed to create the real danger to stability in South American countries and security in the Western Hemisphere.“ (Ibid. See also the unsigned, undated attachment “Attitude of Brazil toward the United States and Intrusion of the Axis States in Brazil.“)

Shortly before Marshall arrived in Washington in mid-1938, the State, War, and Navy Departments had begun sending representatives to meetings of the Standing Liaison Committee. The committee, which was strongly influenced by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, was chiefly concerned with Latin American military problems, particularly with the defense of Brazil. Marshall became involved in the committee’s work when he became deputy chief of staff. In February, 1939, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha visited the United States, where he had been ambassador from 1934 to 1938. In Washington, he talked with Chief of Staff Craig and other military leaders. A few weeks after Aranha returned home, Chief of Staff-designate Marshall was invited to Brazil. (Stetson Conn and Byron Fairchild, The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1960], pp. 174, 266-67.)

While on his western trip, Marshall learned that he was to leave on May 10 aboard a cruiser for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with stops on the way at Puerto Rico and Trinidad. “I received very brief instructions for the trip,” Marshall recalled later. General Pedro Aurelio de Goes Monteiro, Brazil’s army chief of staff, had praised the German Army and had been invited to visit Germany. “In order to suppress these intimacies, I was sent to Brazil on a goodwill tour.” (Marshall Interviews, pp 271.)

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. 715-716.

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