2-217 Editorial Note on Defense Effort Speed-up, June-July 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Defense Effort Speed-up

June-July 1940

In a series of meetings of the Standing Liaison Committee in mid-June, General Marshall, Admiral Stark, Under Secretary of State Welles, and their assistants prepared a secret memorandum for President Roosevelt, dated June 22, and entitled “Basis for Immediate Decisions Concerning the National Defense.” On June 24 Marshall, Stark, and Welles met with the president to discuss the document which requested decisions on the disposition of the United States Fleet, the military’s opposition to further commitments of war materiel to Great Britain, and various aspects of Western Hemisphere defense. In the final point, Marshall and Stark stated: “The naval and military operations necessary to assure successful Hemisphere Defense call for a major effort which we are not now ready to accomplish. Time is of the essence in overcoming our unreadiness. To overcome our disadvantage in time, the concerted effort of our whole national life is required. The outstanding demands on this national effort are: – first, a radical speed-up of production, and second, the assembly and training of organized manpower.” To accomplish this latter goal, they recommended that “immediate enactment be sought of a Selective Service Law along the lines of existing plans, to be followed at once by complete [Marshall inserted “progressive” here] military and naval mobilization.” The president agreed that a draft bill was needed. (This memorandum and Marshall’s report on the president’s responses to it are in NA/RG 165 [WPD, 4250-3].)

During the next six weeks, manpower policy was the main focus of Marshall’s attention. The Burke-Wadsworth selective compulsory military training and service bill had already been submitted to Congress at the instigation of an influential group of civilians associated with the Military Training Camps Association. Marshall remarked some years afterward: “I was much criticized because I didn’t take the lead in the Selective Service legislation. I very pointedly did not take the lead. I wanted it to come from others. . . . Then I could take the floor and do all the urging that was required. But if I had led off with this urging, I would have defeated myself before I started.” He had to be careful, he felt, “not to create the feeling” that he, “as the military leader . . . was trying to force the country into a lot of actions which it opposed.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 302)

Prior to the fall of France, Marshall had thought that voluntary three-year enlistments would enable the Regular Army and the National Guard to reach their authorized “peacetime strengths” (375,000 and 400,000 enlisted men respectively) in sufficient time. Regular Army enlistments in June had been the largest in two decades, producing a net increase of 15,000 men, but at that rate it would take ten months to reach peace strength. In view of the international situation, Marshall told the Senate Military Affairs Committee on July 12, “we will be procuring them at much too slow a rate.” Therefore a draft was needed. But there was another important consideration. “If such a measure is accepted by the Congress, the practical proposition of putting it into effect requires one of two things. Either we must mobilize the National Guard for the purpose of training these men in its ranks, and also in the ranks of the Regular Army units, where we must have more men as quickly as possible, or we will have to emasculate the Regular Army and emasculate the National Guard, at this time, in order to provide the necessary training cadres to handle the new men in the manner that it would be desirable. In other words, the training of young men in large training camps on the basis of compulsory training is something that we cannot manage at the present time. We do not have the trained officers and men—the instructors, to spare; also, we do not have the necessary materiel. We lack the special training set-up at the moment, and we cannot afford to create it. Therefore, we would have to make the first step within the ranks of the Regular Establishment, and within the ranks of the National Guard.” Marshall wanted the National Guard called into federal service at once for a minimum of one year. (Senate Military Affairs Committee, Compulsory Military Training and Service, Hearings [Washington: GPO, 1940], pp. 328-31, 340.)

In testifying on the House version of the draft bill on July 24, Marshall repeated his desire for quick action. “We must get these men very quickly. Materiel we cannot rush to meet the immediate emergency, but men we can procure. There should be no delay. . . . My relief of mind would be tremendous if we just had too much of something besides patriotism and spirit.” In order to reach the Protective Mobilization Plan goals of a “war strength” army of 900,000 enlisted men plus 300,000 replacements, Marshall proposed the induction of between 300,000 and 350,000 in October 1940, with another call-up the following April; the men were to be in the twenty one to thirty age range without dependents. (House Military Affairs Committee, Selective Compulsory Military Training and Service, Hearings [Washington: GPO, 1940], pp. 101-3, 109.)

Six days later, before the Senate Military Affairs Committee, Marshall reiterated his plea that the National Guard be called to active duty: “I strongly urge that we be permitted to go ahead in a businesslike, orderly way and go ahead with these units to give the effective result as needed. We have been proceeding, I think, on a very conservative basis. It is a question as the time grows late whether we can continue on that basis. . . . The one difference here over our experience in the past is that we are trying to do in time of peace what we have always delayed until the actual moment of war. I say `time of peace,’ but if you will pardon me, I think it is a time of peril, and I think everybody admits that aside from the matter of the defense of this country it would be a high crime to send our men out unprepared.” (Senate Military Affairs Committee, Ordering Reserve Components and Retired Personnel into Active Military Service, Hearing [Washington: GPO, 1940], p. 14.)

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. 262-264.

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