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Editorial Note on Impact of German Invasions
Four minutes after midnight on April 9, 1940, the State Department received a terse telegram from its minister in Oslo: “Norway is at war with Germany!” The news was shocking but not unexpected. The European war had now entered a new and more dangerous phase. On May 10 the German Army swept into the Low Countries, but the gravity of the military change in Europe was not evident until the French lines broke at Sedan on May 14.
“During May and June of 1940,” Marshall wrote a year afterward, “the German avalanche completely upset the equilibrium of the European continent. France was eliminated as a world power and the British Army lost most of its heavy equipment. To many the invasion of Great Britain appeared imminent. The precariousness of the situation and its threat to the security of the United States became suddenly apparent to our people, and the pendulum of public opinion reversed itself, swinging violently to the other extreme, in an urgent demand for enormous and immediate increases in modern equipment and of the armed forces.” (“Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff, July 1, 1941,” in War Department, Report of the Secretary of War to the President, 1941 [Washington: GPO, 1941], pp. 49-50.)
Marshall continued to remind Congress of the great expense and time required to produce a modern fighting force. Now he added warnings (public) and complaints (private) of the menace of enthusiasm, by which he meant curative schemes of great expectations which, when they failed, led to recriminations. He believed that excessive enthusiasm was the antithesis of rational planning. Moreover, election-year politics added to the burdens of his office. “These are serious times,” he wrote to a friend in Oregon, “more serious possibly because this is a Presidential year, which is an embarrassment to everyone.” (Marshall to David W. Hazen, May 3, 1940, GCMRL/ G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
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), p. 197.