2-181 Editorial Note on Increased Preparedness Support, May 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 1, 1940

Editorial Note on Increased Preparedness Support

May 1940

Increased support for military preparedness manifested itself in part in an outpouring of suggestions and plans by various private persons, government leaders, and organizations outside the War Department.

One portion of the president’s May 16 message to Congress on the military budget attracted widespread interest and comment. Mr. Roosevelt said, “I should like to see this nation geared up to the ability to turn out at least 50,000 planes a year. Furthermore, I believe that this nation should plan at this time a program that would provide us with 50,000 military and naval planes.” He mentioned this number again in his May 26 fireside chat. (The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 volume, ed. Samuel I. Rosenman [New York: Macmillan Company, 1941], pp. 202, 234.) Proposals to train large numbers of pilots in civilian schools were soon being discussed in Congress and in the press; the Aero Digest commented on a scheme to train fifty thousand civilian pilots during fiscal year 1941. These numbers were far in excess of army plans. (Aero Digest 36[June 1940]: 102. See the various studies in NA/RG 165 [WPD, 3807-55] and [OCS, Emergency File].)

Frank Knox, publisher of the Chicago Daily News and the Republican party nominee for vice-president in 1936, formed a committee in mid-May to cooperate with the government’s pilot-training program. On May 14, he met with the president and received Roosevelt’s endorsement of a plan to create volunteer camps—similar in scope and intent to the Plattsburg camps of 1915-17 and aimed primarily at college students—in each of the nine army corps areas. Preliminary flight training was to be extended to ten thousand men during the summer of 1940. Knox presumably discussed his ideas with Marshall and Arnold at their luncheon on May 15.

The Knox committee’s “air Plattsburgs” complemented the ideas being pressed for the ground army by the Military Training Camps Association (M.T.C.A.) under the leadership of New York lawyer Grenville Clark. On May 25 representatives of the Knox and Clark groups, plus leaders from several civilian air organizations, met in Washington, D.C., with Civil Aeronautics Authority Chairman Robert H. Hickley and two army representatives. The Knox committee designated four men—Malin Craig, Frank R. McCoy, William J. Donovan, and Lewis W. Douglas—to cooperate with the military and the C.A.A. on plans for civilian pilot training. At the May 25 meeting, General McCoy stated that the army, navy, and C.A.A. already possessed the machinery for doing what the Knox group had in mind; he believed that the committee should concentrate on oiling this machinery. (Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Ward Memorandum for General Marshall, May 27, 1940, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Emergency File]. See Marshall to Craig, May 29, 1940, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-183 [2: 227-28].)

John McAuley Palmer, another of Marshall’s longtime friends, performed what Marshall considered a moderating role in efforts by the M.T.C.A. to draft a universal compulsory military training act to be introduced in Congress. Palmer visited Marshall’s office on May 23 to suggest that the association’s drafting committee be given access to the model conscription bill that had been produced after years of study by the Joint Army and Navy Selective Service Committee. (John McAuley Palmer, America in Arms [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941], pp. 198-99; Selective Service System, Backgrounds of Selective Service [Washington: GPO, 1947], 1:77-78.)

General Staff officers Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. O’Kelliher, Major Lewis B. Hershey (executive officer of the joint committee), and Captain Walter L. Weible conferred with Palmer during the next two days. Hershey and Palmer met briefly with Marshall on the morning of May 25. The next day, Palmer sent Marshall a telegram from New York City requesting that the two officers be permitted to confer with the M.T.C.A. drafting commit tee. This was not an unusual procedure, as the joint committee had long made a practice of meeting with such citizens’ groups. Marshall’s approval was sent on May 27.

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. 224-225.

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