2-430 Editorial Note on the Truman Committee, March-April 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on the Truman Committee

March-April 1941

On March 1, 1941, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 71, authorizing the establishment of a special committee to investigate the mobilization program, including the procurement of munitions and the construction of cantonments and industrial plants. On April 22 Marshall testified before the Truman Committee—named for Harry S. Truman, Democrat from Missouri, who had drafted the resolution and was chairman of the committee. In broad terms, the chief of staff sketched the military and industrial mobilization, emphasizing the time factor in production and the need to create a field army from the nation’s scattered, understrength units. He noted that Congress had cut appropriations for the 1940 maneuvers. The fall of France had quickly shifted public opinion and the opinion of business leaders; the latter, Marshall said, changed from an attitude of “dividend considerations to one of purely patriotic considerations.” (Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, Investigation of the National Defense Program, Hearings [Washington: GPO, 1941], pp. 160-63.)

An immediate, balanced mobilization had been impossible, the chief of staff noted, because detailed studies of the 1940 European campaigns had not been available until spring 1941. Only then could the army design its armored force, Air Corps, and support units to fight a modern war. Marshall then explained that cantonment construction and materiel procurement depended on advance knowledge of this new troop organization, which was not possible in 1940. Detailed plans made prior to 1941 were based on the experience of the World War and prompted costly, last-minute changes. (Ibid., pp. 164-70.)

Marshall acknowledged that many additional expenditures had resulted from insufficient planning. Using the example of housing costs for the Forty-fourth Division, Marshall justified his spending policy: “There was a feeling on the part of the staff that the sum ought to be pared down. I didn’t think so. I didn’t think we could afford at that time to jeopardize morale, to risk health and entail great many other risks that would be far more serious than a possible overestimate on the part of the authorities.” (Ibid., p. 176.)

Pursuing this theme of morale, Truman asked if the mobilizing National Guard and Reserves possessed a “one-army spirit.” The chief of staff answered with praise for the reserve officers that provided the bulk of the army’s officer corps. “I might say in that connection . . . that the most valuable single measure of national defense we had available was the Reserve Corps built up by the R.O.T.C. That has been of more positive assistance in meeting this emergency than any other single thing that has been provided by the Congress.” Marshall believed that their technical competence was superior to the hastily trained World War I officers. (Ibid., p. 178.)

Turning to the policy of selective promotion, Marshall spoke to the committee on leadership: “If leadership depends purely on seniority you are defeated before you start. You give a good leader very little and he will succeed; you give mediocrity a great deal and they will fail. That is illustrated everywhere I turn. These rapid tours I make around the country disclose that as the most impressive thing. You see the effect of leadership in handling the flu, in the construction of a cantonment, in doing anything. It depends on leadership.” (Ibid., p. 180.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 482-483.

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