3-513 Informal and Off-the-Record Statement to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, February 13, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 13, 1943

Subject: World War II

Informal and Off-the-Record Statement to the American Society of Newspaper Editors

February 13, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


I had been looking forward to a frank, off-the-record talk with you gentlemen as a helpful opportunity for me and I hoped one equally helpful to you in the months to come. Most unfortunately, it now appears that I shall not be in Washington at the time of your meeting. Therefore I am dictating these notes quite informally, as I should have talked, in the hope that I can in some measure profit by the occasion of your meeting.1

The appointment of the Committee headed by Mr. McKelway appeals to me as an admirable arrangement, and I intend to take full advantage of it. I purpose treating the members of this Committee with great frankness as to the military situation and problems so that when occasion arises, such as the Darlan incident, I can turn to them and through them to you, for assistance in preventing misunderstandings which would hinder military operations.2

In my past dealings with members of the press and the radio I have scrupulously avoided what might be called propaganda proposals and have endeavored, through a frank presentation of the situation, so far as permissible, merely to give them the facts, leaving the conclusions to their own judgment. The War Department will always be embarrassed by the insatiable demand of our people for “hot” news, and with related perils involved in releasing certain information. That situation is inevitable and the safeguard I turn to is to build up a general understanding of the problems by you gentlemen who present carefully considered views in your editorial columns.

The current North African operation presents innumerable examples of such difficulties. You are familiar with the Darlan incident, and I should like to express here my deep appreciation of the invaluable assistance rendered to me by the group of men whom I took into my confidence during a most critical moment of that episode. Today, as I dictate these notes we have other serious dilemmas on our hands, but what is of vastly greater importance, General Eisenhower is being harrassed by representations and misrepresentations in his rear while engaged in a very serious battle in Tunisia and a critical military situation in the Straits of Gibraltar.

There is probably no more fertile field in the world for racial and political confusions and Axis propaganda than in North Africa. Representatives of many nonmilitary governmental agencies have been traveling in Africa and are bringing back to Washington by word of mouth or otherwise a variety of opinions, each man looking at the matter as he sees it within the restricted sphere in which he moved. General confusion and serious reactions are developing to embarrass our American commander of an Allied force.

There is much of what I might call the “If I were King” reaction at the present time, common to the man who sees and hears but is unembarrassed by a great responsibility, such as Eisenhower’s. We have this every day in the War Department or wherever there is an assemblage of vigorous American minds, full of initiative and lively in imagination. However, within the Army we control these reactions. We listen to the arguments or views and then make the decisions; but that is not the case in the lobbies in Washington, which become a hot-bed of destructive misrepresentations or ill-advised proposals.

The first reactions to the news from Africa were critical of the communications facilities. I finally had a long message from General Eisenhower reciting the tremendous efforts that had been made to improve matters, but the general idea seemed to be that the campaign was more of a news venture than a military operation being conducted under conditions of extreme difficulty. It finally developed that General Eisenhower, to meet these pressures, had given priority to press messages over a portion of his operations messages. I immediately notified him to cancel such an arrangement, that he would be judged on a victory and not on a press release. To me it was outrageous to hamper his complicated logistical problem in such a manner. I make this statement so that you will understand that I must accept the responsibility for the action taken in this particular matter.

Everything that could be done had been done, too much, I thought, in view of the gravity of the military situation. Incidentally, please understand that I am not resentful of a harried newspaperman who is trying to get his message through, but I am opposed to the sending of that message if in so doing we are seriously hampering military operations. Finally, it seemed to me that we were proceeding on the assumption that communications in Algiers and western Tunisia were on the same basis as those long established in Cairo and London.

This matter of General Eisenhower’s leadership in North Africa is an extremely critical one from an American point of view. For the first time in history, we have, I mean the people of America have, a commander and a deputy commander of a great Allied force. A large portion of the British Navy has been involved, an entire British Army is included. The British Naval and Army commanders are both much senior to General Eisenhower and have had extensive battle experience which he has not yet had. General Eisenhower’s leadership has been accepted by the Prime Minister and the British War Cabinet; their instructions to their commanders were models of their kind and those officers have given him the most loyal and warm-hearted support.

If in this situation we allow a multiplicity of interests, economic, political, racial, news-gathering, all of these, to undermine his position, we are defeating ourselves as to the future leadership in this war. The issue is a very grave one and I believe wholly unappreciated by the American public.

I should like to turn to the Far East for a moment. There we have another complicated situation, so abnormal in some respects as almost to defy a logical approach. The political situation in India is, as you know, both critical and complicated, and it has been played on in every way possible by Japanese propagandists. The situation in China is of vast importance to us in the problem of the Pacific and yet the military effort in that great country is being fed by an attenuated lifeline, the extension of our ferry command across the high passes of the Himalayan Mountains. There has been a continuous clamor about our failure to supply China. The facts, gentlemen, are that we have had in India for about six months equipment sufficient for an Army of 100,000 men, and we have been shipping in more, and yet little of this can be transported into China. The British would have liked to have used a portion of these munitions for their partially equipped divisions in India but we would not permit this diversion because of the furor it would stir up in China. There is considerable logic on the side of the British. To have divisions half equipped and the necessary equipment lying idle close by with no prospect of its movement into China is a curious state of affairs.

After months of delicate negotiations, General Stilwell, who is doing a magnificent job, succeeded in securing the consent of the Generalissimo to fly Chinese soldiers into India to join those who had taken that direction in the retreat from Burma. There they could be equipped and could be highly trained under American officers. We have set up another Fort Benning in India. That is the only way we have been able to utilize this heavy equipment. But it has not been easy of arrangement either with the British or the Chinese. On both sides of the Allied house General Stilwell’s problem has been a most difficult one but he has nevertheless succeeded in putting his plan into execution.

We have a complicated air situation in that region which General Stilwell is gradually clarifying. General Chennault is a genius in his leadership in the direction of combat missions against the Japanese. With extremely limited means he has done perfectly remarkable things. The trouble has been to supply him with the gasoline, the bombs, the spare parts, etc., to maintain his air force. He wants more planes than our air people in that theater feel can be supplied with gas, bombs and maintenance parts by air transport. The logistical problem is extraordinarily difficult and we are limited in what we can maintain out there in the way of transport planes because we must have them in New Guinea, we must have them in the Solomons, we must have them in the Aleutians, and we must have them supporting the battle in Tunisia. Also we have had to place a special group at the disposal of the British Eighth Army during the extended pursuit of Rommel.

All of these demands must be met because American soldiers are in these fights and we will not let them down. This is the factor that should never be lost sight of and which has only recently come into full view. We now have Americans fighting in a number of different regions and they must be supported. Yet Russia must have planes, both transport and combat. China must have planes, transport and combat. The British and Australians must have American planes. But above all, our men must have the support of the necessary planes. That is bound to be our first consideration. Heretofore it has been almost our last, because our commitments on the battlefield were so small. But even so we operated with extremely limited means and gave most generously. I therefore reject the implications that we have been niggardly in the supply of our munitions to our Allies. As a matter of fact, quite the contrary has been the case. There was more of a possibility that we might be investigated for unduly generous offerings, which we certainly would have been in the event of suffering a serious reverse.

The successful operation in Burma is of tremendous importance to China as a nation, it is important to the launching of planes from China against the Japanese over the water and into Japan, and it would be a vital factor in embarrassing the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific. The problem is how and when can we do this? We need no arguments as to its importance.

Turning to the Pacific, there we have a great problem of vast distances, a variety of conditions, from those of the sub-Arctic regions to jungle warfare, from land campaigns to island-to-island operations, from purely naval to mostly ground, all involving the critical factor of air control.

The situation today is far more favorable than it was six months ago because we have been able to lead trumps and force the Japanese reactions rather than engage in a guessing contest as to where in those broad ocean reaches the Japanese were going to concentrate their naval and air forces.

I keep a constant stream of officers from the War Department, particularly from the staff of the Chief of Operations, General Handy, traveling in this theater. They follow our troops into Buna, into Guadalcanal and into the westernmost islands of the Aleutians, and bring back to me first-hand reports of local conditions and the requirements as they see them.

I should add to these comments regarding the Pacific that sooner or later, in my opinion, they will attempt a destructive air raid against some vital installation along our Pacific Coast. We hope to beat them to the punch, but there is always the chance and we must not immobilize huge air forces to meet the threat as the Japanese hope to force us to do.

As you must realize, the man on the ground, or the commander in each area, clearly sees his own problems but can know but little of what is happening elsewhere unless it directly affects his battle. Very naturally, he usually wants more than we can give him in planes, troops, and ships, and our problem is to see that he does have the necessary additional means at the critical moments. This frequently involves considerable shuffling back and forth. The decision in these matters, as in the allocation of planes and other munitions all over the world, is my most difficult problem. It is often complicated by the pressures resulting from the visits of single individuals to the various areas. This is natural and inevitable, but I should like you gentlemen to have it in mind when you are discussing global warfare.

One more problem I wish to mention and that is the strength of the Army, which is very much in the public mind these days. As I see it, the proposition is about this. If I am told that the Army must be reduced, it means one or all of three things: that others have made the decision that the enemy must be defeated with less troops than we think are required for that purpose; that we have not been sufficiently intelligent or businesslike in making our estimates on transportation and related factors; or that a nonmilitary decision has been made that we will win this war either by some specialized process which the U. S. Chiefs of Staff do not accept as sound or by a more liberal distribution of munitions to other peoples, the British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese, for example, at the expense of our armed forces. I do not agree with any of these points of view, and I shall add this further expression of my own personal views—that I do not believe the American people would agree, given the simple facts in the matter divorced from motives of self-interest.

It is unnecessary for me to assure you gentlemen that wherever we find it possible to economize in manpower we shall do so, but we shall not announce such economies as a hope but rather will make public statements in the matter when we have found it possible to put them into effect.

The Army is well organized, I am sure. The staffs are well trained, I feel confident. These various matters have been studied through long periods and from every point of view. Our decisions have not been lightly arrived at. They have been modified from time to time in keeping with changing situations. On the other hand, I do feel that the civilian portion of our effort, for the laborers in the plants and the laborers in the fields, for example, has not yet been similarly organized, and it certainly is one of our most difficult problems to handle. Until it is thoroughly organized, however, and the deficiencies are definitely ascertained, then and not until then should the limiting of our military war effort receive serious consideration.

Please have this fact in mind: the Army suffers far more by its expansion than the farms and factories do by male attrition. Our regiments are preparing to engage in a deadly life and death struggle with a highly trained and ruthless enemy. Yet every month, month after month, we must select out the best soldiers, the key men, to go to the officer candidate schools. Every three months they must furnish large cadres of specially trained men as the foundation for new units, almost every week the best officers are selected out for promotion and assignment to new commands. The shoe pinches the Army far more than it can possibly pinch the civilian. We will welcome the moment when we can cease our expansion and concentrate on higher training and the mere maintenance problem for the existing Army.

One more point. Please keep in mind that our troops enter the battle in each instance somewhat as amateurs, in effect, pitted against long-experienced veterans. By rigorous training and strenuous maneuvers we have endeavored to prepare our men to overcome this initial disadvantage, but I am certain that the second engagements will show far better results than the initial contacts. However, our air men have so consistently won the advantage in almost every contest and run the odds up to remarkable figures time after time over France and in the Southwest Pacific, that we have checked and rechecked against the accuracy of the reports which would indicate a rapid dwindling of Japanese air power and a steady attrition of the German Luftwaffe. But our commanders assure us that the figures are conservative, and do not involve duplications or exaggerations. The initial results must be due to splendid training and splendid planes. The potential courage and resolution is present in all our men, ground or air, given the opportunity to fight under favorable conditions.

I wish to repeat again how sorry I am that I cannot talk to you personally and also that I am dictating this most informally and about as I should have talked. Therefore I ask you to accept it not only as off-the-record, but as an informal statement and not a carefully prepared presentation.

I have asked General McNarney, the Acting Chief of Staff on this date, to read this to you and to add any explanations he knows I should have given had it been possible for me to be present.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials [McKelway], George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. Marshall dictated the text printed here prior to leaving for the Casablanca Conference. (See Marshall Memorandum for Colonel Young, January 6, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-479 [3: 507-8].) The editors postponed their meeting with Marshall until the morning of February 13. Marshall used this draft, with modifications, as the basis of his remarks in the Labor Department Auditorium.

2. The committee headed by Washington Evening Star associate editor Benjamin M. McKelway is described briefly in Marshall Memorandum for Colonel Young, January 6, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-479 [3: 507-8].

3. McKelway wrote to Marshall: “Without any desire to be flattering, I say in all sincerity that I have never seen a gathering of men so deeply impressed as these editors were by your frank talk to them.” Donald J. Sterling, War Production Board consultant to the chairman on the newspaper and publishing industries, wrote that the editors “went home tremendously impressed, not only with what you told them but with renewed confidence in the war effort, because of the trust in you which you inspired in them.” (McKelway to Marshall, February 15, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected]; Sterling to Marshall, February 16, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) See also Marshall to Merriam, March 7, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-546 [3: 581-82].

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 543-549.

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