1-539 Memorandum, December 14, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 14, 1938


December 14, 1938 [Washington, D.C.]

Every discussion of the new defense program seems to involve this question, “Why did not the War Department long ago make known these tremendous deficiencies in Ordnance weapons, ammunition, and similar items?” It did, and here is the explanation of the present misunderstandings:

First, the present world situation and the recent restatement of the Monroe Doctrine introduced new factors into our military problem, which everyone admits demand increased means of defense.

However, the reasons why we find ourselves at the present time so seriously lacking in materiel, and in personnel, are these:

The Chiefs of Staff, year in and year out, have stated our necessities in general terms, and have testified to them before Committees of Congress. In loyal deference to the current administrative policy, they have tempered their language, and held their requests for funds within the limits of the total sum allotted to the War Department.

The War Department devotes about ten months to the preparation of the estimates for the annual Army appropriations. An increase over the preceding year’s appropriation is usually found inadvisable, and requests for similar amounts are frequently pared down by the Bureau of the Budget in the Treasury Department to meet the requirements of the general directive regarding the grand total of annual appropriations. National and international considerations govern in this matter, the Executive making the initial decision, and Congress taking final action.

Reductions in the War Department estimates are often made by the Bureau of the Budget, and here we find the most important reason why we are short of vital munitions. The War Department administers the Army on a parsimonious basis. Unlike the Navy Department, it has many, varied and powerful interests outside of the small regular army: A National Guard of 210,000, a Reserve Corps of 120,000, an ROTC of 165,000, and an annual month of CMTC for about 40,000 young men. In addition, are the requirements of industrial mobilization, which cost money. Therefore the Department must trim its sails with meticulous attention to matters of economy wherever possible. So, when the Bureau of the Budget is required to trim the Army estimates, there is literally no fat meat available. You cannot well cut rations and you cannot easily cut pay; it is difficult to deny adequate housing to people living in tents, as some Army units did for more than ten years after the war; and the pressure, political and otherwise, from the various States, numerous Associations, and the heads of the colleges and universities with ROTC units, all combine to make an extremely difficult matter of the allocation of funds. The Bureau of the Budget, therefore, finds itself reduced to the necessity of eliminating items involving materiel. So, year after year, we receive but a small percentage of our necessities for munitions, until today we find ourselves in the present predicament.

For example, in the current budget of the War Department, the preparation of which started almost a year ago, less than 9% of the requirements in munitions for our mobilization necessities, are included, but even so, there have been cuts.

In times like these, the habit of the press is to point to this person or to that person on which to pin the fault. The fact of the matter is, the fault lies with the general public. They are not interested until a crisis arises, and even then the particular matter must have some dramatic appeal, such as the photograph of a line of battleships, or of a squadron of huge bombing planes, or of the tragedy of women and children being bombed in Spain or China. The public reacts to these with a specific demand for planes and for anti-aircraft artillery, but they are not interested in Army Ordnance—field artillery, anti-tank guns, automatic rifles, powder, etc.—which are the vital necessities at the present date if there is to be modern equipment available for our peace time army and its first war increment.

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

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. There is no addressee on this memorandum, and it may not have been sent to anyone. It was probably precipitated by Assistant Secretary of War Johnson’s letter of December 10 to Chief of Staff Craig. Johnson observed that during the next several months the army would have to spend considerable time defending and supporting the new preparedness program. “The study recently submitted to the President gave cost data on a four-point, two-year program consisting of (1) augmentation of air force to 10,000 airplanes of which 50% would be on an operating status; (2) procurement of the equipment, munitions, and supplies essential to the support of the Protective Mobilization Plan Army; (3) aids to industrial mobilization; (4) increases of ground forces to the extent of some 58,000 men for the Regular Army and 35,000 men for the National Guard." Johnson asked Craig to “have prepared for me a justification of the four-point program as submitted to the President." (Copies of Johnson’s letter and the reply are in NA/RG 165 [War Plans Division, File 3674].)

Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 675-676.

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