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May 22, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: National Strategic Decisions.
1. Further imminently probable complications of today’s situation are:
a. Nazi-inspired revolution in Brazil.
b. Widespread disorders with attacks on U.S. citizens in Mexico and raids along our southern border.
c. Japanese hostilities against the United States in the Far East.
d. Decisive Allied defeat, followed by German aggression in the Western Hemisphere.
e. All combined.
2. We have vital interests in three general areas:
a. The Far East.
b. South America.
3. There should be an immediate decision as to what major military operations we must be prepared to conduct.
4. It is not practicable to send forces to the Far East, to Europe, and to South America all at once, nor can we do so to a combination of any two of these areas without dangerous dispersion of force.
5. We cannot conduct major operations either in the Far East or in Europe due both to lack of means at present and because of the resultant abandonment of the United States’ interest in the area to which we do not send forces.
6. It would appear that conditions now developing limit us for at least a year, more or less, to the conduct of offensive-defensive operations in South America in defense of the Western Hemisphere and of our own vital interests; such limited offensive operations in Mexico as the situation may require; possible protective occupation of European possessions in the Western Hemisphere; and the defense of Continental United States and its overseas possessions East of the 180th Meridian.
This appears to be the maximum effort of which we are capable to-day.
7. Intelligent, practical planning, and later successful action, require an early decision regarding these matters:
1st—As to what we are not going to do,
2d—As to what we must prepare to do.
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the War Plans Division (WPD), 4175-7, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. This document was not addressed to any specific person, but Marshall took copies to President Roosevelt, Admiral Stark, and Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles. In a note for the record dated May 23, 1940, and typed on the file copy, Major Matthew B. Ridgway, a Latin America specialist in the War Plans Division, commented, “Mr. Welles read this Memo in Gen. Marshall’s presence, this date, and expressed his `complete agreement with every word of it.’” Ridgway’s initials appear on the file copy of this memorandum as the writer, but the final version was the result of Marshall’s heavy editing, particularly in paragraphs 3 through 7.
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. 218-219.