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Memorandum for Colonel Pasco
January 9, 1945 Washington, D.C.
I do not think the draft of the letter from the Secretary of War to Clare Luce covers the question sufficiently clearly. Some reference should be made to the President’s Message, though she refers to it in her postscript.1 We should particularly make the point brought out by Truscott that it is the mail from home that is raising hob with morale, the correction of this being one of the reasons we requested the President to make his statement.
She also should be told in connection with the President’s statement that we rushed it to Italy and had it immediately radioed and published in orders to all the troops.2
We should refer to the fact that the great difficulty is our inability to control the headline writers here in the U.S. or the people who read the headlines in what they write to their sons and husbands in the Fifth Army.3
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. Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, Republican from Connecticut, wrote to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson (and sent a copy to General Marshall) that during her visit to the Italian theater with other members of the House Committee on Military Affairs she had observed low morale among the Fifth Army combat troops. “The low morale which infects our troops in Italy is not the result of a disbelief in their commanders. It is the result of widespread and deepening disbelief among the men in the purpose and importance of the whole Italian campaign,” wrote Luce. Soldiers fighting in the Italian theater were disheartened because they received little attention in the press, while operations in France and the Pacific were making the headlines. Luce recommended that the morale situation could be corrected by “orienting the mind of the soldier so that he understands his own importance and his theatre’s importance in the grand scheme of victory.” This could be accomplished in the theater by offering intensive indoctrination and educational courses at rest camps and replacement centers, and by more frequent appearances of “big names” in journalism and radio and of V.I.P.s who visit because “they believe in his theatre, and not just as a place where they wind up the grand tour of the battlefronts, and hop-off to Casablanca.” On the home front, Luce recommended that the radio and press be utilized to create “public enthusiasm for his present bitter tasks, and his past heroic performances. This enthusiasm would soon be reflected in his mail from home, and tend to dissipate his feeling of martyrdom, ineffectuality, frustration, and lack of important purpose.” (Luce to Stimson, January 6, 1945, NA/RG 407 [AGO, 330.11].)
2. The draft of the secretary of war’s letter to Congresswoman Luce was rewritten in accordance with General Marshall’s memorandum to Lieutenant Colonel H. Merrill Pasco, acting secretary of the General Staff. Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott had commanded the Fifth Army since December 1944. “Our commanders in Italy have reported to us,” Secretary Stimson replied to Luce, “that it is the mail from home that has had the most consistent and most damaging effect on the morale of our soldiers in the line. In most part the mail reflects a singular lack of understanding of the desperateness, the grimness, and the finality of the struggle now in progress in Italy as on all fronts. An awareness of the privations of the soldier in the line and evidence that all in the nation have their shoulders to the same wheel—the winning of the war, without regard to personal advantage—also are, in the main, not revealed in letters to these men. It was in seeking the correction of this that we so heartily favored the tenor of the President’s recent address and rushed it to Italy and had it immediately radioed and published in orders to all the troops.” (Stimson to Luce, January 12, 1945, ibid. The draft letter to which Marshall refers is also located in this file.)
President Roosevelt in his State of the Union message wished to correct any public misconception that underrated the strategic importance of operations on the Italian front. “The tremendous operations in western Europe have overshadowed in the public mind the less spectacular but vitally important Italian front,” said Roosevelt. “What the Allied forces in Italy are doing is a well-considered part of our strategy in Europe, now aimed at only one objective—the total defeat of the Germans. These valiant forces in Italy are continuing to keep a substantial portion of the German Army under constant pressure—including some twenty first-line German divisions and the necessary supply and transport and replacement troops—all of which our enemies need so badly elsewhere.” (New York Times, January 7, 1945, p. 32.)
3. “The `headline’ aspect of the matter is perhaps one of our greatest difficulties, for current activities on this front lack much of the spectacular quality which makes operations in France so rich in news value,” Stimson replied. “I have often found that information released in [press] conferences later appears in headline form in a manner altogether at variance with the thesis of the conference.” (Stimson to Luce, January 12, 1945, NA/RG 407 [AGO, 330.11].) Mrs. Luce replied to the secretary of war by sending the speech she made on the floor of the House on January 18, asking him to read it “before you judge of the exceedingly twisted reports of that speech which have appeared in the Times Herald. I find myself wholly sympathetic today with your own grievances at some of `the headline reporters whose stories are altogether at variance with the thesis of your conferences.’ I am sure that you will find nothing during that long 45 minute speech that was remotely said which sounded as a charge that the War Department was `breaking down the morale of the battlefronts’.” (Luce to Stimson, January 18, 1945, ibid.)
General Marshall recalled that this episode “hit morale a dreadful blow—a really dreadful blow—and some of the corps commanders told me they didn’t know what to do about their troops. . . . The troops in Italy were obsessed with the idea that they were forgotten, . . . but the great trouble was the way it was approached by some of the press. . . . The battle to maintain morale under those conditions was very, very hard, and it was quite amazing that we got through that as well as we did.” (Marshall Interviews, pp. 482-83.) Congresswoman Luce was soon thereafter a guest of the British at the Italian front; see Marshall Memorandum for Field Marshal Wilson, March 8, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-059 [5: 84-85].
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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 25-27.