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Memorandum for General McNair
December 1, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]
My immediate reaction to your memorandum of October 22nd regarding promotion of general officers is that an attempt is being made to over-simplify a complex problem by reducing it to numbers and percentages. I view the selection of officers for high command as one of our most complicated and important duties and one which will have to be approached directly without attempting to obtain definite percentages from certain groups.1
The study you enclosed is based on the premise that experience is the primary essential, but it appears to me that the difference of a few years in total service is being weighted too heavily. Years of service are not necessarily a true indication of experience since the opportunities for education and to exercise command may vary to a considerable extent. The officers now participating in the African operation are gaining in a few months’ time more valuable experience than they could have acquired in years of peacetime training. To be very personal, consider our own experience in 1919, compared with that of hundreds of officers senior to us.
Vital qualifications for a general officer are leadership, force, and vigor. Ordinary training, experience and education cannot compensate for these and the officers who possess them must be singled out and advanced regardless of other considerations. I am convinced that they will be found among our officers under forty-five to a much larger degree than your percentages indicate.
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. The editors have not found McNair’s memorandum, but the Personnel Division sent the chief of staff an analysis of it on October 28. McNair proposed that colonels over age fifty not be promoted to brigadier general unless they had demonstrated outstanding physical vigor in the field. Moreover, he suggested that selections be made so that 80 percent were in numbers 1,000 to 5,000 on the promotion list (i.e., ages forty-five to fifty), 14 percent in numbers 5,000 to 7,500 (i.e., ages forty to forty-five), and 6 percent from numbers below 7,500 (under age forty). In November these percentages were changed to 70, 20, and 10 respectively. (White Memorandums for the Chief of Staff, October 28 and November 20, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 210.311].)
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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 463-464.