1-201 Memorandum for General Pershing, June 22, 1923

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 22, 1923

Memorandum for General Pershing

[June 22, 1923] [Washington, D.C.]

Address at Army War College Graduation Exercises.1

General McGlachlin, Members of the Faculty and Graduating Class:

It is a distinct personal pleasure for me to participate in the closing exercises of this year’s course at the Army War College. Furthermore, I regard this as an important official duty. It marks the culmination of our military educational system, which for the first time is a coordinated whole, and probably the most effective in the world, as it should be. For in no other army is it so imperative that the officers of the permanent establishment be highly perfected specialists, prepared to serve as instructors and leaders for the citizen forces which are to fight our wars. The one time role of a Regular Army officer has passed with the Indian Campaigns and the acquirement of colonial possessions. Our mission today is definite, yet so broad that few, if any, have been able to visualize the possibilities of the new fields opened up by the military policy now on the statute books.

I wish especially to emphasize the necessity for broad vision in study or work concerned with the development of our military policy. The economic, political and purely defensive factors are as yet but dimly realized. I often find my-self wondering today why we thought as we did yesterday, only to be similarly amazed tomorrow that we saw so few of the possibilities today. There are officers, fortunately in constantly diminishing number, who cannot turn their minds from concentration on a diminutive Regular Army, successfully and gallantly fighting the country’s battles, as in Cuba and the Philippines, or serving at isolated stations along the Mexican border. Those days have not entirely passed and probably never will, but they are now of secondary importance in the general scheme of National Defense.

This month the first basic and practical plan for the mobilization of our war forces for a maximum effort was completed. Before Congress laid a definite foundation by specifying the character and composition of our war army, the development of a workable scheme was impossible. The plan of mobilization is in its infancy, but a few days old. Many of you will be personally involved in the improvement of this keystone to our arrangements for the National Defense. The mere plan, however, is valueless without a corresponding development of the instruments upon which it is founded,—the leadership of the Regular Army, the expansion and improvement of the National Guard, and the rapid development of the Organized Reserves. The admirable educational system of the army provides training for our role of leadership; but the loyal and enthusiastic efforts of the Regular Army officer are a prerequisite to success.

You have had a great opportunity these past ten months and I am delighted to learn from General McGlachlin how well you have availed yourselves of it. A new standard has been set this year, which is most gratifying, but it must be surpassed in each succeeding year. The other day the War College was referred to as one of the greatest centers of culture in the United States. To the uninformed, which includes practically everyone except those immediately connected with the institution, this would seem an absurd claim. Yet I believe there is foundation for such a statement, and it is but evidence of the breadth of vision essential to the efficient Army officer of today.

You gentlemen are leaving the War College at a most auspicious moment. The General Staff has now digested the lessons of the World War and the earlier years of its development. Today it is a wonderfully effective machine, admirably arranged to carry out its mission. The Citizen Army has made a beginning, a period of troubled misunderstandings and narrow vision. It is now a lusty infant but facing the usual vicissitudes of that period. The task awaiting in your new assignments is to carry forward this work, to inspire yourselves, your associates and every part of this huge machine for the National Defense, with a democratic spirit of cooperation and common understanding.

In serving on the War Department General Staff or at Corps Area Headquarters, it is difficult to avoid a detached and impersonal attitude which soon carries one out of sympathy with the subordinate organizations and especially with the humble individual worker in the ranks. It is hard for the man at a desk to see with the eye of a troop commander or of a business man struggling with self-imposed duties as an officer of the National Guard or Reserve Corps. Unintentionally a breach is created, which rapidly widens. It is the special duty of the Regular Army officer to close this breach. As a matter of truth, the establishment of a sympathetic understanding is more important than the performance of any routine duties.

I congratulate the members of the class on the splendid work just completed, and the faculty on the excellence of its contribution to the success of this institution. Finally, I wish to express to General McGlachlin, both officially and personally, my deep appreciation of his leadership of the Army War College during the past two years. It is a matter of profound regret to all of us that he has chosen a new field. It is a serious loss to the Army that an officer of such high rank and brilliant attainments should withdraw from active participation in military affairs. He will carry with him our affectionate good wishes and highesteem.2

Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, Speeches, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Document Format: Typed Memorandum

1. General Pershing’s address was delivered on June 28. To Marshall’s draft he added four paragraphs of introduction concerning the recent reorganization of the army s educational system and two paragraphs on the role of the citizen-soldier.

2. Major General Edward F. McGlachlin (U.S.M.A., 1889) retired effective November 2, 1923.

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. 231-233.

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