4-363 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, April 22, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 22, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

April 22, 1944 Washington, D.C.


In connection with your proposed testimony regarding consolidation of the War and Navy Departments and in particular the creation of a military group with authority to submit recommendations to the President regarding certain specified subjects only—strategy, military budget and its subdivisions—the following information may be useful as an indication of the inevitable pressure of the tax problem on all that pertains to military matters in time of peace and particularly following a war.1

National Defense Act of

June 4, 1920

After hearings by the Wadsworth and Kahn Committees commencing I believe in the spring of `19 and closing with General Pershing’s testimony in November of that year, a bona fide National Defense Act was placed on the statute books. It involved 18,936 officers and warrant officers and 280,000 enlisted men.

February 7, 1921

Less than nine months later, Congress passed a resolution directing the Secretary of War to cease enlisting men until the number should not exceed 175,000.

June 30, 1921

Five months later the Secretary of War was directed immediately to reduce the number of enlisted men to 150,000.

June 30, 1922

The Appropriation Act reduced the Officer Corps to 12,000 and the Regular Army to 125,000.

Final Reduction

Sufficient funds not being provided under the Appropriation Act referred to above, the Secretary of War was finally compelled to reduce the Army to 118,500 men for the fiscal year 1923.

Here in a short space of time following a long series of hearings, on the heels of war with all its lessons, an excellent measure was adopted by Congress and almost immediately thereafter emasculated in a series of destructive actions during which the Chief of Staff of the Army was practically impotent. I have a letter from General Pershing written in France and addressed to me in which he states that he has just learnt that the available funds will only maintain an Army of 110,000 and he can’t imagine what they are thinking about.2

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), Secretary of War Safe, Post-war Military Policy, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Anticipating the Woodrum Committee’s hearings on a single department of defense, Secretary Stimson wrote on April 17, “We are in favor of this last and the Navy is strongly against it and I envisage a terrific and acrimonious row over the subject on the Hill and in the press.” On the eighteenth, Stimson talked with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and “asked him his views on the consolidation of the War and the Navy Department into a single department of defense, and rather to my surprise I found that he was for it. I have had the idea that the Navy would be so strongly against it, that is the admirals, that he would hardly dare to be in favor of it.” That same day Stimson “had a long talk of about an hour with General Marshall in which he elaborated his views.” (April 17, 18, 1944, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 46: 184, 186].)

On April 20 General Marshall held a staff conference at which he explained that he was opposed to creating a single department of national defense unless the legislation included certain crucial provisions: the continuation of the office of the chief of staff to the commander in chief (ex-officio chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and the right of the service chiefs to “go direct to the President on important military decisions” without being disloyal to their civilian superiors. (Marshall had this right of access because Roosevelt had granted it in a mid-1939 executive order, but this did not bind future presidents.) Marshall recalled that when he was assisting General Pershing, during the crucial period prior to passage of the National Defense Act of 1920, Pershing was never in a position to present “the military angle of things” to President Woodrow Wilson. Marshall observed that in future peacetime, as in the past, the secretary of war “would be a political man and be greatly influenced by political considerations.” (Notes on Conference in General Marshall’s Office, April 20, 1944, NA/RG 165 [General and Special Staffs, O. L. Nelson File].)

2. “The War Department seems to be up against the real thing,” General Pershing had written to Marshall on November 18, 1924. “The Budget Officer insists on reducing our estimates so that we shall not be able to have over 110,000 men. Just what this means I cannot understand. It looks as though a streak of pacifism had struck the Budget Officer, if he hasn’t always had it. I do not know what is going to be done about it, but to my mind it is very discouraging.” (Pershing to Marshall, November 18, 1924, LC/J. J. Pershing Papers [General Correspondence].)

For more information regarding Stimson’s testimony, see Marshall Memorandum for the Secretary of War, April 17, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-358 [4: 419-21], and Marshall Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, April 23, 1944, #4-367 [4: 431-33].

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 426-427.

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