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N.B.C. Radio Broadcast on the
Citizens’ Defense Corps
November 11, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
The anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 is a day of renewed tributes to the memory of those who made the great sacrifices of the last war. It also has been the occasion for rejoicing over the victorious conclusion of that war.
Today’s anniversary finds us with little reason for rejoicing. Instead we have reached a moment in our history, I believe, when the civilian should definitely take his place in the general preparation of the country to meet the tragic circumstances of these fateful days. The Navy on the seas and the Army in our distant outposts are prepared to do their duty. Behind them a powerful military force is rapidly being developed. Industry is now moving into high speed production of munitions. Finally, today, on the 23d anniversary of that futile armistice, the President inaugurates a week to prepare for the organized cooperation of civilians in our defense effort.
To organize the home front for the protection of the civilian communities, a new arm—the Citizens’ Defense Corps—is in process of formation. Somewhat like the army with its various arms and branches, this Corps has its air-raid wardens, its auxiliary police and fire fighters, its First Aid and hospital service, its Signal Corps and Motor Corps, its engineers and other special units. Men and women to form these ranks will do so voluntarily along with their normal daily tasks. The details of organization have been or will be explained to you by local committees, by speakers on the radio, and through the medium of the press.
Mayor LaGuardia has been charged by the President with the tremendous task of organizing this Corps of citizens. At the outset he is faced with the problem of convincing 130 million people whose shores have seen no invader for a century-and-a-quarter, of the need for this step. He must convince them of the necessity for organizing against any eventuality.
Mr. LaGuardia has asked me to give you my opinion as to the importance of this task he has undertaken. From the standpoint of the soldier, the urgency of this project is difficult to overemphasize. An army is no stronger than the people behind it. Soldiers require the whole-hearted support of their home fold. They are entitled to it. They must have it. Furthermore, soldiers need to be reassured that measures have been taken to care for their families, to protect them in an emergency.
We pride ourselves on being an energetic and determined people, not easily duped and far from gullible, but we live in a free land and with such kindly relations to one another that we fail to appreciate the dangerous possibilities of the present situation. We should realize that the more we, as a nation, influence the course of this war, the more important it becomes for us to protect every phase of our national life against the efforts of the Axis Powers to deter or to weaken us. The difficulty of arousing our people to a clear understanding of what must be done varies, somewhat directly, with the distance of their homes from the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. And yet that apparent security of distance presents a great weakness to the German mode of procedure.
We must be prepared on the home front against both the direct methods of sabotage, and against the indirect and subtle methods of propaganda. It is not difficult for the inhabitants of coastal communities to recognize the necessity for organizing an Air-raid Warning Service. It is more difficult to convince people in the interior of the country that some of the most serious schemes for destructive action against our interests are possibilities in their midst.
It seems best to speak very frankly on this particular subject. The Government today is constantly on guard against damage to our industries or their products, but we must be prepared for a sudden and wide-spread attempt at sabotage directed against the entire munitions industry, including the critical utilities and transportation facilities. Nothing should be taken for granted. We should assume that at a given moment wholesale sabotage may be attempted by the far-reaching organization which has secretly and ceaselessly been planning for just such an occasion. We must be prepared against the confusion that so easily can be created in large centers of population, and we must be organized to look after our people at home in any emergency, whatever the nature.
However, while not minimizing the seriousness of the possibilities just mentioned, I personally am more concerned over the effects of the clever methods of Axis propaganda which for a long time have been directed against the development of our entire defense program. A portion of my daily mail is more or less a direct repercussion of such German scheming. The letters come from families who are worrying about their boys in the Army, who have been led to believe, for instance, that the soldiers lack food, lack proper shelter or medical attention. They come from members of Congress who have been similarly misled. This process of misrepresentation and distortion has been carried on with persistence and skill. Sometimes the results are seriously disturbing.
Let me give you an example. Last summer, incident to the democratic process of congressional debate on the question of the extention of service, public interest centered on the Army; everything concerned with the troops—their training, the conditions under which they were living, and the state of their equipment—were the subject of wide-spread discussion and publicity. In this connection I wish to read an extract from the instructions issued by the German Ministry of Propaganda last April: “It is more effective,” these instructions state, “when the American press provides propaganda for our mill than if we do it ourselves.” Now what happened last summer? The debate was on, the criticisms of our good faith and judgment were naturally frequent, and the more unfavorable reactions of individual soldiers were broadcast. Mass desertions were reported to threaten the Army in October.
Throughout the press of Latin America we found comments and conclusions seriously prejudicial to our interests, being given wide publicity, along with clever distortions of the facts. I read similar articles in the Italian papers, assuring their people that a breakdown of military preparation in this country was in progress. But the cleverest move to capitalize on this golden opportunity for sabotage was a rumor skillfully planted among the men in National Guard units that a large number of soldiers, more than a thousand, had deserted en masse from a certain Regular Army division. The men had been fed this particular rumor because such an occurrence in the Regular Army was indicative of a general breakdown in discipline. The actual fact in this matter was that the division in question had one lone desertion in the period referred to. And yet there had been spread throughout a large part of the Army this carefully planted attack on the soundness of our military organization. Back at home mothers were confused and prejudiced to an extent that was both pathetic and alarming. In certain districts known to have a number of people opposed to the strengthening of our means of defense, the reactions to this propaganda were increasingly evident.
There have been many examples of this same general nature, examples of skillful borings from within to weaken the power of the Government. We no longer live in a “snug, over-safe corner of the world.” We cannot continue to be naive and credulous. On the contrary, we should set ourselves with determination to see this thing through as a united people. For these reasons, I believe that the Citizens’ Defense Corps will serve a vital purpose in completing our general organization for the security of America, and I am sure that it will exert a strong influence in combating secret and destructive efforts to divide and confuse our people. I urge the wholehearted cooperation of the leaders in every community to complete the organization of the Corps.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
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. 667-669.