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Remarks on Universal Military Training to the Women’s Conference on UMT
April 26, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]
After listening to these effective and rather conclusive presentations of the Under Secretary of State and Admiral King, I am puzzled as to how best to discuss this question with you.1 I find it extremely difficult for several reasons. In the first place, the general discussion of the past few months has been filled with paradoxes and what seem to me to be glaring inconsistencies. So much of what I have read and so much of what I have heard appears purely destructive and offers no adequate solution whatever to the tremendous problem that faces us, despite the fact that we have endured so much and have suffered so bitterly in the last war and in this present conflict. Because of these two tragic misfortunes our people have been denied many good things due to the resulting burdens of taxation. It seems inconceivable that, despite these burdens and the sufferings, we should be faced with such negative or such destructive attitudes on the part of so many in our efforts to avoid similar disasters in the future.
The problem this morning is to state the case for a sound post-war military policy without becoming involved in a welter of side issues and in controversies over minor details. Certainly nobody wants another war. Certainly women, above all others, wish everything within reason to be done to avoid another war. The paramount question of the moment is what is to be done to reach this goal, which all of us agree is absolutely necessary.
I should like to explain my position in this matter by dwelling briefly on my personal experiences. Such experiences dominate to quite an extent the individual’s reasoning in relation to such vital matters as we are now discussing. This is particularly true as regards mothers and wives. It just so happens that my own experiences have had a close relation to what we have suffered in a military way through our lack of a reasonable military policy. In brief, in the last war I sailed for France on the first U.S. convoy as a member of the First Division. I saw our first dead on the ground where they fell. I was the only officer present at the burial of the first American soldiers to die in battle in 1917. Also, it was my duty, in my position later on, to write the order that stopped the fighting in the Meuse-Argonne. I returned to the United States in September 1919 with General Pershing and was with him in Washington during the period Congress conducted hearings and adopted the very reasonable National Defense Act of 1920, though the backbone of training had been eliminated. I continued with him for four years afterwards to witness the complete emasculation of the Army under that Act, leaving little more than the wording of the law. Then, out with troops, I saw at close hand the results of that tragedy. Finally I returned to Washington fourteen years later in the summer of 1938 and unfortunately have been here ever since. At first hand I have experienced the tremendous difficulties we have had to go through in preparing the country for war. I saw much of the same difficulties in the last war where our situation of unpreparedness was pathetic to the extent of being almost ridiculous at the time of our first appearance overseas. When I sailed for France we didn’t even know the exact character of our organization until shown photostatic copies after we boarded the transports.
With all this in mind I find myself today in the center of the discussions and clamor concerning the alleged inadequacy of the training of the young men, whom we have of necessity sent overseas. By comparison, 80% of the division which I accompanied to France in the last war were untrained recruits, many of whom were issued their guns en route to the port of embarkation. Many thousands of them were killed or wounded not long afterwards in the battle lines in France.
There is nothing theoretical about this problem which we face. It is an extremely practical one and fraught with terrible implications if we fail in its solution. My attitude now in my official position is to do my best to see that we do something reasonable and that we do not become involved in plans based largely on emotional reactions without regard to practical requirements.
As Chief of Staff I have an excellent opportunity to become witness to the impact of emotion in such matters. I am being attacked daily by floods of letters from all parts of the country protesting the use of young men in combat.2 I am receiving floods of letters every day from mothers and wives who have lost their sons and husbands. I am hourly involved in the constant agony of this business. While I cannot get a stay of execution from the Germans or the Japanese, I am at the one and the same time being restricted as to the use made of the younger men and at the same time restricted as to the number of men in their twenties who might be brought into the Army. The point that seems to be completely missed in all this is the fact that any delay in the prosecution of the war means a tremendous increase in casualties. Most of the arguments, representations, and misrepresentations I have seen concerning the selection of men for combat are inconsistent with the necessity of terminating this war with the minimum cost of life. On the one hand I am assailed for sending men into combat with too little training—they say, and on the other I am being criticized for proposing such a lengthy period of training as one year.
I now return to the question we have met here to consider. It involves the future—that is, what will take place 10, 20 or 50 years hence. It can be said, I think, that all previous measures to avoid wars have failed. The plan that the War Department now proposes is little more than the plan advocated by General Washington. He proposed compulsory training under little different terms in keeping with the situation and requirements of his day.
The plan employed by the Swiss is a good example, but it must be understood that their procedure is based to an important extent on their peculiar geographical location and topographical setting.
One of the glaring inconsistencies of the present discussions is the fact that I have been proposing a small regular or standing army, with a backing of compulsory military training, while the opponents of the training proposal imply or propose a large standing army. As a practical matter, I am certain that we cannot raise a large volunteer army in time of peace. There could not be made sufficient money available to hire the necessary men for a sizeable peacetime army on a volunteer basis. As a matter of fact, I do not think the country could possibly financially support a large standing army under any conditions, or would accept such a force, and I am certain that we could not recruit such an Army. The substitute that we offer for a large permanent army is the citizen soldier, like the citizen of Switzerland trained in peace to take his place in the ranks when his country is in danger. It involves the simple principle that we go as far as we can go in the way of converting our potential military strength in the form of manpower into an actual fighting force, without legally committing the citizens to service in the fighting ranks of the Army. We would give our young citizens sufficient training in times of peace so that in the event that a national emergency is declared by Congress, they can forthwith be drawn into the army under such terms of selection as may be prescribed by the Congress at that time and then can be rapidly organized into first-class fighting units. The citizens will be given the training but will be under army control only for that purpose and will not be obligated to actual army service while undergoing training.
The effect of such a procedure would be that, instead of having to endure again the agonizing situation which was ours in 1940 of being forced to initiate the training of large groups of men without adequate instructors, of being harassed by attacks from every direction because camps were not ready, or of having the proposal to suspend training at the end of a year being violently pressed to an extent which was wrecking the morale and discipline of the troops, we would have large numbers of young men who, without having to wait for an Act of Congress establishing a national emergency before their training could begin, would be ready for employment in a very few months, probably even ahead of the time that we could arrange ships to transport these men overseas, if that happened to be necessary. On the other hand, in this war, even with the relatively long preparatory period given us while our Allies did the fighting, we were faced with the situation of sending troops overseas who were only partially prepared for combat. This was the case of units sent to Australia, New Guinea, and Tunisia. There was no choice in the matter. The fault lay here at home. Its source went back to the emasculation of the National Defense Act after the last war. And in the midst of all of the criticism that was directed at the War Department for its apparent delays and inability to deploy the Army overseas with speed, no reference was made to the real roots of the evil.
In discussing the subject of universal military training, minor issues are usually introduced obscuring the simple fundamentals of the problem. It isn’t for the military official to discuss the advantages to democracy involved in this proposal, but I will make this statement of my personal convictions as a citizen: a system of universal training would be one of the greatest assets to successful democracy. The evidence from our experiences in this war and the last war indicate that the friendships, the intimacies that develop between the rich and the poor and between men from the west and men from the east, or between the northerner and the southerner, make for a homogeneous people with generous understanding of the other fellow’s point of view. They dispel much of bitter feelings and differences that are the result of ignorance of conditions and groups. However, we are not advocating this process of training because of the value of the by-products. Our recommendations must be confined to considerations regarding the security of America and the maintenance of peace.
I have been impressed by another inconsistency that invariably arises in the discussions of this program. We are told that we should wait until after the peace to decide what sort of post-war training program we are to establish. There is no prospect of peace in the immediate future and no one actually knows when the final peace is going to come and how long a time will elapse before the terms of a peace treaty are agreed upon. Meanwhile, I am faced with great problems that demand decisions. Should we permit our entire set-up to disintegrate? The greater part of our training phase has been completed and we have camps which we can close, training areas which we can turn back, and large installations which will rapidly deteriorate unless we know now approximately what use is or is not to be made of them. If we have a clear-cut decision on this question now, not as to details but as to general policy, we can save millions, more probably billions of dollars, by an intelligent procedure in managing these thousands of installations. In explaining this point to one of the Congressional committees I pointed out some time ago that from the purely business side of the proposition, ignoring all other considerations, a decision was required without delay as to what the general policy of our program would be. To illustrate, I am responsible for some three thousand command installations in the United States. By command installations I mean places such as Fort Myer, Fort Benning, Fort Bragg. The army has three thousand of these. Now what is to happen? Do we allow all the roofs to disintegrate? Do we permit this vast set-up to fall apart, to melt away? Would your husbands permit their business to disintegrate before they undertook any rearrangement or adjustment? The most extravagant course we could follow is to sit back and wait until exact terms of the peace have been determined before making a decision on the general policy to be followed in this vital matter.
I have no opinion at the present time on what size the army should be in the post-war period, but I know full well, and I think everybody is reasonably disposed to accept as a fact, that we must have some form of military establishment of respectable strength, yet of a character that we can support financially. This is a very practical proposition. We have a huge war debt to consider, and because of this and in view of the ever-increasing expenses incident to the peacetime burdens of the federal government, it appears hopeless to think that the army or the National Defense Program can receive any amount approaching the large percentage of the national income that would be required to support a large permanent military establishment. I could state the proposal I have expressed as a purely business proposition. If you do not have universal military training, you cannot have an army adequate to the inevitable requirements of this country whatever the terms of the eventual peace treaty. We are clearly faced with that alternative.
In addition, we must have in mind the effect on the world at large that Mr. Grew has outlined to you. Unless we have a trained potential of manpower such as I have described, we will be unable to impress the other nations of the world with our ability to back up our national policies or proposals. Everyone recognizes our wealth in resources and in manpower. If our manpower is trained along the lines we propose, that fact, taken together with our exceptional geographical position, presents the best possible method of forestalling future aggression. I believe that if we do this we will be in a very strong position despite the possible development of rockets, larger long-range planes, and other scientific developments that now tax the imagination.
I wish to emphasize again in closing that the type of system we are proposing is a system for military training and not for military service. The various compulsory programs in Europe in the past have involved service. That is not our proposal. I repeat, I receive the impact of the tragedies of war every day. My wife also receives it in tremendous volumes. I think that it is very important that you step clear of your emotions and regard this problem from the practical and a logical point of view for the safeguarding of the coming generations from the tragedies suffered by the young men of the present day. If you yourself do not have a practical solution, then I beg of you to hesitate before you sweep aside the solution we propose.
I might add one final comment. If compulsory military training is accepted on a basis so full of compromises that they make it a “half-baked” affair, then I would oppose such a procedure as a waste of public funds. If it is not real military training such as we propose, it will be a costly irritating measure of little effect.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. General Marshall spoke at the Pentagon to an off-the-record meeting of approximately forty representatives of women’s organizations on the military necessity of universal military training. Stenographic notes of his remarks were edited by H. Merrill Pasco and the chief of staff, and the final version approved by Marshall for release to the representatives present at the meeting. (Pasco Memorandum for General Marshall, May 2, 1945, NA/RG 165 [OCS, SGS]; Walter L. Weible Memorandum to General Marshall, April 28, 1945, and Pasco Memorandum for General Weible, May 12, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
Under Secretary of State Joseph C. Grew, Admiral Ernest J. King, and Under Secretary of the Navy (since June 1944) Ralph A. Bard had already talked to the group. “Grew made a good speech but not a brilliant one, reading most of it,” Secretary of War Stimson, chairman of the session, noted. “King made a rather poor speech, brief and being read also partly. Bard made a speech on the usual lines using papers too. And then Marshall when I called him at the last made one of his really good speeches perfectly extemporaneously. When he got through he had put a little more life into the rather dismal looking lot of ladies that confronted us.” (April 26, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 51: 73-74].)
2. On the day Marshall spoke, the summary of mail received showed twenty-four letters from the general public forwarded to the Office of the Adjutant General for action, of which five criticized the use of eighteen-year-olds in combat. (Summary of Mail Received April 26, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Categorical].)
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. 153-159.