1-343 Speech on the Illinois National Guard, 1934

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Speech on the Illinois National Guard

[Spring?] 1934 Chicago, [Illinois]

In accepting your invitation I was moved not only by appreciation of your courtesy in inviting me, but also by General Keehn’s desire for me to comment on my impressions of the Illinois National Guard, in view of my recent assignment to duty here and previous unfamiliarity with this military organization.

I came to Chicago last fall, a stranger to the community and a novice to my duties as Senior Instructor for the Guard. But I have learned a great deal in the past ___________ months,1 and I am inclined to think that some of the things I have learned are matters of interest to the citizens of the State, and especially to the influential members of the community like yourselves.

Because I am an officer of the Regular Establishment, does not mean that my interests and ideas lie in a field remote from those of the National Guard. It is a fact that the better informed an Army officer is, the more he is impressed with the vital importance of the National Guard, and the critical importance of its state of efficiency.

You know—or more possibly, you don’t know—that we have fewer Regular troops in the United States today than twenty years ago, and unfortunately most of our organizations are stationed in the sparsely settled districts along the Rio Grande, or where shelter happens to be available, near the summit of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. All our combat troops in this country could be given reserve seats in your great stadium. A big-league ball park could accommodate them. There are more Regular soldiers in this country, but they are of the non-combat type—such as medical personnel, ordnance, and quartermaster men, telegraph and telephone operators, clerks, chauffeurs, teamsters and mechanics. Before the World War most of these duties were performed by civilian employees. Today they are included in the total enlisted strength of the Army you see referred to in the statements of the Federal Budget.

I have referred to this phase of the situation in order to make clear the position of the National Guard in this country. In brief, the Guard constitutes almost our entire first line of defense. Our war army would eventually consist of about five percent Regular troops, twenty percent National Guard, and seventy-five percent of men obtained by selective conscription and officered by the Reserves. It is apparent that with so few Regular troops, our dependence in the first months of trouble must rest principally on the State forces called into the Federal Service.

Now just what does this mean? If you admit that in another National emergency involving war, America will have to depend strictly on herself and will not be free to prepare behind the skirts of an ally—that is, a country not in our debt—then you must in turn accept the prospect of having our State troops sent to the theatre of operations in the first few days of war, and there immediately committed to action. This would be in decided contrast to the last war, where the Thirty-third Division, for example, was not employed as a division until seventeen months after our declaration of war, and even then there was never a time nor opportunity to arrange for its artillery brigade to join it.

Another consideration heavily colors this picture. The last War while the greatest war, had become a highly stabilized war when we entered. Such warfare is far simpler in its requirements of troop training than warfare of movement, such as occurred in August and September of 1914. More complicated materiel is required, but far less of troop training. Units fought in what amounted to a slot or carefully defined section of the great front. Extended reconnaissance, preliminary engagements, uncertainties regarding the enemy—these complications were not inflicted on the troops. Organizations merely moved into a carefully delimited sector of a vast military setup, closely confronted by an enemy in fixed place, whose every trench and position had been photographed and studied by experts. Warfare of movement is about as complicated, in contrast to this character of fighting, as the double reverse-forward pass play of modern football would be in comparison to the old-fashioned line buck of thirty years ago.

The rapidity of movement incident to modern motor transport and the development of fast planes, fast tanks and radio communications, add greatly to the difficulties. Warfare of movement—what we must expect at the outset of a campaign, what the National Guard must bear the brunt of—requires skilled officers, trained non-commissioned officers and a very high standard of discipline. The troops must be able to survive terrific and prolonged physical exertion, intermittent meals and unavoidable confusion. Fortitude of the highest order is essential; unquestioned loyalty, despite losses, failures and misfortunes, is absolutely necessary. And the point I am trying to make clear is, the troops of the Guard must be prepared this week to undertake such service next week. Conscription by selective service could not produce effective troops for many months. The Regular Army is entirely inadequate. Therefore the National Guard must be ready.

So, there is always before us the yearly problem of promoting the efficiency of the Guard. Armory training once a week affords the only opportunity during all of the year, except the two weeks the troops are sent to camp in the summer, paid and supplied by the Federal Government. What was expected of the Guard twenty years ago is no criterion of what is demanded today. Your security before the world depends in a large measure on the efficiency of the Guard, and your support and the public understanding of the situation, is essential to that efficiency.

Service in the Guard is still voluntary, but it lacks the old inducements of a few simple drills, numerous showy parades and a club-like organization. Today the Federal Government requires certain standards of training in a multiplicity of highly technical matters. The Infantry soldier no longer confines his efforts to shooting a rifle, drill movements and parades. He must understand the complications of light machine guns, heavy machine guns and their indirect fire, grenades, one-pounder cannon, six-inch mortars, and almost everything electrical but television. He must be geared into an elaborate and much scattered team. The Division requires six-inch artillery, eight-inch howitzers, tanks, aeroplanes, gas defense, draft horses, trucks, mounted work, elaborate electrical communications, and many other matters. Marching in single column this massive divisional organization would cover ——— miles2 of road space. All this means work, hard work, with little time for the splashy display features of soldiering common to the past.

Business men, sometimes those very prominent in the world, are often in-different to the affairs of the Guard. A few may even be contemptuous of its military importance, at least cold to matters concerned with its moral support. Only ignorance of the real situation permits this attitude, unless the individual is equally indifferent to fire, theft and life insurance, and police measures to protect his home and family. Such an attitude of indifference to the Guard could not well be based on a belief in the desirability of a large standing army, for such an army is an economic impossibility in this country, even if it were not completely out of keeping with democratic ideals.

There is another and much more intimate relationship of the Guard with your interests. The past three years have given us a glimpse of serious possibilities, under the duress of a great economic depression. Strikes, fomented unrest among vast numbers of unemployed, Bonus armies, numerous “shirt” movements, and other indications of an abnormal state of “nerves” in the world, have caused citizens to worry or to flinch before the possibilities of chaotic conditions. Here and there in the country the ordinary power of the civil authorities has been temporarily overwhelmed or has merely broken down. In view of these possibilities, what have you to depend on for the orderly continuance of affairs in Illinois?

You have your National Guard, ready today, every plan prepared and carefully studied, to meet instantly the call of the Governor, to suppress disorders and restore and maintain the peace. Every man knows his place, every officer and non-commissioned officer knows his duty—and a very distasteful duty it would be—to safeguard your welfare and that of your family and community, in the shortest possible number of hours. You would undoubtedly welcome such help in an emergency; it would meet your enthusiastic approval. But, gentlemen, there is absolutely necessary to the efficiency of such a plan, your understanding, your sympathetic and your appreciative support of those officers and men who give so freely of their time in your direct interest.

Speaking impersonally, as a regular officer, the work required of these men is hard work—often monotonous work. As the representative of the Federal Government, I am responsible for many of the least enjoyable features of that work. Being an officer of the National Guard in Illinois involves a serious obligation on a man’s time, a very serious obligation regarding possible duties, particularly those distasteful and dangerous duties in the suppression of domestic disorders. That officer is, therefore, entitled to your active support and evident approval, and from a purely selfish point of view, your personal interests demand that support and approval.

I have been impressed by the general efficiency of the Illinois National Guard. I have been profoundly impressed by the tremendous amount of work General Keehn and his officers have done in preparation for any serious domestic emergency which might develop within the State. I feel free to assure you that you are fortunate in possessing this strong arm behind the ordinary peace processes of the civil authorities, and behind the law and the courts. In my investigation of the efficiency of the preparations of the Guard to support the civil authorities in the maintenance of peace, I have found a fine attitude of idealism, I may call it, on the part of the officers centered in a profound effort to be prepared to do their duty by the State, an attitude completely devoid of political significance regarding this or that consideration, such as corrodes or mutilates so many of our public endeavors. Sincerity and genuine patriotism govern, for which we should all be very thankful.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. The file copy of this speech has a blank line drawn before “months,” as printed here. Most likely Marshall presented the speech more than once to civic groups.

2. The file copy of this speech has a blank line drawn before “miles,” as printed here.

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. 420-423.

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