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Speech the New York Herald Tribune Forum1
October 29, 1945 New York, New York
The subject of this year’s Forum discussion is on the minds of men and women the world over. You who have assembled here and those listening on the radio are all conscious, I am sure, of our great responsibility to the hard-won victory. Americans are more keenly aware today than ever before of the responsibility they bear to the destiny of the nation and its responsibility to the world at large.
So complex is the society of mankind that even those who have thought a great deal about it find themselves at a loss for exact conclusions. I question that there is any one among us who can provide a satisfying answer to even a small number of the searching questions that tax our minds today and sharpen our fears and weigh on our hearts. I certainly cannot provide the answers. There appear to be no short-cuts to a better world. But I do think that if we all make an earnest and devoted effort in a spirit of good faith and of patience and tolerance, somehow or other a formula for the better guidance of mankind may be evolved.
At this moment of history, in a world convulsed by the after effects of the most devastating of all wars, evident signs of moral progress in the human race appear to be lacking. The question can be argued either pessimistically or optimistically; but regardless of whether man in 7,000 years of recorded history has demonstrated social or moral advances, I believe it can be said that throughout the ages men have consistently sought to discover order both in nature and in human relations. This inherent tendency has been called a “feeling for law.” There must be an inherent order in this universe; to deny it is to deny God. We admit advances in scientific thought whereby man recognizes and accumulates knowledge of nature and little by little he understands, predicts and manipulates it. The feeling for order, I believe, can be traced in political thought. From the beginning man has established rules of orderly conduct whenever such rules were a prerequisite of survival. First on a family basis, then on a tribal or community basis and later on national levels.
Within the national societies definite rules are laid down whereby man must live. Almost everywhere in the world it is unlawful to commit murder, it is unlawful to rape and to steal. In our complex society it is unlawful to defraud and gain the advantage of other men by conspiracy.
It is not only unlawful in these matters but there are established procedures throughout the world for making the rules stick. Here in New York the constabulary, the police force, the prisons and finally the electric chair, encourage us to play the game according to man-made rules. For centuries man has been seeking, I believe, to extend this inherent order of the cosmos, towards which he strives, to the level of the entire planet. There are two ways in which this has been manifest: we might say one is by way of cooperation and the other by way of operation. Hitler, whether he knew it or not, sought to establish one kind of order in the world when he precipitated the recent holocaust.
This would be by way of operation. The League of Nations, on the other hand, sought to establish a global order by cooperation. There were many examples of both kinds of effort prior to this century but I cite these two because they are easy to recognize. It would appear that one or the other of these methods will prevail. Time and space have been so shrunken that the world must, I believe, establish definite global rules. Community and national rules no longer suffice. They by themselves are no longer realistic.
Basically then, the question in my opinion is, which one of the two methods is to prevail—global order by cooperation or by operation? Since the United States is one of the senior partners in this world, we have a powerful interest in the formulation of these rules. That is how I would define our responsibility of the victory.
It seems quite clear that the determining factor in whether we have order by cooperation or order by operation will depend on who are the stronger, the operators or the cooperators. That seems to be natural law. The cooperators are, quite logically, usually those people who control their own affairs. For the purpose of simplification let us say the democracies. Democracy certainly is government by cooperation. The operators are the autocracies. Among the democracies the United States has clearly been the strongest. The strength of the cooperators, therefore, at the present moment is tied directly to the strength of the United States. And we and our Allies have recently advanced the structure of the United Nations organization as a vehicle to promote the cooperative idea of global order. Nations which subscribe to this principle, this system, do not propose to establish order by conquering everybody else as Hitler did, nor do they propose to control for their own profit the domestic affairs of the peoples of the earth. What they do propose is a set of rules for global conduct, principally rules against aggression or international violence. They themselves are to resort to violence only to enforce these rules, just as does the State of New York, and every other state in this nation, to enforce its rules.
If the vehicle of the United Nations organization is to be effective, it will be because those who advocate it choose to make it so. Those who oppose it certainly will not make it effective, and I personally am convinced that the organization has not even a remote chance of success unless it is nourished by the strength and fiber of the United States. Obviously, if we have no manifest strength, the nourishment of the United Nations organization will be lean.
We are still strong today but we won’t be so a few months hence unless we take very positive and definite measures to give some degree of permanence to the strength for which we have just spent so much of human life and money to develop.
We are currently engaged in the demobilization of our wartime forces at the fastest possible rate. That to my mind is precisely as it should be. The machinery that we built to fight this war has been eating into our national resources for years. The sooner we reconvert it to peaceful production and ways of life the more likely is this nation to survive the economic storms that may quite easily follow this great world disturbance.
It is certain, however, that the military establishment cannot hope to insure the safety of the United States very much longer at the present rate of demobilization unless some permanent peacetime program is established and at an early date.
For the moment, in a wide-spread emotional crisis of the American people, demobilization has become, in effect, disintegration, not only of the armed forces but apparently of all conception of world responsibility and what it demands of us. If we are to nourish the infant United Nations organization and thus establish some possibility of a future decent world order, definite measures must be taken immediately to determine at least the basic principles for our post-war military policy. I have never felt so certain of anything in my life.
There has been much discussion about holding what we have fought so desperately to win. What is it that we have fought to win? We fought to prevent Germany and Japan from imposing their kind of order on the world. That certainly was but a negative return for our tremendous investment of blood and money. Did we win anything of a more positive nature? Well, to my mind we did. We won the healthy respect of the peoples of earth and therefore a reasonable chance of negotiating a world order that would fit ideals of decency and justice. Respect, it is true, is an intangible, but consider what it would have meant to us in tangibles had we commanded the military respect of Germany, Italy and Japan in 1939. Recently we demonstrated to the world our capability, I might even say our invincibility, in the air, on the seas and wherever our armies fought on the ground. Germany and Japan were surprised, actually startled, by our willingness to fight, by our capability in rapidly organizing to fight and by our ability and overwhelming success in the actual business of fighting. Incidentally, they were not the only ones who had their doubts about us in this matter.
On the day of final victory no such doubts existed anywhere in the entire world. Yet need I remind you that respect, like all intangibles, is fleeting, unless we bend our efforts to preserve it.
Just a few months ago the world was completely convinced of the strength and courage of the United States. Now they see us falling back into our familiar peacetime habits. They witness the tremendous enthusiasm with which we mount demobilization and reconversion, but they see as yet no concrete evidence that we are determined to hold what we have won—permanently. Are we already at this early date inviting that same international disrespect that prevailed before this war? Are we throwing away today what a million Americans died or were mutilated to achieve? Are we already shirking the responsibility of the victory?
This business of dissipating the political benefits that a nation may derive from victory is in the American tradition. It is quite understandable in a nation that runs its own affairs, because there is no easy way to get big things done on this earth. The victory was hard won. It will require a great deal of effort and sacrifice to fulfill our responsibilities of that victory, to achieve the future we recently talked about so freely.
We must somehow get it clear in our thinking that the fulfillment of our responsibilities is not some vague mumbo jumbo. It requires positive active effort and sacrifice, and above all it is a continuing process. We cannot do it in one step and then have done with it. Even if the United States now adopts a sound program in its relationships with the rest of the world, the program will be worthless unless we continue to support it year in and year out.
For example, after the last war the Congress enacted the defense act of 1920. It was not the best program we could have found but it was generally sound and would have been a long, forward step had it been implemented through the years. It wasn’t. Hardly before the President’s signature on the Defense Act had dried the Act was emasculated by an appropriation measure which reduced the strength of the Army from the 297,000 men just authorized to 160,000 men. The following year this appropriation was further cut by 25 percent to a little more than a quarter of the sum recommended by the War Department at the conclusion of World War I. Within a few years Congress had thus completely reversed itself on the policy of maintaining a respectable military posture, not by meeting the issue head-on but by refusing to appropriate the money necessary to carry it out. The Army at home and abroad fell to the woefully inadequate strength of 130,000 men.
It was argued then and it will soon be argued again that the nation’s economy could not stand such military expenditures. Is not that absurd if you consider that the country’s economy can better stand expenditures for national security than it can stand defeat or even a victory with a consequent debt of more than three hundred billions?
As late as the spring of 1940 when Hitler was about to complete the domination of the continent of Europe, we actually spent about one and three quarter billions on our entire defense establishment, military and naval. It is true that the Congress as France fell actually appropriated more money but the wheels of mobilization were just commencing to turn and it was impossible to realize much on this program in the remaining months of the year.
The year that France fell gate receipts for amusements and sporting events in the United States totalled a billion and a half, nearly as much as our entire outlay for the Army and Navy. We spent five and a half billion more on tobacco and alcoholic products—about three times the sum we devoted to our precarious national security, even in that most critical hour of world history. Do not misunderstand me. I have no quarrel with such expenditures. They are a part of our freedom of life that I myself enjoy. The point is that if we would cheerfully expend seven billion dollars in this manner as civilization crashed down in Europe we should at the very least be willing to accept the expenditures in normal times that are necessary to the peace and the security of our homes and our freedom.
In 1937 when the world was becoming a powder-box, we spent but 1.6 per cent of our national income for our military and naval establishment. In that year of clearly impending disaster the United States spent five billion or 7 per cent of its income for the incidental pleasures I have referred to.
As late as 1937 we might have convinced the Axis gangsters of the complete futility of their preparations by simply matching our “cigarette money”—using the term figuratively—with expenditures on our national security.
Viewed in this light, it would seem that the tragedy of our unwillingness to maintain what Washington called a respectable military posture becomes monstrous.
I sincerely believe that if we had given our security its proper attention the Axis nations would not have started the war. Millions of men and women, Europeans, Asiatics and Americans, who perished in battle by disease, starvation and brutality, in the past five years, might be alive today, had we faced the world in righteous strength instead of careless weakness. The enemy counted on us to go ahead with our pleasures, ignoring the threat to our lives and our very freedom. We proved them wrong but in the end, it cost us a million casualties and astronomical sums of money to restore our security and rightful position in the world. Had we not had Allies to buy us time, our own efforts, great as they finally were, might easily have been too late.
The War Department has made several recommendations to Congress on how we can best go about maintaining our strength in the future at a cost within our financial means. These recommendations have been questioned, usually by groups looking for an easy way out. I have opposed dogmatism all my life and think for a military man it can be a fatal mental disease, but I must say here tonight with all the emphasis I can command—there is no easy way. The American people will do well to give sober thought to their fateful problem.
In the current emotionalism of the hour we turn for relief from positive action to new theories, new discoveries—the supersonic rocket, of atomic power or explosion. If these remarkable products of our science are merely to turn us from action to inaction on one plea, one theory or another they may well have a more tragic influence on the destiny of the United States than the most pessimistic fear they will have on civilization. I have been considering the military ramifications of atomic explosion for more than two years since my job placed me in the middle of the grim race towards this scientific power. I think I have—if only because of my head start—spent much more time than most Americans, thinking about such bombs and what they will mean to military operations as well as to civilization at large.
I cannot escape the conclusion that the possibilities of atomic explosion make it more imperative than ever before that the United States keep itself militarily strong and use this strength to promote cooperative world order.
No one can foresee unerringly into the future but it is not hard to predict that supersonic atomic rockets will have a profound influence on any war that ever again has to be fought. But, rather than decrease the necessity for our preparation both in manpower and materiel, this terrible new weapon will tremendously increase it.
The present public apathy regarding our military obligations for the future comes as no surprise to me. Three years ago here in New York at a meeting of the Academy of Political Science, just 24 hours after our landing in Africa in the first step towards liberation of Europe, I closed my remarks with this comment, which seems even more appropriate to this day and hour.
“My particular interest at this time in your affairs rests on the fact that after a war a democracy like ours usually throws to the winds whatever scientific approach has been developed in the conduct of the war. This is an historical fact. It is the result of the immediate postwar aversion of the people to everything military, and of the imperative demand of the taxpayer for relief from the burden imposed by the huge war debt.
“We are in a terrible war and our every interest should be devoted to winning the war in the shortest possible time. However, in view of your interest in the science of government and the intimate relationship that it bears to military requirements, I would ask your very careful consideration of these related military factors in whatever studies you make regarding the readjustments which must follow this war. The theories on the subject will have to be compressed into the realities. The attitude of the taxpayer is human and inevitable. The differing reactions of the people in the center of the country, of those along the coasts, of the people who face the Pacific and the people who face the Atlantic, must be considered. The extreme distaste for things military to which I have already referred and which always follow an exhausting war will have to be taken into account. Then with all of these reactions, how can we so establish ourselves that we will not be doomed to a repetition of the succession of tragedies of the past thirty years? We must take the nations of the world as they are, the human passions and prejudices of peoples as they exist, and find some way to secure for us a free America in a peaceful world.”2
That statement was made three years ago while our troops were still pouring ashore at Casablanca and Algiers. I submit that it represents rather accurately the emotional state of mind of articulate America at this particular moment.
Are we once more to seek the easy way out, to heed only the voice of the minor objector, the critic of so-called militarism, the proponent of the selfish motive? Are we to waste the victory and doom our children’s children to more years of horror and destruction?
I beg of you to analyze carefully for yourselves all that is said on this subject against the background of our history, to give critical thought to all proposals and objections, to sift the wheat from the chaff and act—act now before it is too late.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. Marshall’s 3,255-word address opened the “1945 Forum on Current Problems of the New York Herald Tribune” discussions on “The Responsibility of Victory.” Mrs. Marshall noted in her memoirs that just before her husband spoke, “Paul Robeson read a poem [by well-known writer Norman Corwin] that made the training and equipping of armies appear to be futile. Robeson delivered the verses with all the power of his magnificent ability. . . It eloquently advocated peace, but the sense of it, as I recall, was to the effect that we would not outlive another war, that the valor of fighting men would be unemployed and would be replaced by coils of wire and push buttons, that courage would not again be the sacred trust of armies, that such things as armies, drilling, encampments, embarkations, were things of the past—museum pieces—to be placed beside pikes and arrows. This was a perplexing introduction for General Marshall’s blunt, logical speech in support of universal military training.” (Katherine Tupper Marshall, Together: Annals of an Army Wife [New York: Tupper and Love, 1946], p. 279.)
The speech text was given to the media in advance, and it was published the following day in the New York Times, which made Marshall’s address page one news. The 8:30 P.M. speech was also carried by the National Broadcasting Company, but at 9:00 Marshall had not finished and a commercial program was scheduled, so the network cut away before the end.
2. These two paragraphs from Marshall’s November 10, 1942, speech are printed in Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-402 [3: 434-35].
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. 336-343.