3-402 Speech to the Academy of Political Science, November 10, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 10, 1942

Subject: World War II

Speech to the Academy of Political Science1

November 10, 1942 New York, New York

While it has been advisable for me to refrain from public discussions or speeches, I was glad to accept the invitation of Mr. Douglas to talk to you gentlemen because of a certain similarity in our problems, particularly during times of peace.2

We both are concerned with a large number of imponderables. On your side you have to deal with the uncertainties of public reactions and the complications of international relationships. On the military side we have even more of imponderables which often decide the fate of an operation, or of a war, or even of a nation. And always the enemy endeavors to upset our plans. In the field of political science the public reactions or the international complications may upset your best-laid plans but not with the ruthless methods of a desperate enemy.

In contrast to this the engineer, for example, who designs a bridge can calculate to the fourth decimal point the stress and strain to be imposed on each member. He can be certain that it will carry the load for which it is designed unless an act of God beyond the anticipation of mere man should intervene. We, however, encounter unpredictable difficulties. For example: during the recent Dieppe raid, despite all the secrecy precautions, the success of the raid was seriously affected by the chance encounter with a German guardship convoying some barges along the French Coast. The African operation now in progress involved innumerable imponderables and hazards.3 Certainly ours are not exact sciences and for that reason are all the more difficult of application.

I believe the subject for tonight’s discussion is the United Nations. The question of unity of command among allied nations is therefore pertinent to the occasion. It is a dominating factor in the problem of the United Nations at the present time. Of all the military lessons which could have been learned from the last war, the question of unity of command is probably the most outstanding; personally I learned my lesson in observing the problems of General Pershing in France and the reluctance of our Allies to meet the issue until almost overwhelmed by the great German offensive of March, 1918.

For that reason the first step taken by the Chiefs of Staff of Great Britain and the United States at the initial meeting in Washington in December, 1941, was to establish a basis of procedure to secure coordinated action. The first move, which had to be made immediately, was to establish a basis for unity of command in the Southwest Pacific—to gather together in the quickest possible time our scanty forces to meet the carefully prepared Japanese onslaught. The framework and the details of procedure established at that time have furnished a foundation for all combined action between Great Britain and the United States since that date. In other words, within three weeks of our entry into this war we had organized a system which would provide a working basis for the strategical direction of our war efforts, the allocation of forces and of material, and the coordination of production of munitions. It has of necessity been a vastly complicated problem. The interests of many nations are involved. Take, for example, the initial problem of establishing unity of command in the Southwest Pacific under General Wavell. The interests, the aspirations, the military forces and the people of the United States, of Great Britain, of the Dutch, the Chinese, the Burmese, the Australians, and the New Zealanders, all had to be considered, and it must be remembered that you cannot reach decisions through a Congress of Nations that will furnish unlimited debates but rarely timely decisions to meet a pressing situation.

In the Southwest Pacific were factors involving the isolation of an American command in the Philippines, the approaching isolation of a British Empire command in Malaysia, the threat to the Burma Road, China’s sole line of communications to the outside friendly world, the destruction of the Government of the Netherlands East Indies, the threatened invasion of Australia, Portuguese interests in Timor, and our communications with the Far East through the islands of the South Pacific. The distances were tremendous, the racial groups numerous, and the political interests often diverse. In addition, the matter was complicated by problems of shipping, the vital factor of time, and the vast logistical requirements. So, while it is an easy matter to talk of unity of command, it is an extremely difficult matter to arrange on an effective basis.

Despite all of these difficulties the most heartening factor of the War to date, in my opinion, is the remarkable success which has thus far been achieved in coordinating and directing the military and allied interests of the United Nations.

In the past two days we have had a most impressive example of the practicable application of unity of command, an American Expeditionary Force, soldiers, sailors, and aviators, supported by the British Fleet, by British flyers and by a British Army, all controlled by an American Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower, with a Deputy Commander also an American Army officer, General Clark. They are served by a combined staff of British and American officers, of soldiers and sailors and aviators. Officers of the British Army and Navy senior to General Eisenhower, men of great distinction and long experience, have, with complete loyalty, subordinated themselves to his leadership. The instructions of the British Cabinet to guide their Army commander serving under General Eisenhower furnish a model of readiness of a great nation to cooperate in every practicable manner. I go into detail because this should not be a secret. It will be most depressing news to our enemies. It is the declaration of their doom.

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 post-war 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. Incidentally, I do not think it is an overstatement to assert that if our government had followed through with the system of national defense laid down in specific terms by the Act of June 4, 1920, Germany would not have dared to involve herself in a war that would draw the United States into the conflict. In other words the present dreadful situation with the colossal debts to follow might quite possibly have been avoided by a scientific approach on our part to the matter of national defense in accordance with the terms laid down in the carefully drafted military policy of the Act of 22 years ago.

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 follows 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.

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 spoke at the academy’s Sixty-second Annual Dinner at the Hotel Astor. The general theme for the evening was “the United Nations.”

2. Lewis W. Douglas was president of the academy and deputy administrator in charge of operations of the War Shipping Administration.

3. Allied forces had landed on the Moroccan and Algerian coasts on November 8. French resistance continued at some points until the morning of November 11.

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 432-435.

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