1-508 Speech to the American Legion, September 4, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 4, 1938

Speech to the American Legion1

September 4, 1938 Clarksburg, West Virginia

It is always a pleasure to me to talk to men of the legion, particularly to a group in State Convention, because there is much that can be said to an audience of veterans which should not only be of interest but ought to be distinctly helpful to the cause of National Defense.

Today, with each issue of the press containing reports of battles here and there in the world and photographic records of the horrors resulting from the bombing of civil communities, practically every adult mind is directed toward the thought of what similar warfare might mean to us here in these United States.

You Legionnaires are probably more perturbed over this possibility than any other class of people, because most of you know from first-hand experience something of the meaning of war. You know that modern warfare has little of drama and romance, and is filled with hardships and horrors. Your views as to the method we should follow to render an attack against our nation both unlikely and unsuccessful, will have a determining effect on public opinion in this country. Therefore, it is of great importance that you know whereof you speak.

The problem of preparing the country to defend itself has reached the point in the matter of national effort, and especially in the matter of appropriations required, where it has become the business, I think, of every business man to inform himself as to our requirements for national safety. He should have a sufficient knowledge of the various factors involved in the problem to form a logical opinion as to how much money should be appropriated for the purpose of National Defense, and for what it should be spent. The subject is too complicated for the average citizen to become an expert of all phases of it, but he may so inform himself that he, and others similarly informed, can prevent public opinion from being led astray by the enthusiasms and theories of the moment. A complete understanding of essential military requirements is complicated by the introduction of mechanical means to an extent never before realized in war, and by the effect of the reports of such activities on the public mind. A photograph of the bombing of women and children makes a profound impression on the public—attention is centered on aerial warfare, while the final results of more serious occurrences often go unnoticed. It is extremely difficult for the citizen to gain a perspective of the realities.

I think all of us are in agreement today that we must be prepared to defend ourselves; but we are not of one mind as to method and cost—the one is the corollary of the other. Such pointed references to money in connection with the National Defense may seem to accentuate unduly a sordid viewpoint, but the fact of the matter is that almost every War Department problem involves consideration of dollars and cents, just as the question of dollars and cents enters into the everyday problems of the average man.

We have today a very small Regular Army. The War Department does not regard a large standing Army as desirable. The first phase of any major military struggle in which we might unfortunately become involved will find the National Guard providing the bulk of the combat troops for immediate use, except in the air. There our splendid GHQ Air Force is rapidly being equipped and prepared to dominate. As the struggle develops, the ranks of the skeleton organizations of the Reserve Corps will be filled and trained, and a great National Army created.

So far as mere personnel is concerned, our plans and preparations have reached a fairly satisfactory degree of development; but it is in the field of materiel that the problem is productive of gray hairs, and the limitation is almost entirely a matter of money.

I am not advocating, by inference, vast appropriations for materiel, but I will try briefly to point out the necessity for adequate and modern materiel, and the necessity for the citizen and tax bearer thoroughly to understand what it is all about. Incidentally, I think it not inappropriate to dwell considerably on this particular phase of National Defense, because your former national commander, fellow townsman and West Virginian, the Honorable Louis Johnson, Assistant Secretary of War, is at the forefront of the drive to modernize the equipment of the Army and to prepare American industry for the rapid conversion of its production machinery from peace to war purposes.

The answer to the problem of materiel is comparatively simple from one point of view—we should have the most modern equipment for our Army and Navy; but when one delves into cost in relation to possible appropriations by Congress, and attempts to reach a decision as to what materiel is to be purchased, then a long look into the future, by a discerning mind, is necessary.

Allow me to give you a few examples of some of the factors involved. From the viewpoint of modern scientific and mechanical advances, combined with the powerful effect of public opinion on any action of Congress, we find a very special field concerned with the development of the Air Corps. We know pretty well, from examples that reach back into the earliest recorded history, what a man on foot can do. His effectiveness when mounted on a horse is well understood (though few nowadays understand the horse). The later phases of the World War gave us pointed evidence regarding the efficiency of tanks, or mechanized forces as we term them today; and we have witnessed quite a development since the War in the type and effectiveness of tanks. But great as this latter development has been, it is still within the grasp of the average military mind to forecast its practical effectiveness on the battlefield. However, when we come to aviation, the development has progressed with such leaps and bounds, such unbelievable advances in speed and distance, in altitude, and in size, that it staggers the imagination, and exercises a profound influence on public opinion as to the requirements for National Defense. The very nature of present air development and the uncertainty as to what this development will be in the future, makes it difficult to forecast the solution in military preparedness. New types of military planes cannot be designed and produced overnight. Development requires about five years, and later production at least a year, so that in some instances by the time we have gotten well into the production of a particular model its obsolescence is becoming apparent.

Now, as a business man, how would you meet that problem? We must have planes, and they cost millions. As I have said, they require about a year to produce after we have evolved and tested a model. We cannot wait until a year after the declaration of war to secure an adequate number of planes; and yet how heavily can we afford to plunge in building a certain type? Furthermore, and this is of high importance, against the pressure of public opinion in the solution of this problem, the War Department must consider the other equally vital, but less spectacular, less appealing, requirements of National Defense, which in their turn cost millions, but seldom make the pages of the newspaper or the pictorial magazines, but without which we would be militarily helpless.

Let us take another look at the example of an airplane. You gentlemen are undoubtedly interested in the number of planes we have, and vitally interested that they be of the most modern type. You would probably think of the funds involved in this problem arithmetically; that is, in terms of multiplying the number of planes that seem to be necessary by the cost of a plane. But the product of this computation covers only the first of many necessary expenditures. To this figure must be added the cost of elaborate and highly scientific equipment required by modern planes, the cost of replacement and maintenance equipment, and the cost of special operating and training facilities—all of which are very expensive.

But there is far more to it than that. A bomber needs bombs, is useless without them. Under present conditions, over a year is required for the manufacture of a bomb, which means that we should have sufficient bombs for each plane to provide for a year of active operations; otherwise, most of the money invested in the plane has been thrown away. Compare the far-reaching implications of the necessities of such a program with the present prospects for rapid changes in planes.

Recently, there has been a great deal said about anti-aircraft materiel, most of which requires nearly a year-and-a-half to produce, and is quite expensive. A tremendous public demand for this form of protection would develop the moment we became involved in a war. Those who recall or have read of the clamor of our coastal cities for heavy artillery at the time of the Spanish-American War can appreciate something of the furor that would be raised by practically all of our cities in the event of a future war. However, I hope with every fiber of my being that the horrible effect on civilian communities of recent air attacks will shock the civilized world into taking joint measures guaranteeing the immunity of such communities against bombing attacks in the future.

But, whatever the outcome, the necessity for anti-aircraft materiel makes a strong appeal today to the civilian mind. And here again, as in the case of aircraft, we must balance this appeal against other even more urgent requirements, which do not make the news pages and therefore are little considered outside of military circles.

While the need for adequate aircraft and anti-aircraft defense is appreciated, we must keep in mind that the defense of the nation depends on the adequacy and efficiency of all components of the mobile ground forces. These forces should be equipped with the most modern weapons, yet we find our National Guard, almost twenty years after the war, armed with rifles of the type produced thirty-five years ago and with machine guns of war vintage. Our light artillery is the famous old French soixante-quinze—the 75—though we have modernized its carriage and its field of fire.

The problem is not one of simply providing the most modern weapons for the National Guard and the Regular Army, but involves also the making of adequate provisions to equip promptly the reserve units that we would most assuredly need in a major emergency. Remember that the time element is a vital factor to American preparedness. Usually none of this materiel can be produced quickly, but the time lag in war can be reduced materially by peacetime planning and preparation. Tremendous progress has been made in the past year toward securing appropriations for the dies and jigs and other manufacturing devices essential to the quick conversion of industry to the production of war materiel. Again I would remind you of the fact that these phases of the general question, though vastly important, lack that dramatic appeal which secures the active backing of public opinion.

In brief, our major problem today is one of materiel—what types of equipment should we procure and in what quantities, considering the equipment on hand, the development of new types, and the need for a well-armed, balanced force, and how best to present to Congress the highly involved considerations which should govern the decision as to the money to be appropriated.

I should like to tell you something of the men who spend hours, days, months, and years studying the many factors that enter into the materiel problem, and working out ways and means to attain our objective—this symmetrical modernization and development of our military National Defense system.

First, we have the War Department General Staff, consisting of ninety-two officers (Regular, National Guard and Reserve), working under the direct supervision of the Chief of Staff, General Craig. This group constitutes our military faculty. Among its many other duties, the War Department General Staff is responsible for preparing and submitting to the Secretary of War, Mr. Woodring, our military requirements in both materiel and personnel. The solution of this problem, as well as the solution of many other allied problems, involves the General Staff not only in most difficult decisions, but in numerous decisions which disappoint or irritate those who have decided views regarding our military set-up, and, being Americans, we all have a plenitude of individual views and opinions. Scarcely a question comes to the General Staff that does not involve money—money to be obtained from Congress or the spending of money that has already been appropriated. We never have, nor can we get, money enough to buy everything the various activities of the War Department desire, hence, of necessity, decisions are made that cause countless disappointments and irritations, if not actual hostilities. It is the unfortunate duty of the General Staff to ride these dilemmas and stoically to accept the hard feelings unavoidably engendered.

The General Staff must adjust the demands of many different agencies to the means available. We deal in time of peace with forty-eight Governors of States, forty-eight Adjutants General, and a number of Division Commanders of the National Guard, to none of whom the War Department can issue an order in a strict military sense. Our national policy demands a citizen army, and this is exactly as it should be, but such an organization does not provide a bed of roses for the coordinating General Staff, particularly when money is involved.

Within the Regular establishment itself there is just as much grief for the General Staff, because if in the interest of a better balanced Army, you take a million or so dollars from one Chief of Branch and give it to another Chief of Branch, you immediately create resentment. The more intensely a man has concentrated on the development of his particular arm or branch, the greater is his disappointment when funds for that arm or branch are reduced. So the General Staff can hardly be classed as a popular body in our military system, yet I personally believe it to be one of the most, if not the most, highly educated and technically prepared group of individuals serving the Government today. I do not think this opinion is prejudiced by my service on the General Staff, since I only reported for duty a few weeks ago and had not been on duty with the War Department for fourteen years.

As you will hear references to the War Department General Staff in the future, it might be interesting to outline the preparation an officer of the Regular Army must go through in order to receive such an assignment. Several years after being commissioned in the Army he is sent to a special school for his arm of the service where he passes through an intensive course of ten months of instruction. If he has stood unusually well and makes an outstanding reputation for himself during the following five or ten years, he is selected for a strenuous course of instruction at our Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which also lasts about ten months. There he enters into a competition which, from the standpoint of severity, is unique among American educational institutions. Later on, if his records warrant, he may be one of the eighty-eight officers selected each year to attend the Army War College in Washington. Heretofore, under the law no officer could be assigned to the War Department General Staff who was not a graduate of the Army War College. This past year Congress removed that legal restriction, but the majority of the members of the War Department General Staff will usually be selected from graduates of the Army War College.

So the Regular Army officer on the War Department General Staff, unlike the business or professional man, except possibly the doctor, goes to school or college on a competitive basis until he is fifty years old, and he works as hard and seriously through these courses of instruction as any business man does to survive in the business world. This is little understood among civilians, who do not realize that the officers who are carefully selected for General Staff duty are the product of the most extensive educational system in America.

There is a second group of officers who play the leading part in our materiel problem. After the military requirements are approved, the materiel must be procured as rapidly and as economically as possible. Here we enter the field of business. Any purchasing agent who spends approximately $250,000,000 a year and does it well has no simple task. This phase of War Department activity is carried out by officers working under the Assistant Secretary of War, Colonel Johnson. Many of these officers have been through the same course of schooling as the personnel of the War Department General Staff and most of them are graduates of the Army Industrial College which operates under the Assistant Secretary of War.

In addition to current procurement activities, the Assistant Secretary of War is charged with assuring adequate provision for the mobilization of material and industrial organizations essential to increased wartime needs. This responsibility requires on the part of his organization a tremendous amount of long-range planning, covering all industrial problems from the procurement of raw materials to the delivery of finished products. This planning, in coordination with business, is essential if we are to avoid a complete upset of our industrial and commercial life when war comes.

It is hardly necessary for me to tell you that the two groups of officers I have just discussed do not work in separate water-tight compartments, but by daily collaboration endeavor to adjust the military demands to the capabilities of industry.

I have gone somewhat into particulars with you gentlemen, possibly uninteresting particulars, regarding the War Department’s problem of National Defense, in the hope that I might be able to give you a purely practical slant on the general question, because it is a very practical proposition, if we can only succeed in having it treated as such. You have had enough of war. All of us wish to avoid war. If adequate National Defense is our best insurance against war, then let us have it established on the most sensible basis consistent with economy and the character of our people and institutions.

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 was asked to deliver this address to the West Virginia State American Legion Convention by Assistant Secretary of War Louis A. Johnson, who was a Clarksburg lawyer and a former national commander of the American Legion (1932-33).

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. 620-625.

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