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Speech to the National Aviation Forum1
May 27, 1940 Washington, D.C.
Mr. Beck,2 Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have no prepared address to deliver this morning. In the pressure of business of the past few weeks, I have been without opportunity to make careful preparation for such engagements as this. So I must ask you to accept my comments this morning as the informal best I can manage under the circumstances.
I did feel that it was important that the Chief of Staff should put in an appearance this morning before the National Aeronautic Association Forum, to express the appreciation of the Army for the fine cooperation received from all branches of civil aeronautics, and more especially to make acknowledgment of the tremendous importance of civil aeronautics to the Army Air Corps.
The President himself has stated that “civil aviation is recognized as the back-log of national defense in the Civil Aeronautics Act.” We have established the principle that the country’s welfare in time of peace and its safety in time of war depends to an important extent upon the existence of a highly organized aircraft industry for the production of the planes, and a well established system for their operation for commercial transportation. For almost twelve months we have had under way a tremendous expansion of our Army air, and I think it is very appropriate to mention the unexpected success which has met our first experiment in making direct use of civil aviation schools in training our Army pilots. Now we are about to enlarge tremendously on this logical procedure, which both stimulates civil aviation and facilitates the development of Army aviation.
During the past week we have all heard a great deal about the increases in plane production and training of thousands of pilots, and of the other activities which are believed necessary to further fortify the national defense. I cannot undertake a discussion of the various phases of these matters this morning, but I would like to make a few general comments.
The history of our difficulties of the last World War in developing air power provides several pointed lessons for our guidance today, and I believe the most important of these relates to the American tendency, under the emotional strain and importance of a great emergency, to talk and plan in large numbers and for vast projects.3 In 1917 there was an immediate appropriation of $640,000,000 for the development of air power. So far so good. But there immediately followed a campaign of publicity, probably to reassure or to impress the public, that led the people and the Congress to expect stupendous results in short order. This procedure led inevitably to a tragic disillusionment when the planes and trained pilots failed to materialize in a few months, or even by the end of the first year.
Investigation followed, violent attacks were made on various individuals, some of whom were discredited. The impossible had been promised and the public had been left in ignorance of the difficulties to be overcome. The country did not realize then, as I do not think it realizes today, the long time required under the most efficient procedure, first to initiate a production program and then to arrive at the hour of mass production; the time necessary to train the personnel and to transport the equipment and personnel to the field of action.
As I recall, America at that time was asked to manufacture in one year more airplane engines than the entire British output in the fifty-one months of their participation in the World War. We were asked to build more aircraft than the Allies turned out during the entire War. To exaggerate a bit, when the smoke of the battle died away almost as much time was occupied in explaining why the planes were not forthcoming for our Army in France as was devoted to the manufacturing effort in this country.
We must approach this present situation in a state of calm determination not to be foiled by exaggerations or the emotions of the moment, or any of the multitude of difficulties which are certain to be involved in a tremendous and sudden expansion.
My thought is that we should promise less than we expect to achieve; that we should resist ideas or enthusiasms that will not stand the searching test of common sense.
The impulse of patriotic America is a wonderful thing, but its impatience to overcome the delays of past indifference, can be a destructive force. The public indifference of the past to our national defense requirements is a matter of fact which we are powerless to alter, and we must accept the resultant situation as our base of departure to remedy our deficiencies. Today all of us must cooperate, must think of ourselves as a team in a united effort to produce the most practical result in the shortest possible time.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. This address was prepared for delivery in the Department of Commerce Building auditorium to the forum (May 26-29) sponsored by the National Aeronautic Association. The text here is slightly different from the version quoted in the New York Times (May 28, p. 17). Some of the talk’s themes had been suggested by Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell (U.S.M.A, 1912), a Chicago industrial engineer who had been chief of staff of the A.E.F. Air Service in 1919; since 1936 he had been president of the Air Transport Association of America. Gorrell had also been prominently mentioned as a possible presidential assistant for national defense. (Aero Digest 36 [June 1940]: 117.)
2. Thomas H. Beck, chairman of the forum, was the director of the National Aeronautical Association and the president of Crowell-Collier Publishing Corporation.
3. Marshall repeated this sentence and the last two paragraphs of this speech to the War Department Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on May 29. As then delivered, the last phrase of this sentence read, “to assume vast projects can be completed on a basis of enthusiasm, without regard to the practical realities of the problem.” (House Appropriations Committee, Senate Amendments to the Military Establishment Appropriation Bill for 1941, Hearings [Washington: GPO, 1940], p. 10.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 225-227.