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Speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars1
June 19, 1940 Akron, Ohio
In talking to veterans I feel free to go straight to the point in discussing the problems of national defense. You men understand the meaning, the requirements of war, and I feel that you will readily comprehend the point of view of the War Department.
Today, the United States faces probably the most critical period in its history. Within the year we have seen the map of the Old World radically altered in a succession of startling moves. We have seen political faiths and forms of government common to our age, placed in jeopardy or exterminated. Commonly accepted military technique and methods in the art of war have been consigned to the ash heap. And finally we here in distant America find ourselves facing the imminent possibility of being suddenly required to defend the independence of the Western Hemisphere.
Those of us who are charged with the responsibility for preparing our defenses are fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and the difficulties of the task. We realize that the soundness of our decisions have suddenly become of immense importance to the people in this country. In every way, in every possible manner, we are endeavoring to resolve our plans in the light of what has occurred, but most of all, on a basis of sound common sense.
In common with other democracies, the United States has always been lax in matters of national preparedness during periods of peace. Such a policy inevitably results in a convulsive, expensive expansion in an emergency. Following the World War, efforts to have the condition of our national defense abreast of possible developments in the international situation were invariably halted by the steady resistance of public opinion. The period of boom markets, of the great industrial expansion gave no help to the national defense. In fact those were parsimonious years for the Army. Last week in looking over some old papers I found this paragraph in a letter from General Pershing, addressed to me in China in December [November] 1924, “I find on my return here that the War Department seems to be up against the real thing. The Budget Officer insists on reducing our estimates so that we shall not be able to have over 110,000 men. Just what this means I cannot understand. I do not know what is going to be done about it, but to my mind it is very discouraging.”2
The blame for this state of affairs can not be laid to any one individual or political party. It is the result of our form of government, of our sense of security behind what have seemed to be great ocean barriers.
Last February, I stated before a Congressional Committee that if Europe blazed in the late spring or summer we should put our house in order before the sparks reached this hemisphere. I also stated that we should proceed step by step abreast of each major development of the crisis abroad. Though this was but a few months ago, yet I was criticized in editorials for expressing such a view.3 Later, the cut of the War Department appropriation down to 57 planes received considerable public approval. Less than three months later, when the situation abroad burst into a general conflagration, public opinion swung so rapidly in the other direction that I was being criticized for daring to mention so small a number as 10,000 planes. These, incidentally, were for immediate procurement, before Congress would again be in session. Today the American people want the nation to be prepared. They want a large army, fully equipped with the latest vehicles and weapons; and they want this transformation to be accomplished immediately.
Now, you veterans know, that an army—a large army—can not be recruited, equipped, and trained over-night. It is a long and tedious process, especially as to materiel. The present situation has two aspects, the problem of immediate measures for our security, and the long range planning for a year or two years hence. Most of the millions of recent Presidential messages and appropriations will bear no fruit for at least a year, and for the majority of items, a year and a half to two years.
Our people must realize that the flag-waving days of warfare are gone. The successful Army of today is composed of specialists, thoroughly trained in every detail of military science, and above all, organized into a perfect team. Today, it is imperative that cold factual analysis prevail over enthusiastic emotional outbursts. Sentiment must submit to common sense.
The War Department has long prepared for possible expansions of the army and has definite plans for a step-by-step coordinated increase. We have started on our way, and are endeavoring to proceed in an orderly manner. Let me strongly emphasize the fact that we must not become involved by impatience or ignorance in an ill-considered, over-night expansion, which would smother well-considered methods and leave us in a dilemma of confused results, half-baked and fatally unbalanced.
If I may leave a message with you, let it be this: The War Department knows what is needed, the American people know that they want preparedness; and the time for endless debate and other differences of opinion is past. We must get down to hard pan and carry out our preparations without vacillations or confusion.
My visit with you, however short, has been a very pleasant interlude in the heavy press of business in Washington. Your very able and genuinely patriotic representative at the National Capitol, Congressman Harter,4 and I must fly back to Washington without delay. I admire your organization for what it stands, and express my sincere appreciation for the courtesies and kindnesses you have shown me this evening. If the quarter of a million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars do nothing more than to promote unity of thought and action in our military preparations, they will have served their country well.
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 delivered this address to the Annual Encampment of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, Ohio.
2. Pershing to Marshall, November 18, 1924, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Pentagon Office, Selected).
3. For Marshall’s comments to the House Appropriations Committee on February 23, see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-129 [2: 163-64].
4. Dow W. Harter of Akron had represented Ohio’s Fourteenth District since 1933. He was the third-ranking Democratic member of the House Military Affairs Committee.
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. 247-249.