2-575 Speech to the Women’s Advisory Council, October 13, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 13, 1941

Speech to the Women’s Advisory Council1

October 13, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]

It may seem to some of you that of all the possible topics which an Army officer might choose to discuss before a group of ladies, discipline would be the least likely. The word, in familiar usage, suggests the enforcement of rules, a system of control, by means which are essentially masculine, and most of all military. The feminine method, which is widely known to be more effective for the purpose it serves, is one of persuasion and a subtle, if persistent, reiteration.

Thus it is that although the feminine and masculine methods of accomplishment differ as to technique, both have a common purpose—that of insuring the cooperation of those for whose conduct and safety the directing agent may be responsible.

The methods followed by the two governing forces to which I refer have been developed through the years by a process of trial and error. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, yet each has been found sufficient and effective for the purpose it seeks to serve. One follows the route of gentle but firm guidance. The other presupposes a foundation of guidance in the right direction and seeks to pick up where the first leaves off.

This may account for the general impression that the Army fosters a particularly stern quality of discipline. I can assure you that such is not the case.

It may be helpful to consider first the origin of the term “discipline,” and the development of the methods of instruction and standards of performance which have come to be associated with military procedure, in all parts of the world. Discipline itself comes from the same stem as the word “disciple.” It implies above all else a relationship between human beings, a basis for effective and concerted action or thought. Such a relationship affects the senior as well as the junior. Perhaps the most general misapprehension of military discipline is the thought that it has to do only with punishment, and that it is something which affects the subordinate only, in any given situation.

Military discipline is in effect a method of education. The most useful result of a disciplinary system is to familiarize the individual with a particular way of doing something, so that when a new problem confronts him, he will act in a pre-determined way. Ideally, the action should be so familiar, so nearly instinctive, that he thinks of it as his own idea. I am sure that the thought is familiar to you ladies, for it is essentially the method by which the average husband decides, independently, to do exactly what his wife thinks best.

Discipline is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Some civilian critics of military organization and method have said, in times past, that discipline is a sort of fetish of the military mind, that it serves no useful purpose, that it bears no real relationship to the functioning of a modern army. But military discipline, intelligently administered, can be a great creative and positive force. It has evolved in very much the same way that civil law, and the discipline, or discipleship, of the school, the family, and other social groups, have evolved. It is a means, and an essential means, to the effective functioning of military organizations, of whatever size; whether the squad of eight to twelve men, the company of two hundred, the division of fifteen thousand, or our whole armed force of now somewhat more than a million and a half. In fact, it is equally essential to the functioning of the smallest military unit of all, the single private soldier, who in modern war far more often than in the past may have to carry responsibilities and make independent judgments of great importance.

For the purpose of discipline is merely to make a better soldier, and thereby a better army. Discipline cannot be expected to make brave soldiers; there are many moral and spiritual factors in war which depend far more upon the early training of the individual in the home than upon anything which the Army can superimpose upon such training. But discipline can make a soldier more confident of himself and of the military team of which he is a member; and such confidence is certainly an important factor in determining his behavior in a critical situation.

It seems unlikely that there can be many among you who have sons old enough for military service. But no doubt you have older brothers who are in the Army, and some of you have young sons who, after a lapse of years, will join the colors. I am glad to assure you that the matter of discipline, as it is practiced in our American Army, is principally one of continuing and intensifying the intelligent discipline of the home, and the school. If the ground work had not been done long before the individual soldier reached the age of induction, or if there were things which he had to unlearn upon entering the military service, our task would be hopeless. The Army, and the nation, are therefore heavily in the debt of American mothers, whose gentle but unyielding discipline has shaped the national character. And if allowance be made, as I am sure it should be made, for the influence of the feminine virtues upon the masculine mind, then yours is a continuing responsibility, and, to the Army, the final and inescapable authority.

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 made his remarks shortly after 10:00 A.M. in the Munitions Building’s General Council Room.

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. 643-644.

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