4-622 To Archibald MacLeish, December 25, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 25, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Archibald MacLeish1

December 25, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear MacLeish:

Apropos of our conversation of the other day a message has just come to me from General McNarney, Deputy Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean Theater, the general sense of which is that the morale of troops in the Fifth Army in Italy “is suffering for lack of appropriate treatment of importance of Italian campaign. Inactive period in Italy during great activity in France, spectacular forays of B-29s and political implications of the Balkan situation is not only detracting from but obscuring all importance of the Italian campaign in the press in the United States, which is reflected in mail received by troops at the front.

The factor that has been overlooked is that the containing and attrition of the enemy in the greatest possible numbers in Italy is a mission of paramount importance of the troops in this theater. The issue is not one of territory.

General McNarney believes that a statement from the Chief of Staff or the Commander in Chief relative to this subject would do much at this time to counteract the relegation of the Italian campaign by the press to, in their terms, a “forgotten theater.” He states this is being reflected in the mail received by troops at the front and the reaction is “a terrific lowering of morale,” expressed succinctly in a typical comment—”Why fight in a theater relegated to such an unimportant role that the Government has seen fit to take away most of their troops and equipment and place it on the lowest priority for supplies, troops and ammunition.”

For your sole information additional troops are now landing in Italy and are en route and are at sea. There is more to be said along this line that I cannot commit to paper.

It occurred to me that in the President’s message an important reference might be made to the Italian campaign calculated to buck up the men fighting under such difficult conditions in the Apennines. Our press is so freehanded in its comments, without regard to world strategy or the possibility that they do not understand the importance of this mission or that, and our people are so quickly saturated with headlines of this variety that the mail to the troops presents a very difficult morale problem. My mail similarly contains attacks against abandoning our forces in Italy.

I will have someone prepare a draft of what might possibly be said by the President to the advantage of morale in Italy without compromising us. Whether or not this can be used is, of course, for you to decide.2

Faithfully yours,

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. A poet and former Librarian of Congress (1939-44), MacLeish had been appointed assistant secretary of state for public and cultural relations on December 20. He was working with Samuel I. Rosenman on the president’s annual message to Congress on the state of the Union.

2. The Operations Division’s Current Group produced an eighteen-page draft of material for possible inclusion in the president’s address; much of this was incorporated by the president’s writers. Regarding the Italian campaign, the January 6, 1945, address stated: “What the Allied forces in Italy are doing is a well-considered part in our strategy in Europe, now aimed at only one objective—the total defeat of the Germans. These valiant forces in Italy are continuing to keep a substantial portion of the German Army under constant pressure—including some 20 first-line German divisions and the necessary supply and transport and replacement troops—all of which our enemies need so badly elsewhere. Over very difficult terrain and through adverse weather conditions, our Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army—reinforced by units from other United Nations, including a brave and well-equipped unit of the Brazilian Army—have, in the past year, pushed north through bloody Cassino and the Anzio beachhead, and through Rome until now they occupy heights overlooking the valley of the Po. The greatest tribute which can be paid to the courage and fighting ability of these splendid soldiers in Italy is to point out that although their strength is about equal to that of the Germans they oppose, the Allies have been continuously on the offensive. That pressure, that offensive, by our troops in Italy will continue. The American people—and every soldier now fighting in the Apennines—should remember that the Italian front has not lost any of the importance which it had in the days when it was the only Allied front in Europe.” (Annual Message on the State of the Union, January 6, 1945, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-45 Volume, ed. Samuel I. Rosenman [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950], p. 488.)

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 709-710.

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