4-566 To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer, November 3, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 3, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer

November 3, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear John:

I have just read your note of November second and I am interested to know that you are making a specific study of the JCS matter.1

I was glad to learn that the Saturday Evening Post took your article. It was proposed that it be put up to the Atlantic Monthly, but that would get you almost nowhere with the people who would exercise the greatest influence in the matter of the post-war Army. Now that the Saturday Evening Post will publish it there should not be much difficulty in placing a follow-up article, to which you refer in your note to me.2

I felt after our conversation the other day that I had been too discursive in my discussion of the matter. My trouble is that the thing is so clear-cut in my own mind because of my experience from 1920 to 1924, the two years and a half I served before the JCS organization was created, and practically three years of service on the JCS, that I fail to make clear to the other fellow so many considerations and procedures that are subconscious with me, and there are too many holes in my argument to be convincing.

I do not think you can get at this business from the point of view of “putting it over” unless you are thoroughly aware of the major ulterior motives or remote reasoning that creates opposition. For example, the Navy Line is definitely afraid of any common supply and construction service because of the difficult years it took them to get away from the arbitrary action of the Staff in supplying things for the service of the Line. My conception does not include the transfer of purely Naval construction from the purely Naval branch of the new Department and for the same reason it does not propose the transfer of purely airplane construction from the Air branch.

On the Navy side there is great fear of the Air component adversely affecting their carrier-borne air forces as well as special sea reconnaissance plane types and technique. Nothing should be done to deter the efficiency of these two forces, nor would it be done under a single Department of the type I am talking about. These are special considerations which are easily adjusted under a fundamentally sound organization.

The Naval concern also is with regard to the Marine Corps. Again this is a special consideration which requires no law of Congress and would be handled within the Department according to the requirements.

The most important factor in the whole set-up is to have an organization in time of peace (the JCS) which is so constituted that it can and must under the law, submit a purely military, non-political, annual proposal for the maintenance of the National Defense, or whatever you choose to call the Department. The fact that such a body is set up under the law to submit such a recommendation makes it imperative, in my opinion, that this same group be shorn in time of peace of all power to issue directives on any subject. Here in effect is a pure General Staff without any operating functions.

As I told you, members of the War Department feel that the Minister of War or National Defense should have a large General Staff. I do not see this at all and as a matter of fact I think half the tribulations of the old General Staff beginning with the Ainsworth period would have been eliminated had it been possible to set up the organization on a basis remote from the exercise of operational control.3

There would be operating General Staffs, as it were, in the Air Branch, the Naval Branch and the Ground Force Branch, but these would perform exactly as do divisional General Staff officers with troops, only in the larger sphere necessitated by the over-all problem.

The Secretary of National Defense for War would be the operating head of the forces, the selector of commanders and the issuer of directives to them in time of peace. He would merely do as we do now, designate a particular branch, Naval, Air, or Ground, as the executive for a particular region or theater or a particular affair. The responsibility would be the Secretary’s and no super-Staff would be required.

In brief, the budget must be based on a sound plan and for a plan to be sound it must have the formal approval of the President and to obtain this there must be an agency of respectable prestige which cannot be ignored, though its recommendations may not be adhered to. The Secretary would be aware of the development of the annual recommendation, would be concerned in it so far as the budgetary calculations are required, and would have complete freedom and opportunity to debate it on the Cabinet level where the decision must be made by the President.

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. Palmer had met with Marshall on the morning of November 1. The following day, Palmer wrote to Marshall that he “had a feeling that I had let you down on the JCS matter,” and accordingly he would “give it more deliberate thought. . . . I am satisfied that what you want to do in the JCS matter, ought to be done. But so far, I have not been able to see just the right `formula’ to accomplish it without repercussions on account of the long-accepted status of the civilian head of the War Department.” (Palmer to Marshall, November 2, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Studies and debates on the advisability of reorganizing the United States military into a single department of national defense and creating a statutory basis for the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been going on since late 1943; see editorial note #4-356, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [4: 416].

2. On Palmer’s “General Marshall Wants a Citizen Army,” see note 4, Marshall to DeWitt Wallace, September 20, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-516 [4: 595].

3. On the power of Major General Fred C. Ainsworth (The Adjutant General, 1904-12) and his conflicts with the General Staff system, see Otto L. Nelson, Jr., National Security and the General Staff (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1946), pp. 94-166. The General Staff, the New Orleans Picayune asserted in early 1905, was a soft assignment for officers “who perform no duty commensurate with the rank and influence they enjoy, but who are able to override their superior officers, embarrass divisional and department commanders and even wield a baneful influence over the freedom of action of generals commanding in the field.” The paper also accused the General Staff of usurping the functions of the civilian secretary of war. (Ibid., p. 100.)

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. 649-651.

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