1-489 To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer, May 27, 1938

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 27, 1938

To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer

May 27, 1938 Vancouver Barracks, Washington

Dear John:

I have been absent for some weeks on an inspection trip to Spokane and Missoula, and at maneuvers at Fort Lewis. Just returned last night, and received your note this morning.

Thank you for your generous expressions regarding my movement east and a possible visit to New Hampshire. I certainly hope that the latter can be arranged.

I was interested in your letter to General Lynch, because I recall perfectly your explanation of the matter at the time you made the suggestions to the Senate Military Committee. And I remember your later comments, to the effect that the immediate result of the law had been a tremendous accelerant to the service schools, bringing the “old boys” into camp in short order.1

The years pass and conditions change. Leavenworth, its associations and what it gave me, remain a cherished memory, backed by a continued feeling of gratitude; but, strange to say, I am almost regarded today as an opponent to Leavenworth. I am so fed up on paper, impressive technique and the dangerous effect of masses of theory which have not been leavened by frequent troop experiences such as we had in the old days, and particularly in the summer maneuver camps. I have a feeling now that Leavenworth could be vastly improved, and the army saved the possibilities of bitter confusion and recriminations during the opening months of warfare of movement, if the instructors every other year could be poured into actual troop conditions for three weeks of maneuvers at Benning with that garrison of 7000, the cavalry from Oglethorpe, the 8th Brigade from the coast and McClellan, artillery from Bragg, and the mechanized forces from Knox. I believe this concentration could be made for $10,000, and I believe it would do, after several years, a hundred million dollars of good towards National Defense.

You’ll be see’n me soon, I hope,


G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: John McA. Palmer Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Document Format: Typed letter signed.

1. Palmer had inclosed a copy of his May 21, 1938, letter addressed to Major General George A. Lynch (U.S.M.A., 1903), the chief of Infantry. He wrote Lynch that he favored the proposal to amend the General Staff Eligibility List incorporated in the National Defense Act of 1920. It was needed in 1919 because a majority of the General Staff members had had no special General Staff education. This was no longer the case in 1938. “But if a mandatory eligibility list is no longer necessary from the standpoint of general staff efficiency, there is a special reason for abolishing it. When the “General Staff” school became a “Command and Staff” school, I had serious misgivings. I feared that the same principle of academic eligibility would be applied to command and staffs assignments. Apparently this has taken place, and I assure you that this was never contemplated when the General Staff Eligibility list was written into the National Defense Act.

“A good General Staff officer is primarily a product of education, whether he gets his training in a staff school or by self-application. The gift of command is not. All history proves this. . . . Steuben’s General Staff training made him Washington’s indispensable assistant. But he lacked the rugged moral qualities that made Washington a great commander in spite of his limited military education. Steuben was largely the product of education, Washington was not." (Palmer to Lynch, May 21, 1938, inclosed in Palmer to Marshall, May 21, 1938, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Vancouver Barracks].)

Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 599-600.

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