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To Brigadier General Lehman W. Miller1
May 6, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
It is my understanding that the Brazilian Government contemplates sending two divisions to the Natal and Recife region for maneuvers this summer—meaning their winter. It occurred to me that this presented a fine opportunity to erect a milestone in cooperative effort—especially one that would be reassuring instead of alarming to the South American people.2
What I have in mind is that we offer to cooperate in the maneuvers by supplying the air force—a composite group of three or four squadrons— and a sample of those units which the Brazilian Army now lacks—an antiaircraft battalion or regiment, a signal battalion and maybe a battalion of engineers and some medical troops. The Brazilian commander could be the supreme official for the purpose of the maneuvers, and we would have no combatant ground troops other than antiaircraft.
I have spoken to Mr. Welles, of the State department, regarding this and he is very favorably impressed and thought the best method of approach would be a direct one between the respective military authorities.3 I am, therefore, outlining the affair to you in order that you may sound out the Brazilian Army officials. There is no objection to your discussing the matter with Ambassador Caffery.
Our people have been studying the possibility of carrying out such a procedure and, of course, find that the principal difficulty would be securing the necessary shipping to put the ground forces into Brazil and awaiting the time for their withdrawal. I would dislike sending our Air force without anything of ours on the ground in support. However, the first step would be to determine the possible reaction of the Brazilians to such a move. My guess, and of course it is purely a guess, is that the people would respond to this as they did to the visit of the Flying Fortresses. So long as we do not land combatant ground troops, and so long as the ground troops are the major participants and are local troops under local command, it seems to me that there is a chance of establishing a valuable precedent for cooperative action.4
Let me have your reactions, understanding that the entire affair is purely tentative, has not yet received Mr. Roosevelt’s approval in any way, and may not be practicable of execution by us.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, General Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. Miller was head of the United States Military Mission to Brazil.
2. In March 1941 the Brazilian government informed Miller of its intention to garrison the northeastern states with three infantry divisions reinforced by antiaircraft units; the United States was asked to supply the units with modern equipment. When this request was rejected by the War Department in late March, Brazil opted to hold maneuvers in that region in August and September 1941. (Conn and Fairchild, Framework of Hemisphere Defense, p. 283.)
3. Marshall had discussed Brazil with Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and Admiral Stark at a meeting of the Standing Liaison Committee at the State Department on the afternoon of May 5, 1941.
4. The Brazilian government was not convinced of the Axis threat to Latin America. Internal differences of opinion about a United States military presence in Brazil blocked negotiations between the two nations. (Ibid.) Concerning the stationing of troops in Northeast Brazil, see Memorandum for War Plans Division, June 21, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-494 [2: 548].
Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 494-495.