2-153 To Brigadier General Lesley J. McNair, April 9, 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 9, 1940

To Brigadier General Lesley J. McNair

April 9, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear McNair:

I have just received the enclosed letter from John O. B. Wallace, and am asking you to have one of your people give me an idea of what the nature of my reply should be.1

I had hoped to get out to see you during this period of preparation for the new regime at Leavenworth, but the days have not enough hours and Congress is very pressing on a multitude of matters, not to mention the threat of heavy cuts, which I am organizing to offset.

The reaction to the new arrangement at Leavenworth seems to be generally good, though of course I do not hear much from those on the side of the former system. I would not have risked such a change had you not been at the helm, but I feel very comfortable in the thought that you are handling this business in a most effective fashion.

The old school all feel that there is not enough time to do a fair job on the education that Leavenworth is supposed to give. The two-year men are the most critical, of course, but most of the one-year men I think feel that the standards will be so greatly lowered that the school will not be looked up to as it has been in the past. These are very natural reactions, but they are based on the proposition that the way instruction has been managed in the past is the only manner in which it can be conducted efficiently. To this I take strong exception.

In the first place, I found during the five years I was at Benning—which gave me a lengthy opportunity to examine into such things—that our greatest loss of time lay in the unbalanced state of preparation of the members of the classes as they arrived. We tried to have organized through the Chief of Infantry preparatory measures for officers to take before they came to Benning, but so many difficulties were put in the way that I was unable to get through the bog. So, I believe that with a proper preparatory reading or self-preparation course—not merely a repetition of dry extension courses— a material gain in time can be made under the new system.

In the second place, I found the waste of time at Benning was, to my mind, inexcusable, and the economies I was able to manage in this respect enabled me to add a great deal to the course despite the fact that the office of the Chief of Infantry would not permit me to shorten any of the existing courses, however strong my recommendation. I found that part of the time-wasting system apparently resulted from an old condition at Leavenworth, one of my day before the World War. In those days we were required to write out in long-hand a lengthy estimate of the situation, which occupied about two hours; and then there followed a brief decision and the preparation of the order to carry it out. At Benning they were still allowing the two hours and not requiring the long-hand presentation with the estimate of the situation. Also, the requirements were timed to the slowest member of the class. I found from a personal test with a stop-watch that in illustrative problems that were scheduled for three hours, the work could be much better accomplished in an hour—better from the point of view of rapid, concise thinking, stimulation to alertness, and paced in time to the 75% of the class who were the more able.

I also found, for example, that when the advanced class at Benning was composed of a nondescript group, so far as wide variations in educational background and in age were concerned, and the company class was a homogeneous group in age, West Point training, etc.,—in presenting the same subject to the two groups it required twice as long for presentation and instruction of the advanced class as it did for the younger men of the company class. This was particularly evident in supply courses, the large portions of which were common to both classes.

I have talked to a number of recent Leavenworth students, and I find quite a few of them feel that two and three hour periods on some of the subjects in the afternoon could have been effectively handled in an hour.

Time is the dominant factor in all of our military preparations, the more so, I believe, with us than with any other power. The time factor is particularly important in dealing with the National Guard and the Reserves. Unfortunately our Regular Army methods of training take little account of the economy of time, and the officers going from regular troops to the citizen forces are not indoctrinated with either the idea of economy of time or with the technique of the most expeditious methods. I am hopeful that the pressure of the short courses at Leavenworth will make the time factor of more commonly recognized importance, with the general result of great advantage to the training systems for the Army.

I will probably see you during the maneuvers, but I want to have an opportunity for a lengthy talk with you either here or at Leavenworth. Meanwhile, keep in mind the fact that you are not tied down by policies or regulations which in your good judgment are detrimental to the most efficient arrangement.

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. Wallace, city editor of the Leavenworth [Kansas] Times, had written to Marshall on April 7 to enlist the chief of staff’s aid in preparing an article for one of the summer issues of the Infantry Journal on the Command and General Staff School and its influence upon the American military establishment. Wallace mentioned that he was also enlisting General McNair in his project. On April 17, Marshall sent Wallace a brief statement praising the school’s record and influence, noting that the school’s curriculum had been reorganized “so as to permit a larger number of officers to profit by the training,” and expressing confidence that “the shortening of the period of instruction will not lessen the professional standards credited to the graduate `Leavenworth.’” (GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) No article by Wallace on the Fort Leavenworth school appeared in the Infantry Journal.

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. 190-192.

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