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To General John J. Pershing
November 23, 1938 [Washington, D.C.]
Enclosed is a draft of a letter which we would like you to consider sending to The President. I think it reflects your views, and I know that it would have a powerful effect. There is no one else in the country who can speak as you do. Mr. Harry Hopkins the other day expressed to me his regret that you were not here to discuss some of the aspects of the present situation with The President.1 Possibly you will consider doing it in the manner here suggested.
I realize that this is taking a great liberty, but the importance of the issue outweighs the other factors to be considered, it seems to me.
I talked this over with Adamson, testing it against his ultraconservative mental process, and found him acquiescent. So I place the suggestion in your hands.
There are enclosed some clippings which came to me this morning from Governor Martin’s office, requesting that if convenient I show them to you.2 Adamson tells me that you are in fine shape, and Katherine received a letter from Miss May yesterday, written in Atlanta, to the effect that the trip so far had been most enjoyable and you had been standing it beautifully. Please move on the careful side, and don’t fall for invitations to tiresome affairs.
My dear Mr. President:
In thinking over our Armistice Day conversation regarding military necessities in the light of the present European situation, I fear that my views may not have been clearly expressed. With your permission, I would like to summarize what appear to me to be the most important considerations.
As to large additions to our present air force, there can be no question but that it is highly advisable to have more planes available, and especially to bring about the coordination of our aeronautical industries so that they can quickly respond to tremendous increases in the production of what the Government requires. I will not discuss this phase as you are fully informed.
My concern at the moment is directed towards those requirements, or I should say essentials, in which the General Staffs of the world know that we are pathetically deficient, and particularly to those features of the defense mechanism that are vital necessities to air operations, though not organically of the air service. Ground forces will bear exactly the same relation to large air fleets of bombers that they do to the Navy for the protection of its bases. If we are to be prepared to extend a long and powerful air arm to the southward, we must have instantly available the means to maintain that air activity by establishing the necessary advance bases.
I am not intimately familiar with the present situation of our ground forces, but I do know that our deficiencies for their current equipment and for their first war expansion are so serious that whatever is done in the near future to strengthen your hand, these deficiencies should be made good, and at the earliest possible moment. I am referring specifically to modern materiel which requires a year or more to produce, especially artillery, which, I believe, is in a lamentable state. What our situation is with regard to ammunition I do not know, but it is highly important that there be no shortages.
The requirements I have mentioned have always been overlooked, and have never been available at the outbreak of war. My embarrassment in France regarding these matters was continuous from the date of my arrival until the Armistice. We were literally beggars as to every important weapon, except the rifle.
I hope you will pardon the liberty I am taking in writing you thus informally. I not only have a natural patriotic interest, but I have had the problem of meeting the dreadful deficiencies of military armament on the outbreak of war.
Believe me, Mr. President,
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. About this time, Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, whose rivalry with Hopkins was of long standing, noted in his diary that “Harry Hopkins is described as the person who is closest to the President and there is no doubt that this is the fact. He is extraordinarily close. He all but lives at the White House and he seems to be in the complete confidence of the President.” (Harold L. Ickes, The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes, 3 vols. [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953-54], 2:508.) Hopkins had recently returned from an inspection of West Coast aircraft factories. Concerning his activities and his emerging relationship with Marshall, see Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, An Intimate History [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948], pp. 100-101.
2. The editorials from two Oregon newspapers (the Medford Mail Tribune of November 9 and the Corvallis Gazette-Times of November 10) praised Governor Martin as one who had sacrificed his own political fortunes for the good of the state.
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. 654-655.