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To General John J. Pershing
January 23, 1924 Washington, D.C.
My dear General:
General Helmick is concerned over the fact that the curriculum at West Point does not include, in his opinion, an appropriate course on leadership. He has been in communication with General Sladen regarding this, and also with Colonel Stewart, and while the latter plans to give certain instruction in leadership and command to the First Class, General Helmick feels that the matter has not been given the consideration its importance merits.1
Colonel Stewart proposes to devote some time early in the First Class year to short talks on the different phases of leadership and command, these to be followed by opportunities for the First Class men to put into practice the matter brought out by the talks. He hopes that the series of talks, followed by practical application, will fit the First Class men to act as assistant instructors in the various drills in military subjects and as cadet officers and non-commissioned officers, and plans to conclude this applicatory series with one or two lectures summing up the whole subject.
General Helmick thinks that Colonel Stewart’s proposal is good, but he does not feel that it fully meets the necessities of the case. He has in mind that there should be a carefully prepared course at the Military Academy for the Second and First Classes, which would cover the considerations pertaining to the management of men in garrison, camp, campaign and battle, particularly the last. He has in mind training the cadets in how to handle young Americans, recruits and training camps students; how to win their loyalty and secure their earnest and energetic cooperation; how to get the most out of men on the march; and how best to exercise command and control under distressing circumstances of fatigue, living conditions, weather and danger; how to inspire them in battle; and particularly, how to maintain the offensive and aggressive spirit, despite fatigue, casualties and hostile resistance. The course would necessarily involve something of a study of psychology.
The difficulty seems to be that in order to initiate such a course, time would have to be taken from other subjects. At present the hours are filled apparently to the limit, and of course any proposal to reduce the number of hours accorded to mathematics, or history, or philosophy, would be opposed.
I doubt if this is an appropriate subject to bring up with you while you are abroad, but I thought it might happen that you would write to General Sladen regarding his advancement and if so, assuming that you agree with General Helmick, a word or two on this matter would have considerable weight, particularly if you indicated something of what you meant by a course in leadership. Up to the present time I think they have done little more than teach a cadet how to give commands and to look firm and inexorable, and this, I believe has been one of the weaknesses of West Point. The cadet has largely had to find his knowledge of leadership and command from what he has seen of the disciplining of ‘plebes’ and the exacting and strict supervision of his own tactical officers. The results of this system showed themselves in the handling of our National Army, where officers who had not had the benefit of experience in a voluntary camp of the Plattsburg type, failed to get the most out of our young Americans, and too frequently aroused their lasting animosity.
G. C. Marshall, Jr.
Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, General Correspondence, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Document Format: Typed letter signed.
1. Major General Eli A. Helmick (U.S.M.A., 1888) was the army inspector general. Fred W. Sladen (U.S.M.A., 1890), superintendent of the United States Military Academy, had been promoted to major general effective January 19, 1924. Colonel Merch B. Stewart (U.S.M.A., 1896) was commandant of cadets.
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. 251-252.