4-337 To Roy A. Roberts, April 6, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 6, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Roy A. Roberts1

April 6, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear Roberts:

Apropos of the publication of General Surles recent letter to you I shall quote in the utmost confidence a message just received from the Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, General [Sir Henry Maitland] Wilson of the British Army, that you may gain some idea of how extremely ticklish and possibly costly this business of publicity really is.

“I am disturbed by a press report reproduced here today which is based on an Associated Press dispatch from Kansas City on April 3.

“Agency quotes Major General A.D. Surles, United States Army Public Relations Director, as sending following reply to letter from Roy A. Roberts, president of American Society of Newspaper Editors, and managing editor of Kansas City Star:

`News of the incident involving Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., was delayed because “that General was to be used in a cover plan following his operations in Sicily. In view of that, the Theater Commander was extremely desirous that his reputation should not be impaired by a wide discussion of the soldier-slapping incident”‘.2

“This highly undesirable publicity exposes a ruse successfully employed in the cover plan for _________________ and puts the enemy on his guard against similar measures we may wish to use. The exposure also comes at a time when our deception machinery is being called upon * * * .3

“I would request that all possible steps be taken not only to prevent recurrence of similar exposure of most secret matter but also to prevent General Surles’ statement giving rise to further press speculation on our use of deception. This latter aspect is to my mind of momentous importance.”

I assisted Surles in the preparation of the letter but I was not in Washington at the time of the agreement for its release. Since that time I have had a number of references to it as being a “good”, an “excellent” letter, and a fine thing to do. You can see from the Mediterranean what their view is in the matter and there the responsibility lies for hundreds of thousands of lives and ships and planes.

I feel that we must depend on you and your most influential associates to protect us from this business of throwing pop bottles at the umpire in the hope of influencing his decisions, when the thrower of the bottle has not even played sand-lot baseball. I think we all must have clearly in mind that the American public, except through family relations in the armed services and from the very minor irritations of gas and food rationing and inability to buy certain things, is not aware of what war means as is the public in England where thousands have died and many more thousands have been injured. I am the more concerned in this matter because we are approaching the most difficult period in the war and in the midst of a presidential campaign. You men who are the leaders of our Press have a very grave problem on your hands with a multitude of difficult people and ulterior motives to combat.4

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. Roberts, managing editor of the Kansas City Star, was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. General Marshall had met with Roberts and the directors of the society on October I, 1943, at a luncheon at the Statler Hotel in Washington. Roberts assured Marshall that “the fifteen editors returned home with a much sounder view of the war picture after your illuminating discussion than they had before.” (Roberts to Marshall, October 9, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. For information on the soldier-slapping incident, see note 2, Marshall Memorandum for General Surles, December 30, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-193 [4: 225].

3. Operation FORTITUDE, a diversionary feint against the Pas-de-Calais area, was employed as an Allied deception plan to keep German divisions from the Normandy area. (Gordon A. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1951], p. 76.) For more information on the deception plan, see F. H. Hinsley et al., British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, volume 3, part 2, a volume in the History of the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1988), pp. 47-49, 177-79, and F. H. Hinsley and C. A. G. Simkins, British Intelligence in the Second World War: Security and Counter-Intelligence, volume 4, a volume in the History of the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1990), pp. 237-44.

4. General Marshall spoke off-the-record to the American Society of Newspaper Editors at a luncheon on April 21 at the Statler Hotel in Washington, and he attended the society’s dinner the next evening. (Roberts to Marshall, May 1, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Then on April 25 he spoke off-the-record to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City. (See Marshall to Becker, April 4, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-331 [4: 386].)

On April 7 Marshall notified Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers that, in reference to the release of Surles’s letter to Roberts, “we will endeavor to control further references to this matter in the press and on the radio. As a matter of fact Wilson’s radio gives me a strong weapon with which to control OWl and the press people. I have most confidentially transmitted portions of it to Roberts as an example of the dangerous things the press demands of us. I think it will have far reaching effects as he is the controlling head of the editorial association and a strong character. The only weakness in my procedure is that he cannot quote to other people the extracts of Wilson’s message I gave him.” (Marshall [OPD] to Devers, Radio No. WAR-19897, April 7, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OPD, TS Message File (CM-OUT-19897)].)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers 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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 391-393.

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