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To the Students of Miss Craig’s Class1
March 15, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]
I received your joint letter of February twenty-ninth and have read it very carefully. You ask me a number of questions which at best would be rather difficult to answer. Where they pertain to things you have read about me I must call your attention to the fact that many of the things credited to me I do not acknowledge or at least I should have materially to depreciate or moderate.
Mrs. Marshall tells me that my memory is seriously defective in some respects, frequently to her inconvenience. So much for that question.2
I was somewhat intrigued by your question regarding the method of selecting generals, “What are they like that makes you know they will be good ones?” This probably is the most important of my duties, the most difficult. I hardly know how to explain the method followed so that you would understand because so many different factors are involved. In the first place an experience of nearly 40 years in observing the work of officers in handling men, the efficiency of their various methods, the character and dependability they display, particularly in reference to their bearing, appearance, and speech, and many other somewhat similar factors, influences my choice. Also I am given the opinions of their immediate commanders and the senior commanders of their services. For example, General Arnold for the Air Forces, General McNair for the Ground Forces, General Somervell for the Army Service Forces, and particularly the commanders of the troops in active theaters like General MacArthur, General Eisenhower, etc. Incidentally, it is comparatively simple to select the generals after a display of their military qualities on the battlefield. The difficulty is when we must choose them prior to employment in active operations.
I would add this final comment: the most important factor of all is character, which involves integrity, unselfish and devoted purpose, a sturdiness of bearing when everything goes wrong and all are critical, and a willingness to sacrifice self in the interest of the common good.
You ask me what kind of a boy I was. I am afraid I cannot give you a proper estimate because I could not see myself as others saw me. However, I will tell you this, that I was a poor student and I was anything but a success in my particular world. Fortunately while I was still in my teens I realized some of my deficiencies and made a tremendous effort to correct them. A good bit of this reform was due to the example of others and the leadership of some of my teachers, but the point is, they caught me just in time.
You ask me what I suggest that you should do to help win the war. I hesitate to answer because I know it will be depressing to you to be told to work hard and do well all the small tasks you are called upon to perform. However, these are the basis of discipline and discipline is vital to a soldier and to success in battle, and self-discipline probably is one of the very important factors in the life of a man or woman. What you do today is of tremendous importance in what you will do tomorrow, meaning when you are a few years older. If the world observes that all our young people have turned to every task with an intensity of purpose to make themselves better citizens, the world will be greatly impressed with the power of this country because that power is determined by its citizens, by their good sense, their integrity, their willingness to do their duty as citizens. By such conduct on your part you will discourage our enemies and encourage our friends and those who are “on the fence” trying to decide with whom they should align themselves.
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. Lillian Craig, a remedial reading teacher in Roanoke, Virginia, had sent a letter written to General Marshall by her students, who were nine to twelve years old. “They are healthy, normal youngsters with very high I.Q.’s but they are what we call Strephosymbolics—or children who read backwards. . . . They are thoroughly interested in the war and are pathetically anxious to have a part in winning it.” (Craig to Marshall, March 2, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
2. “We hear that you never forget anything that is important,” the class had written. “We would like you to tell us all the details of how you keep from forgetting anything.” (Class to Marshall, February 29, 1944, ibid.)
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. 345-346.