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Speech at Trinity College1
June 15, 1941 Hartford, Connecticut
It is a pleasure to be here this morning in surroundings that give the spiritual in us a chance to exclude the uncertainties and complexities that harass us in these unpredictable times.
These buildings represent a patriotic contribution of the Episcopal Church to the nation. They house a College whose traditions and environment have enabled her to put a distinctive stamp of her own making upon the young men who have the good fortune to matriculate here. I can readily understand why that is so when I recall the Trinity men with whom I have come in contact.
Their period of development here not only vitalized the faculties of their minds but also aroused and intensified those latent forces of the soul that the ordinary educational process sometimes fails to reach.
I know that this association with you here this morning is good for my soul. If I were back in my office I would not have referred to my soul. Instead I should have used the word “morale” and said that this occasion increased my “morale”—in other words, was of spiritual benefit to me.
One of the most interesting and important phenomena of the last [war] was the emergence of that French word from comparative obscurity to widespread usage in all the armies of the world.
With use it took on increased significance—a significance which was not lost in the twenty years following the World War.
Today, as we strive to create a great new defensive force, we are investing the word “morale” with deeper and wider meaning.
I realize that when you read the daily press it would appear, from the headlines, that the War Department is a wholly materialistic institution whose only concern is the development and perfection of a machine—a war machine. You read of OPM, and priorities, and the production of bombers, of pursuit ships, of tanks, howitzers, rifles and shells. You come to the natural conclusion that the machine is the thing—that only steel, in one lethal form or another, absorbs the complete time and attention of the War Department.
It is true, as the daily press points out, that we are applying all of American energy, ingenuity and genius we can mobilize, to the task of equipping our new Army with the most modern and efficient weapons in the world—and in ever-increasing quantity. That is our responsibility and you expect us to meet it.
But underlying all, the effort back of this essentially material and industrial effort is the realization that the primary instrument of warfare is the fighting man. All of the weapons with which we arm him are merely tools to enable him to carry out his mission.
So we progress from the machine to the man and much of our time and thought and effort is concentrated on the disposition and the temper and the spirit of the men we have mobilized and we get back to the word “morale.”
We think of food in terms of morale—of clothing, of shelter, of medical care, of amusement and recreation in terms of morale. We want all of these to be available in such quantity and quality that they will be sustaining factors when it comes to a consideration of the soldier’s spirit.
The soldier’s heart, the soldier’s spirit, the soldier’s soul, are everything. Unless the soldier’s soul sustains him he cannot be relied on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.
Today war, total war, is not a succession of mere episodes in a day or a week. It is a long drawn out and intricately planned business and the longer it continues the heavier are the demands on the character of the men engaged in it.
With each succeeding month, with each succeeding year, it makes always heavier and more terrible demands on the mental and spiritual qualities, capacities and powers of the men engaged in it.
War is a burden to be carried on a steep and bloody road and only strong nerves and determined spirits can endure to the end.
It is true that war is fought with physical weapons of flame and steel but it is not the mere possession of these weapons, or the use of them, that wins the struggle. They are indispensable but in the final analysis it is the human spirit that achieves the ultimate decision.
It is not enough to fight. It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue. It is morale that wins the victory.
The French never found an adequate “dictionary” definition for the word. I don’t think that any “definition,” in the strict sense of the word, could encompass its meaning or comprehend its full import.
It is more than a word—more than any one word, or several words, can measure.
Morale is a state of mind. It is steadfastness and courage and hope. It is confidence and zeal and loyalty. It is elan, esprit de corps and determination.
It is staying power, the spirit which endures to the end—the will to win.
With it all things are possible, without it everything else, planning, preparation, production, count for nought.
I have just said it is the spirit which endures to the end. And so it is.
That being so I feel that it is quite appropriate and proper for me to speak a soldier’s word here, on this occasion, this morning; for I am acknowledging, and gladly emphasizing, in this spiritual place, that the determining factor in war is something invisible and intangible, something wholly spiritual.
This recognition of the potency of the spiritual in war receives full consideration in the War Department. Those of us to whom you have entrusted the task of organizing, equipping and training our great new defense forces never treat it lightly when it touches our planning, preparation and calculations.
You will recall that some time ago the Press commented on instructions that went out from the War Department to all commanders in the field relative to the new type of discipline that was to be sought for our citizen armies.
I say “sought” because it is not being “imposed.” It has not been found necessary to “impose” it.
The military discipline that many of us here today can look back upon, took the form, in the main, of bodily exercises.
The body reacted to it surely enough. Its appeal was physical and instinctive. It could not be said to have appealed to the spirit and the intellect. It was inculcated by playing upon the lower range of morale qualities—pride, shame, fear and, above all, habit.
“Habit” came pretty close to being everything. It was undoubtedly the objective of all that old-fashioned “squads east and west” that you still hang stories on.
This older type of discipline was the objective of all that monotonous drilling which, to be honest, achieved obedience at the expense of initiative. It excluded “thought” of any kind. As an old drill-sergeant put it one day, “Give me control of the `instinct’ and you can have the `reason’.”
The result of the method was a rigid discipline that expressed itself in a mechanical, subconscious obedience that was, to be just to it, admirable in many respects.
It was born of, and perhaps fitted to, the small professional armies of volunteers who lived under it and accomplished much through it.
But for our new armies of citizen soldiers we have achieved a type of discipline better fitted to the type of man himself as well as to the new tactics that have rendered obsolete not only the shoulder-to-shoulder formations but even the discipline based on them.
“Theirs not to reason why—theirs but to do and die” is out of the picture. Your sons and brothers and friends are being taught why orders must be obeyed; why a faulty command unhesitatingly obeyed will accomplish more than a faultless order carried out half-heartedly or with hesitation; why individuals must submerge themselves in the team if the army is to meet its obligation to the nation.
We are replacing force of habit of body with force of habit of mind.
We are basing the discipline of the individual on respect rather than on fear; on the effect of good example given by officers; on the intelligent comprehension by all ranks of why an order has to be, and why it must be carried out; on a sense of duty, on esprit de corps.
From a moral stand-point there is no question as to which of these two disciplines is the finer if you admit that respect is to be preferred to fear; the white flame of enthusiasm to the dull edge of routine; the spiritual to the instinctive.
This new discipline enables me to leave with you the assurance that the men in this Army we are building for the defense of a Christian nation and Christian values, will fight, if they have to fight, with more than their bodies and their hands and their material weapons. They will fight with their souls in the job to do, and we who are here today know that everything, ultimately, depends on the soul—for out of the heart are the issues of life.
The War Department is seeing to it that this Christian Army is not asked to live on rations alone. It has enlisted the aid of chaplains by the hundreds and is building chapels by the hundreds (555 to be exact) to give the Army the spiritual food we want it to have.
We know that in creating morale we are creating a living thing that is contagious, that spreads and fastens.
We are building that morale—not on supreme confidence in our ability to conquer and subdue other peoples; not in reliance on things of steel and the super-excellence of guns and planes and bomb-sights.
We are building it on things infinitely more potent. We are building it on belief for it is what men believe that makes them invincible. We have sought for something more than enthusiasm, something finer and higher than optimism or self-confidence, something not merely of the intellect or the emotions but rather something in the spirit of man, something encompassed only by the soul.
This Army of ours already possesses a morale based on what we allude to as the noblest aspirations of mankind—on the spiritual forces which rule the world and will continue to do so.
Let me call it the morale of omnipotence. With your endorsement and support this omnipotent morale will be sustained as long as the things of the spirit are stronger than the things of earth.2
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. Marshall was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree by Trinity College. He then delivered this commencement address.
2. A report of Marshall’s address indicates that he went beyond the text printed here in appealing for national unity. “The time has come for the people to unify completely behind this Army and Navy; to unify as quickly as we can,” Marshall is quoted as having said. “The day for bickering has passed. . . . These are days for courageous men with unselfish purpose.” (New York Times, June 16, 1941, p. 8.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 534-538.