Asked what advice he would give to a young officer going to war, Marshall wrote the following to a VMI professor:
To be a highly successful leader in war four things are essential, assuming that you possess good common sense, have studied your profession and are physically strong.
When conditions are difficult, the command is depressed and everyone seems critical and pessimistic, you must be especially cheerful and optimistic.
When evening comes and all are exhausted, hungry and possibly dispirited, particularly in unfavorable weather at the end of a march or in battle, you must put aside any thought of personal fatigue and display marked energy in looking after the comfort of your organization, inspecting your lines and preparing for tomorrow.
Make a point of extreme loyalty, in thought and deed, to your chiefs personally; and in your efforts to carry out their plans or policies, the less you approve the more energy you must direct to their accomplishment.
The more alarming and disquieting the reports received or the conditions viewed in battle, the more determined must be your attitude. Never ask for the relief of your unit and never hesitate to attack.
(GCM to BG John S. Mallory, Nov. 5, 1920, GCM Papers, 1: 202-3.)
The two worst habits, in a military sense, you can follow are to ignore orders from above and issue orders or instructions which you do not require absolute compliance with. Never give an order—and by this I mean even what you may say informally to a staff officer, or to a clerk—that you do not intend to see carried out. . . .
If your staff, or your lieutenants, or even your clerks, know that you treat written instructions or orders from higher up, very casually or entirely ignore them, the entire organization quickly becomes infected with a similar contempt for the sanctity of a military order—and you will reap the whirlwind some day.
(GCM Speech on Armory Training to Ill Natl Guard, early 1935, GCM Papers, 1: 449-50.)
In a letter to MG Roy Keehn, head of the Illinois National Guard, regarding a leadership problem in one of the Guard division’s infantry regiments, Marshall “sermonized”:
Nothing, absolutely nothing, but cold efficiency should ever be permitted to become involved in the selection of a colonel. We suffer from poor colonels in the Regular Army, but the solidity, the disciplinary background and other special conditions serve to save us from the destructive effects that are completely demoralizing the National Guard Rewards for honest and faithful services, political obligations, and other very human and common factors which are present in civil life, should be paid or made in some other manner than designation to the leadership of a regiment. A figurehead as lieutenant colonel can be carried, but never as colonel.
(GCM to Keehn, March 19, 1937, GCM Papers, 524-25.)
One of the lessons of WWI for Marshall was the necessity for the high command to manage the staff and other leaders. Marshall thought Pershing was a bit remiss here in permitting certain members of his staff to be more royalist than the king and certain division and corps commanders to get away with acting up:
One or two of his officers and some trying to copy his style without his talents or without his prestige, were very severe and their requirements for the troops were unduly difficult, I thought. No complaint was tolerated. Well, I think this did a great deal of harm, allowing a man with that state of mind, that personality, to be in a commanding position, a control position. I was very careful to watch out for that in World War II. If I found I was running into an officer that was sort of harassing everybody, I either relieved him or tamed him down right away, because it was very important for the High Command to be understanding.
(GCM Interviews, p. 241.)
Importance of knowledge of history
It has been said that one should be interested in the past only as a guide to the future. I do not fully concur with this. One usually emerges from an intimate understanding of the past with its lessons and its wisdom, with convictions which put fire in the soul. I doubt seriously whether a man can think with full wisdom and with deep convictions regarding certain of the basic international issues today who has not at least reviewed in his mind the period of the Peloponnesian War and the Fall of Athens.
(speech at Princeton University, Feb. 22, 1947)
A lesson Marshall learned in the mobilization period was the need for frequent, personal inspections:
The big thing I learnt in World War II was the urgent necessity of frequent visits. . . . [With the airplane] I could move quickly and I could act quickly. I was abreast of what was going on all over the place. I could sense their reactions and I could see how they felt urgently about this or that, which we at headquarters did not really feel so much . . . and I could correct things.
(GCM Interviews, p. 242.)
You can’t take for granted how things are going to work out. You have got to see. You have got to follow up—not interfere, not irritate people, but you get there. [GCM then mentions the 1810 letter from the Duke of Wellington to the Secretary of State for War in London blasting him for interfering; Marshall directed that this be sent to all staff department heads with the admonition: “The reaction to instructions from Washington of a troop commander far from home, in surroundings with which we are utterly unfamiliar, may be akin to those of the Great Duke, and we could well govern ourselves accordingly. (GCM Memo for McNarney, April 24, 1942, GCM Papers, 3: 170.)]
(GCM Interviews, p. 451.)
Whenever changes are proposed, modern theories advanced, or surprising developments are brought to my attention, I automatically search for the fundamental principle involved in the particular matter at hand.
(GCM Speech to the Army Ordinance Association, Oct. 11, 1939, GCM Papers, 2: 83.)
Testifying before both houses of Congress in April 1940, Marshall argued for a restructuring of the officers’ promotion system (the long-festering age-in-grade promotion bill) aimed at weeding out the deadwood, particularly those whose physical condition was no longer up to the challenge of leadership of troops in the field:
You have to lead men in war by requiring more from the individual that he thinks he can do. You have to lead men in war by bringing them along to endure and to display qualities of fortitude that are beyond the average man’s thought of what he should be expected to do. You have to inspire them when they are hungry and exhausted and desperately uncomfortable and in great danger; and only a man of positive characteristics of leadership, with the physical stamina that goes with it, can function under those conditions.
(GCM to the Senate Military Affairs Committee, April 8, 1940, GCM Papers, 2: 193.)
In a letter to stepson Allen Brown, Marshall expressed concern that certain recent indications GCM saw indicated a growing bad attitude. (This may have been Allen’s frustration as a liberal interventionist with the speed of preparedness developments.) Allen’s reply (not found) stimulated this GCM comment:
They [the incidents GCM thought he saw] seemed to me to indicate a state of mind that I know from long experience is very unfortunate in this world and is not the way to get across in the long run. You have to save your ammunition for the big fights and avoid a constant drain of little ones.
(GCM to Allen T. Brown, Jan. 22, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 396.)
GCM tells Congress the difference between good and mediocre leadership:
If leadership depends purely on seniority you are defeated before you start. You give a good leader very little and he will succeed; you give mediocrity a great deal and they will fail.
(GCM to the Truman Committee, March 22, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 483.)
The truly great leader overcomes all difficulties, and campaigns and battles are nothing but a long series of difficulties to be overcome. The lack of equipment, the lack of food, the lack of this or that are only excuses; the real leader displays his quality in his triumphs over adversity, however great it may be.
(GCM speech to the first OCS, Sept. 27, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 622.)
On being criticized despite doing a good job:
Any good job has its critics. If it didn’t have critics, I’d be suspicious.
(Interviews book, p. 502)
Writing to the editor of the Dallas Times Herald concerning an editorial praising Anglo-American troop cooperation during the Tunisian campaign, Marshall commented on the damage the press could cause by stirring up the endemic U.S. service rivalries. On Allied relations, he said:
The thing to watch in the international aspect is whether or not our leaders, meaning me for example, are not only sufficiently broadminded in their approach to these problems and also are not naïve in dealing with the most experienced and astute diplomatists in the world today. We must be tough enough in representing our national interests, while not contesting every little point in a small-minded or too suspicious manner.
(Marshall to Allen Merriam, March 7, 1943, GCM Papers, 3: 581-82.)
Speaking to the War Department’s Women’s Interests Section, Marshall talked about an aspect of military life that he had learned confused and disturbed civilians:
[The word] discipline itself comes from the same stem as the word “disciple.” It implies above all else a relationship between human beings, a basis for effective and concerted action or thought. Such a relationship affects the senior as well as the junior. Perhaps the most general misapprehension of military discipline is the thought that it has to do only with punishment, and that it is something which affects the subordinate only, in a given situation.
Military discipline is in effect a method of education. The most useful result of a disciplinary system is to familiarize the individual with a particular way of doing something, so that when a new problem confronts him, he will act in a pre-determined way. Ideally, the action should be so familiar, so nearly instinctive, that he thinks of it as his own idea. . . . Discipline is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. . . . Military discipline, intelligently administered, can be a great creative and positive force. It has evolved in very much the same way that civil law, and the discipline, or discipleship, of the school, the family, and other social groups, have evolved. . . . Discipline cannot be expected to make brave soldiers. . . . But discipline can make a soldier more confident of himself and of the military team of which he is a member.
(Marshall Speech, Oct. 13, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 643-44.)
“I have on several occasions stated the simple fact that in a democracy no foreign policy or national participation in any international movement can succeed unless it enjoys the solid support of public opinion. The role of women in the formulation of public opinion, especially in this country, is so obvious that no man would have the temerity to question it. It follows, therefore, that the women of this country have a most important role to play in the development of public understanding of the world problems which face the United States. Women’s organizations and women individually of this country should realize that the contribution they can make to the solution of world problems is of inestimable value.”
(Tel to Miss Adelaide Handy, Knight Newspaper Bureau, September 20, 1947, GCMRL/SOS [157/58])
On War and Combat
“War is not an easy game to play and you can’t always win.”
(GCM notes for Secretary of War’s Press Conference, 28 Dec 44 [cmts re Bulge], GCM Papers, 4:714)
Making war in a democracy is not a bed of roses.
(this in re criticisms in Congress, press re training, equipment)
(To Eisenhower, March 6, 1945, GCM Papers, 5: 77)
I hope with every fiber of my being that the horrible effect on civilian communities of recent air attacks will shock the civilized world into taking joint measures guaranteeing the immunity of such communities against bombing attacks in the future.
(GCM speech to the annual convention of the West Virginia State American Legion, Sept 4, 1938, GCM Papers, 1: 622.)
There is nothing romantic, dramatic, or satisfying in modern conflict. It is all horrible, profoundly depressing; and now it carries with it a dreadful threat to civil populations.
(GCM speech to the American Legion, Brunswick, Md., Nov. 6, 1938, GCM Papers, 1: 644.)
I think the common belief is that the most quickly created instrument of war is the infantry regiment. Yet, I would say that we have lost more lives and been delayed more in battle by the acceptance of this doctrine than for any other purely military reason. . . . The foundation on which a successful war is carried to conclusion, aside from the character and resolution of the people, equally rests with the infantry soldier, no matter what the scientific developments and clever gadgets developed for making war.
(GCM speech to the National Rifle Association, Feb. 3, 1939, GCM Papers, 1: 693.)
Morale is a state of mind. It is steadfastness and courage and hope. It is confidence and zeal and loyalty. It is élan, 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 naught.
(Marshall Speech at Trinity College, June 15, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 536.)
Men can do a great deal with very little if they have high morale and determination.
(Marshall testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 7, 1950 regarding amendments to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949, p. 87)
We [Americans] are a people prone to be critical of everything except that for which we are personally responsible. Remember also that to a soldier a certain amount of grousing appears to be necessary. However, there is a vast difference between these usually amusing reactions and the destructive and disloyal criticism of the undisciplined soldier.
(Marshall speech to the Graduates of the first OCS, Sept 27, 1941, GCM Papers, 2: 621.) ]
Of all the military lessons which could have been learned from the last war, the question of unity of command is probably the most outstanding; personally I learned my lesson in observing the problems of General Pershing in France and the reluctance of our Allies to meet the issue until almost overwhelmed by the great German offensive of March, 1918. For that reason the first step taken by the Chiefs of Staff of Great Britain and the United States at the initial meeting in Washington in December, 1941, was to establish a basis of procedure to secure coordinated action. . . . The instructions of the British Cabinet to guide their Army commander serving under General Eisenhower furnish a model of readiness of a great nation to cooperate in every practicable manner. . . . It will be most depressing news to our enemies. It is the declaration of their doom.
(Marshall Speech to the Academy of Political Science, NYC, Nov. 10, 1942, GCM Papers, 3: 433-34.)
My consideration is for the American soldier, to see that he has every available means with which to make successful war, that he is not limited in ammunition, that he is not limited in equipment, and that he has sufficient training and medical care; in other words, to see that for once in the history of this country he is given a fair break in the terrible business of making war.
(Marshall Speech to the American Legion, Sept. 21, 1943, GCM Papers, 4: 133.)
We must proceed in the most businesslike manner possible to make this war so terrible to the enemy, so overwhelming in character, that never again can a small group of dictators find a sufficient following to destroy the peaceful security of a civilized world.
(Marshall Speech to the American Legion, Sept. 21, 1943, GCM Papers, 4: 133.)
War is the most terrible tragedy of the human race.
(Marshall speech to the American Legion convention, Sept. 18, 1944, GCM Papers, 4: 592.)
The Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, and I, and others in responsible places in the War Department, are keenly sensitive to the daily casualties we are suffering. Our constant effort has been so to conduct this war that it can be brought to a successful conclusion with a minimum of American casualties. The greatest economy will be obtained by the early termination of the fighting. We must never give the enemy a moment to recuperate his strength, to regain his balance, and the urgent requirement for replacements, strong and vigorous, must be met if we are to be successful.
(To Congressman (R-Ohio) William E. Hess
March 5, 1945, GCM Papers, 5: 75.)
What I learned most at the V.M.I. was self-control, discipline, so it was ground in, and the problem of managing men which fell to the cadet noncommissioned officer and cadet officer. He was very severely judged by his classmates if he was slack. They might be willing to try to pull things which would give him the reputation of being slack, but at the same time they would judge you very severely if you proved to be a very slack performer in the business of your military grade.
(GCM Interviews, p. 98.)
As I look back through the years it was much more fun being a cadet than any other experience I had during my lifetime. Also the associations and friendships of those days have lasted with me all of my life.
(M to Mrs. E. Scott Martin, Farmville, VA, 28 Jan 47)
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