Marshall: Luck and Resilience in the Making of a General

July 17, 2020

Benjamin Runkle, author of Generals in the Making, discusses the resilient career of General George C. Marshall.

Our Virtual Legacy Lecture online premiere is Friday, July 17, 2020 at 5:30 pm

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A part of the George C. Marshall Legacy Series

About the Lecture

It is easy to see the old images of Marshall standing next to Pershing or surrounded by future generals on his teaching staff at the Infantry School and, knowing what he achieved in building and leading the U.S. Army in WWII, perceive his rise as inevitable. But his eventual triumphs were anything but predetermined. Indeed, on many occasions Marshall benefited from chance (i.e. the Army’s expansion of the officers corps just as he was seeking a commission; Pershing respecting Marshall’s brazen challenge at Gondrecourt in 1917; narrowly avoiding a fatal bombing on Armistice Day in 1918; FDR’s appreciation of Marshall’s willingness to speak truth to power resulting in his selection as Chief of Staff). Yet a less resilient man than Marshall would not have been able to take advantage of these opportunities, a trait that was demonstrated many times (i.e. persisting in the Army despite his frustration with his career prospects before WWI; surviving the tragedy of Lily’s sudden death in 1927; surviving his exile to the Illinois National Guard  by MacArthur in 1933). In the end, although Marshall was inarguably the indispensable man to the American war effort in WWII, he would not have been in position to alter the course of world history if not for fortunate twists of fate and his ability to overcome both personal tragedies and professional setbacks.

About the Speaker

Benjamin Runkle is a former paratrooper and presidential speechwriter with a Harvard PhD and a Bronze Star from Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has served as an official in the Department of Defense, as a director on the National Security Council, and as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. He is currently a senior policy fellow with Artis International and an adjunct lecturer in Johns Hopkins University’s Global Security Program. He is previously the author of Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to Bin Laden (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), and his writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Military History Quarterly, Joint Forces Quarterly, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor, amongst other publications.

Army Magazine says that in “Generals in the Making, Runkle . . . makes . . . important contributions to the profession of arms.” “Runkle is a great narrator . . . [H]e helps us better understand how American World War II leaders developed into successful wartime commanders”, moving “beyond military experiences to also show how real-life experiences . . . shaped the leaders.”

The Washington Examiner says “Runkle writes elegantly and for a broad readership, yet avid readers of military history will still learn new things” and that Generals in the Making “is ultimately inspiring. . . . an important new addition to our knowledge of these flawed and great men.”