Friends in High Places

Over the many years that George C. Marshall played an active role in major world affairs, he saw the relationships between the United States and other countries, as well as his personal relationships with many leaders, change dramatically. In the aftermath of World War II former allies such as the Soviet Union and China became fierce enemies. The conclusion of World War II and Marshall’s subsequent resignation as Army chief of staff resulted in gradual changes in Marshall’s domestic relationships as well.

This next sequence of the Marshall Legacy Series, “friends” in high places, reveals some of these changing relationships and the patience with which Marshall navigates through some of his most difficult diplomatic experiences at home and abroad. In some cases Marshall must lose ground in order to keep the peace. Visitors will see the lengths to which Marshall goes to avoid giving up or giving in.

Chiang Kai-shek
Then Lieutenant Colonel George C. Marshall served in Tientsin, an area in northern China, from 1924 and 1927. While there, he witnessed the beginning of the Chinese Civil War in which Chiang Kai-Shek led a successful campaign against local warlords in that region, expelling many Communists. As head of the Chinese government from 1928 to 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek represented the China at several allied conferences during World War II. At the Cairo Conference on November 23, 1943, Chiang Kai-Shek “demanded American supplies for the Chinese war effort.” Marshall responded by storming out of the meeting, “believing that the demands were unreasonable and observing that Chiang would not budge.” Chiang Kai-Shek responded by refusing to send troops for the invasion of Burma. In November 1945, as fighting between the Nationalist and Communist parties resumed, President Harry Truman asked Marshall to go to China to negotiate a peace between the two sides. Marshall was aware of the corruption and violence of Chiang’s army, but he was determined to reach a peaceful solution. Marshall helped the Nationalist and Communist parties agree to a cease-fire on January 10, 1946, and he was working on uniting the armies. Unfortunately, the two groups were fighting again by March and the negotiations fell apart in June. Marshall was recalled to the United States in January 1947 to become secretary of state. The United States did not begin diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China until 1979, four years after had Chiang died.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. Marshall and Stalin met at the Tehran Conference in December 1943 and again at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. More than two years later, in April 1947, while Marshall attended the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow, he met with Stalin to discuss Stalin’s unwillingness to support the rebuilding of the European countries, including Germany, that were destroyed during World War II. Marshall tried to reason with Stalin and stressed that “that there had been a serious and steady deterioration in public regard toward the Soviet Union” in the United States that resulted from the refusal of the Soviet Union to respond to the proposals for rebuilding Europe. Marshall tried to negotiate with Stalin, but by the end of the meetings in Moscow he was frustrated with Stalin’s deliberate refusal to cooperate. When Marshall returned to Washington, D.C., he was determined that the United States must take action to improve conditions in Europe. This led to the formulation of, and later the implementation of the European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan. The invitation to receive aid through the Marshall Plan was open to all countries, including the Soviet Union, but Stalin rejected it as well as persuaded the Eastern European Soviet satellite countries to refuse assistance.

Harry S. Truman
Though both men had served in World War I, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and Democratic Senator Harry S. Truman came to know each other while working in Washington, D.C. before and during World War II. Marshall and Truman continued their close working relationship when, in 1945, Truman served as vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later became president after Roosevelt’s death. Truman’s repeated requests to have Marshall serve in prominent leadership positions during his administration including Special Ambassador to China, Secretary of State, President of the American Red Cross, and Secretary of Defense, illustrated the high esteem in which he held Marshall. Truman knew that Marshall would restore confidence in any post he held through his strength of character, instinctive arrangement of priorities, and ability to maximize the potential of his staff. The fact that Marshall never refused Truman’s requests demonstrated Marshall’s loyalty to the president and his dedication to serving the country. Although Marshall and Truman agreed on most issues, Truman’s use of anti-communist rhetoric, the “Loyalty Order” and the recognition of Israel caused several conflicts between them. Together they achieved the approval and implementation of what became Marshall’s defining legacy–the European Recovery Program, or the Marshall Plan, for which Marshall received the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. Truman thought so highly of Marshall that one of his last acts as president was to arrange for the creation of the George C. Marshall Research Library.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
In December 1941, General George C. Marshall appointed the recently-promoted Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as Deputy Chief of Pacific Defenses for the War Plans Division in Washington, D.C. Eisenhower would move up the ranks quickly thereafter. Marshall and Eisenhower were proteges of Generals Fox Conner and John Pershing and shared the same philosophy and approach to war and diplomacy. They both understood that coalition warfare was vital to the Allies’ success. On June 23, 1942, Marshall sent Eisenhower to London as the commanding general of the European Theater of Operations. Eisenhower commanded Operation TORCH (North Africa), and several years later as Supreme Allied Commander he led Operation OVERLORD (Normandy). Marshall and Eisenhower communicated on an almost daily basis and Marshall acted as an advisor to Eisenhower, being almost ten years his senior. The paths that Marshall and Eisenhower followed in the post-war years differed significantly. Eisenhower entered the political fray, while Marshall, who encountered similar opportunities, stayed far from it. After his election as president in 1952 Eisenhower regularly asked for Marshall’s guidance. In August 1959, near the end of Marshall’s life, Eisenhower brought Winston Churchill to Walter Reed Hospital to visit his friend a final time. Eisenhower stated that of all the Americans he knew, it was Marshall who “possessed more of the qualities of greatness than has any other”. Eisenhower praised Marshall for his “moral courage, calmness, and wisdom”, “readiness and selflessness”, and “modesty”.

Winston Churchill
Both George C. Marshall and Winston S. Churchill served on the Western Front during the World War I, though at different times. In 1919, as aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing, Marshall attended an event where Churchill was present, but there is no evidence that they met. They did not cross paths again until World War II. Marshall and Churchill had opposing personalities (Churchill was a career politician, Marshall never voted), as well as drastically conflicting views on military strategy. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Marshall supported Britain through the Lend-Lease agreement, but afterwards Marshall wanted, and needed, to save materiel for the use of his own army and had to reduce or refuse Churchill’s requests. Both men agreed on the need to defeat Germany first, but they had very different ideas about how to accomplish this. Marshall was frustrated that Churchill did not support a cross-Channel invasion of France in 1942 and instead wanted to launch an indirect invasion through Italy. With careful compromise, bluffing and negotiation, Marshall convinced Churchill to support a cross-Channel invasion of France, but it would not take place until June 1944. Churchill and Marshall remained friends after the war. They frequently wrote letters to each other and saw each other on numerous occasions. Churchill admired Marshall and remarked that “succeeding generations should not be allowed to forget [Marshall’s] achievements and example,” and he further characterized Marshall as “the noblest Roman of them all.”