Marshall Legacy Series: “Weapons” of War

Presented in partnership with Virginia Military Institute

Master cryptologist William Friedman, who was featured in the opening sequence of the Marshall Legacy Series on Codebreaking, said, “The most powerful weapon ever invented was the alphabet.” We’ll see examples of what he meant during this sequence on “Weapons” of War.

Bullets, Guns, and Knives

bulletsThe development of new, more powerful weapons has transformed the conduct of war. Early iron and steel manufacturing enabled the making of points, swords, knives, daggers and bayonets. Gunpowder gave rise to muskets, handguns and rifles and minie balls, cannon balls and bullets. As industrial processes and technologies evolved so did the development of new weapons such as Gatling guns, hand grenades and mortars, rockets and bombs, aircraft and aircraft carriers, and submarines. Today precision-guided missiles delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are common. In the near future, perhaps pulsed energy projectiles or directed-energy weapons will be included in modern armories. Sitting in the arsenals of eight countries, at least, is the ultimate tactical weapon, the one that’s been used only twice in warfare, the atomic bomb.

Drawing on our collections, we will display artifacts from World War I and II including a butcher blade from WWI, an Army M1 rifle, Japanese rifles used during WWII, a German Walther handgun given by General Omar Bradley to General Marshall, Japanese Army-issued Samurai swords, Hitler youth daggers, Luftwaffe ceremonial sabers, among many objects to be displayed.

“Paper Bullets”

postersGeneral George C. Marshall was constantly seeking to sway public opinion. For example he enlisted the services of five of the top Hollywood film directors to produce “troop information films” for soldiers and, later, civilians. The most famous of these, Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series, will be shown in the exhibition space.

The exhibition titled “The Art of War” will also include examples of WWI and WWII German and American propaganda posters and US Army Psychological Warfare leaflets and booklets distributed during WWII.

Two posters by Thomas Hart Benton are must-see items.

Editorial cartoons will be displayed as well.

Atomic Bomb

grovesLeslie Richard Groves (1896-1970) was the military commander of the Manhattan Engineering District–the atomic bomb project. He oversaw the production and testing of the first atomic bomb, working closely with J. Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Some of the items from his collection here at the Foundation will be featured in the exhibit.

Other items to be featured will include artifacts from Hiroshima.

Please also see our Research Subject Guide on the topic of the atomic bomb project for primary sources from the library and archives. Sources include letters and documents from General Marshall, General Groves, Enrico Fermi, Oppenheimer, Secretary of War and President Truman.

Desert Hawk Drone

droneOn loan from Lockheed Martin, this Desert Hawk drone had service in Afghanistan.

It is designed to conduct real-time aerial surveillance with operational ease, mission flexibility, and tactical portability.

It features state-of-the-art 360-degree color electro-optic and infrared full motion video integrated camera and provides both day or night support.

It operates in high winds, at extended altitudes and under extreme temperatures. It is extremely quiet and virtually undetectable at operational slant ranges.

Wingspan: 52 in (1.32 m)
Length: 34 in (0.86 m)
Weight: 7 lb (3.2 kg)

General George C. Marshall believed men (and women) in uniform were the greatest weapons of war. Speaking at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in June 1941 he said, “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.

“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.”

As assistant commandant of the Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, George C. Marshall accomplished two remarkable things that enabled the United States and its allies to prevail during World War II. He transformed the curriculum in anticipation of the next large war following World War I. Famously, he said, “Study the first six months of the next war.” He possessed a remarkable vision that helped him during his entire career to “see” what was around the corner. He used this gift to identify future Army leaders as well. Nearly 200 officers whom Marshall trained at Benning became the leaders (“Marshall’s Men”) during World War II. He relied on them to execute the tactics that would accomplish the strategies he set in place as Chief of Staff.