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Marshall, George C.

Marshall, George C. (1880–1959), World War II army chief of staff; secretary of state, 1947–49; Korean War secretary of defense.Marshall is considered the creator of the World War II U.S. Army, the organizer of Allied victory, and the architect of key U.S. Cold War policies. In 1953, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan) that bears his name. He is the first professional soldier to be so honored.

Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Marshall graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901 and in 1902 was commissioned a second lieutenant. Throughout his early military career, he exhibited extraordinary ability as a staff officer. Consequently, he was given responsibilities far beyond his rank and deeply impressed his superiors—most notably Gen. John J. Pershing, who assigned Marshall to his World War I staff and became his mentor and supporter. Marshall played a major role in planning the St. Mihiel and Meuse‐Argonne offensives, and developed an exceptional reputation for organizing and operating within Allied commands. During the interwar years, he developed a similar reputation for working with civilians. As head of the Infantry School at Fort Benning (1927–32) he also trained what would become the U.S. High Command in World War II. Promotion during this time was slow, however, and only in 1936 did he obtain his first general's star. Yet in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected him over numerous senior officers to be the new army chief of staff.

In 1939–41, Marshall focused his energies on the creation of a large, modern army to meet the threat posed by Axis military victories. In the process he developed an extraordinary reputation with Congress for honesty as well as military expertise, and he became the administration's most convincing military advocate on Capitol Hill. Largely as a result of his efforts, the army expanded from 175,000 in 1939 to 1.4 million in 1941. Plans were also completed for additional expansion to 8 million and for a global strategy of alliance with Britain to defeat Germany before Japan, if and when the United States officially entered the war. Marshall was far less successful in halting Roosevelt's proclivity to overcommitment, however, particularly in the Far East, and over whether scarce resources should be allocated to the U.S. Army or to potential allies under the Lend‐Lease Act and Agreements.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Marshall became the leading figure in the newly formed U.S. Joint and Anglo‐American Combined Chiefs of Staff and gradually emerged as Roosevelt's chief military adviser. He attended all Allied wartime summit conferences and played a major role in the creation of the joint and combined chiefs and in the application of the unity of command principle to all U.S. and British ground, naval, and air forces. He also strongly promoted a cross‐Channel invasion over British‐supported Mediterranean operations, but he lost that debate and was forced to acquiesce in the 1942–43 North Africa Campaign and the 1943 invasion and conquest of Sicily and Italy. In return, Marshall won presidential and British support for the 1944 cross‐Channel assault that would culminate in the decisive invasion of Normandy. Although it was expected he would command that operation, Marshall was not selected because he had become indispensable in Washington and because he refused to request the position. For such self‐denial as well as for his accomplishments, Marshall was selected Time magazine's “Man of the Year” in 1944, and Congress awarded him a fifth star and the title “General of the Army.”

After World War II, Marshall served as special presidential emissary to China in an unsuccessful effort to avert civil war, and then as Truman's secretary of state from 1947 to 1949. In this position he played a major role in defining, implementing, and winning bipartisan support for an activist Cold War policy of containing Soviet expansionism, most notably in the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan), and won a second “Man of the Year” award as well as a Nobel Prize. He played a major role, too, in the formation of West Germany and NATO. As secretary of defense (1950–51), he rebuilt U.S. military forces during the Korean War and took a key part in the controversial relief of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. For this, as well as his Asian policies while secretary of state, he became a target of attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his associates.

Despite those attacks, Marshall's reputation continued to grow after his death in 1959. In addition to his extraordinary accomplishments, he was one of the foremost defenders of civilian control of the military, a key definer of the army's proper role in a democratic society, and a model of both personal integrity and selfless public service. For all of this he is widely considered one of the world's greatest soldier‐statesmen.
[See also Civil‐Military Relations: Civil Control of the Military; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course; Joint Chiefs of Staff.]


Forrest C. Pogue , George C. Marshall, 4 vols., 1963–87.
Larry I. Bland, ed., The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, 3 of 6 vols., 1981–91.
Thomas Parrish , Roosevelt and Marshall: Partners in Politics and War, 1989.
Mark A. Stoler , George C. Marshall: Soldier‐Statesman of the American Century, 1989.
Edward Cray , General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman, 1990.
Larry I. Bland, ed., George C. Marshall: Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue, 1991.

Mark A. Stoler

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