George Marshall

Though George Marshall was not a field commander on the front lines of the war, as General of the Army he played a vital role in determining how the United States would confront World War II, how the military and the civilian population would work together as a fighting team, and how certain delicate international issues should be handled when the war was over. Many military historians compare him to George Washington in his remarkable ability to exercise military strategy within a civilian democracy.

In the years after World War I, Marshall commanded a regiment stationed in China and also taught at the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1939, President Roosevelt named Marshall the army chief of staff, a position he would hold until the end of World War II.

Figure 8-6 General George Marshall.

Getty Images/Keystone/Stringer

One of Marshall's greatest prewar achievements was convincing Congress to change the laws regarding the retirement of older officers and to accept selective service. As a result, he was able to place several capable younger officers in positions of authority throughout the army — a move that would serve the military well during the war. Marshall also successfully lobbied the president to significantly increase military spending immediately before the United States was forced into the war.

Marshall knew that the American public would not tolerate an indecisive war for long, and he pushed for quick action in Europe. He backed the “Germany first” strategy and opposed the British plan of creating a second threat to Germany by invading North Africa and then moving into Italy. Marshall felt a landing in northern France was the best way to press Germany and suggested such a plan at every Allied strategic conference; however, British strategists didn't approve his ideas until late 1943. Marshall hoped to lead the Allied force into France, but Roosevelt, who relied heavily on Marshall's counsel, felt his skills were more needed in Washington.

After the war, Marshall worked as secretary of state and secretary of defense. As secretary of state, he was the leading architect of the European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan, through which the United States provided economic assistance to strengthen anti-Communist governments in Western Europe. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1953. George Marshall died on October 16, 1959, in Washington, D.C.

As the war progressed, he was successful in building a tremendous American fighting machine that seemed capable of almost anything. During his tenure, the army increased dramatically in terms of fighting men and war materiel. One of Marshall's greatest skills was identifying and promoting uniquely gifted officers, a trait that ensured strong command on all fronts.

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