Biography for George C. Marshall
On September 1, 1939, the day World War II officially began in Europe, George Catlett Marshall became chief of staff of the U.S. Army. For the next 12 years, first as chief of staff and then as secretary of state, Marshall played a vital role in the military and political events that shaped the modern world. In 1953, shortly after his retirement, in recognition of his efforts to end and to avert war around the world, Marshall became the only professional soldier ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Born on December 31, 1880 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Marshall began his army career in 1902 after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute. He served in the Philippines from 1902 to 1903 and then again from 1913 to 1916. In 1917, he went to France, where, as chief of operations for the First Infantry, he helped to plan the first U.S. campaigns in the war. Then, transferred to general headquarters, he was instrumental in plotting the successful strategy of the Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives as First Army chief of operations. With the exception of the period 1924 to 1927, when he was executive officer of an infantry regiment in China, Marshall served from 1919 to 1938 in a variety of capacities at various military bases around the United States. The quiet, austere Marshall managed to make a favorable impression in both the peace and wartime army. One of his commanders described him as "the greatest military genius since Stonewall Jackson." Impressed by reports of Marshall's administrative skills and extraordinary ability to recognize talent, President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected Marshall over 34 senior officers to be army chief of staff. Marshall occupied the position from 1939 to 1945. Marshall saw his task during World War II as building a 200,000-man standing army into a force of millions that would be able to fight quickly a large-scale war against superbly trained and equipped, battle-hardened enemy forces. It was, he believed, up to the president to tend to the politics, to make the proper case with Congress and the American people in the face of mounting military manpower needs and materiel costs. Roosevelt saw things differently, however. He wanted Marshall to push his ideas in Congress. This was not what Marshall had trained for or expected, but he felt it was the duty of subordinates to fulfill the president's wishes. He learned to lobby in Congress and to hold news conferences. Working with candor and respect, Roosevelt and Marshall succeeded admirably as a team, but in the process, the distinction between political leader and military leader became blurred. Marshall was the principal military strategist for all Allied operations in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. When the time came to plan the cross-Channel invasion of the continent, President Roosevelt asked Marshall who should command the Allied forces. Marshall was too modest to name himself and was disappointed when Roosevelt said, "Well, then, you'll stay in Washington. I feel I could not sleep at night with you out of the country." Marshall then suggested Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower over 366 senior officers, and Roosevelt agreed to the appointment. In recognition of Marshall's efforts in training, planning, and supplying the Allies, Winston Churchill called him "the true organizer of victory." After the war, President Harry Truman asked Marshall to undertake what turned out to be the hopeless task of trying to arrange some kind of negotiated peace between the Nationalist and Communist forces in China. As Truman's secretary of state from 1947 to 1949, Marshall, who believed the Soviets were bent on controlling Europe, helped the president to formulate his containment policy. Convinced that economic instability aided Soviet Communist expansion, Marshall outlined, in a speech delivered at Harvard University in June 1947, a plan by which the United States would help to ensure Europe's economic recovery. The plan, he said, was not directed against a country or an idea, but "against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world. . . ." He proposed that during the next several years, the United States ought to help Europe with substantial grants and loans in order to prevent "economic, social, and political deterioration of very grave character." The Soviet Union was invited to take part, but it refused on the grounds that the economic aid was really a sham for making Europe dependent upon the United States. Eastern European nations under Soviet control were also prevented from participating. The Soviet refusal to participate and the overthrow of the Czechoslovakian government by communists helped secure passage of the Marshall Plan through Congress. Signed into law in April 1948, $5.3 billion in aid was provided to Europe the following year. Of the $12 billion spent in Marshall aid, more than half went to Great Britain, France, and West Germany. By 1950, these nations had increased their gross national products by more than 25%. Their prosperity not only helped contain communism, but as they became more prosperous, they bought more U.S. goods. Acceptance of Marshall aid bound recipients to make all their purchases in the United States and Commonwealth countries. This restriction helped to fuel the postwar U.S. economic prosperity. U.S. policy makers would often refer to the success of the Marshall Plan to support aid programs for Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Marshall resigned as secretary of state due to ill health in 1949, but President Truman asked him to return as secretary of defense at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. As secretary of defense from 1950 to 1951, Marshall rebuilt the armed forces, devised a plan for universal military training, helped create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and successfully worked to keep the Korean War contained to the Korean peninsula. In 1951, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin assailed Marshall as a communist traitor who would "sell his grandmother for any advantage." Marshall, of course, had no connection to, or sympathy for, communism. McCarthy's attack on him demonstrated the hysterical and defamatory character of the senator's anticommunist crusade. During the 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower refused, for political reasons, to condemn McCarthy's assault upon his former mentor. The following year, Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He died on October 16, 1959.