Oct. 16, 2009 - Marshall Award Foundation Luncheon
October 19, 2009
Thank you all very much. You've seen the Secretary of State. You've seen the Secretary of Defense. And now, you get me. [Laughter] Drawing the after-lunch speaker slot is just another reminder that, in Washington, you are never too senior to be junior. [Laughter]
It's great to have you all here. And I'll tell you ... I have had a lot of fun reading up on Marshall again. He's just a fascinating leader. So it's great for me to spend some time with you talking about his role as the Army Chief of Staff.
There have been thirty-six Army Chiefs of Staff since the turn of the last century, and every day, I'm reminded of how we - as serving Chiefs - stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. There are two of my predecessors ... former Chiefs ... here today. General Shy Meyer ... Shy, in 1980, went to the President and Congress and said, "Your Army is hollow." And with that, we began the resurgence of the U.S. Army after Vietnam. General Carl Vuono ... Carl continued that transformation and - really more than any other leader - was the architect of the Army that was so victorious in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. So thank you for that. [Applause]
When I think of Marshall, I'm struck by his over four decades of military service and how our knowledge of that service helps us understand what it means to be a soldier in the United States Army. I'm struck by his selfless service. I'm struck by his respect for civilian control of the military. I'm struck by his absolute competence and by his immutable sense of duty. In the service of his country, Marshall always was a soldier first and a soldier at his very heart.
For most of us, promotions to positions of greater responsibility are milestones to celebrate. On the first of September 1939, when George Marshall was sworn in as the Army Chief, it was a tough day. In his own words, he recalled, "My day of induction into office was momentous," he said, "with the starting of what appears to be a World War."
He was right. In An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson put the looming crisis that accompanied that first day in perspective. The first of September 1939 was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days. On that day, Germany attacked Poland with 60 divisions, unleashing a war that would put Hitler in command of Europe in a matter of months. It was a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day. It was a war that was staggering in its scope and enormous in its consequences. When it began, the United States Army had less than 200,000 soldiers. In terms of size and combat power, it ranked 17th ... just behind Romania. Compared with Germany's 160 divisions, the United States Army could field five. Few of us can doubt that the Chief of Staff of that Army had a lot on his plate that very first day in office. We're here today - in part - because George Marshall survived that first day and, over the next six years, did a remarkable job for this Army and for this country.
In those six years, Marshall oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Army and built the forces that were ultimately victorious in the war. He also played a key role in running the war and in crafting a unified global strategy for victory. In the deliberations of the Combined Chiefs of Staff ... the strategy-making body of the Anglo-American alliance ... it was Marshall who represented the American military position. He was ... in reality, if not in title ... the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. So basically, he'd be doing my job and Mike Mullen's job during six years of war. The thing about Marshall was that he always saw the big picture. He realized that victory over the Axis meant balancing lots of different requirements ... allies, industry, the air and naval services, not just the Army. He was much broader than that.
Perhaps one of Marshall's greatest legacies is the example he set for the character and competence of a military professional in a time of crisis. This can be seen, I believe, in his interaction with two American political institutions ... Congress and the presidency.
Marshall engaged Congress with admirable energy. In the spring and summer of 1940, he spent 21 days testifying in 15 separate hearings. In one critical week, he made 7 trips to the capitol. Marshall understood Congress, and ... in turn ... members regarded his position as representing the national interest. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn attested to Marshall's credibility and to his integrity. Here's what he said: "Of all the men who ever testified before any committee on which I served, there is no one who has the influence ... General Marshall has. When he takes the witness stand, we forget whether we are Republicans or Democrats. We remember that we are in the presence of a man who is telling the truth." We should all do so well on the Hill.
Marshall's relationship with his Commander-in-Chief is also an interesting one. But it underscores Marshall's respect for the fundamental principle of civilian control of the military. When his Commander-in-Chief asked him at a meeting one day, "Don't you think so, George'" Marshall answered, "I am sorry, Mr. President, but I don't agree with you at all." That was the last time Roosevelt called the general "George" in public. But it wasn't Marshall's disposition that made him a trusted advisor. It was his candor, and it was his integrity.
Of course, there were disagreements. The biggest one came in 1942 in the debate over whether to launch an Allied operation in North Africa or to conserve resources for a cross-channel attack. Against the advice of Marshall, Roosevelt sided with Winston Churchill and ordered the Torch landings in November of that year. While Marshall strongly disagreed with this decision, he fully supported the President when it came to planning and executing that operation. True to form, the general admitted later, "We failed to see that the leader in a democracy must keep the people entertained. That may sound like the wrong word," he said, "but it conveys the thought. People demand action." In this case, Americans needed to see Allied progress against Germany ... to strike back ... sooner rather than later. The President saw this crucial political consideration, whereas Marshall had not.
His credibility in the President's eyes only grew as the war went on. Deciding to keep Marshall in Washington rather than send him off to command the Allied armies for the invasion of Europe, Roosevelt admitted to Marshall: "I feel I could not sleep at night with you out of the country."
This brings me to another legacy of Marshall ... his lifetime of selfless service ... which has been acknowledged today in his service as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Army Chief of Staff.
Marshall probably would've been content if his last piece of official correspondence was the letter of resignation that he wrote to President Harry Truman on August 20, 1945. It's typical. It said: "Now that hostilities have terminated, the demobilization of the Army is under way, the major military decisions have been taken, and postwar planning is in an advanced state, I feel free to propose my relief as Chief of Staff. I have been on duty in the War Department continuously for more than seven years, six as Chief of Staff. Aware of the wear and tear of the job, I am certain it would be advantageous to make a change."
As was said earlier, the President reluctantly granted Marshall his wish, and the general retired in November. But one week later ... one week later, the phone rang. Marshall answered. It was Truman. There was a political crisis in China, and the country was on the brink of civil war. "General, I want you to go to China for me." "Yes, Mr. President." Selfless service.
Marshall never even took time to write his memoirs. He apparently turned down an offer of one million dollars from the Saturday Evening Post to tell his story because he didn't want to embarrass other generals and statesmen he had worked with. His focus was on his country and his duty.
In closing, I'm going to quote from Winston Churchill, who could always turn a phrase. He captured Marshall's legacy as the indispensable "organizer of victory," as the professional soldier, and as the selfless public servant. He wrote to Marshall after the Allied victory in Europe: "It has not fallen to your lot to command the great armies. You have had to create them, organize them, and inspire them ... under your guiding hand. There has grown in my breast through all these years of mental exertion a respect and admiration for your courage and massive strength ... which has been a real comfort to your fellow toilers, of whom I hope it will be recognized that I was one."
High and well-deserved acclaim for America's greatest soldier. Thank you for allowing me to participate and to honor a man who was a soldier in every sense of the word. Thank you.