Marshall Part 2, Duty and Humanity

Despite the forgoing, Marshall does not completely deserve his reputation for chilly detachment.  He could be cutting and dismissive, but this comes out most in cases of significant lapses in what he expected of officers in terms of decorum and dedication.  He was sometimes testing the people in front of him to be sure they could be trusted in their assignments away from his watchful eye.  An example of this is recounted in Eisenhower World War II memoirs, Crusade in Europe. On reporting to the War Department shortly after December 7th, Eisenhower reported to Army Chief of Staff Marshall and in a few words was given the assignment of deciding what to do about the Philippines.  Eisenhower took a couple of hours to compose his thoughts on paper and reported back with his answer, to which Marshal replied, “I agree with you,” adding only, “Do your best to save  them.”   Marshall subjected Eisenhower to an even sterner test when the Chief of Staff bluntly informed his War Department subordinate to banish ant thoughts of command and promotion.  The Marshall plan for Eisenhower was that he stay in the War Department for the duration.  On this occasion, Marshall was almost certainly testing Eisenhower’s resiliency and spiritedness.  Just as blunt as his boss, Eisenhower angrily shot back that he was a soldier who served where ordered, and that he did not need any reminders on this subject.  The enigmatic Marshall quietly smiled at Ike as he left the room.

Marshall had quiet and even private ways of expressing personal warmth. His immediate staff attested to his consideration and concern for them all as individuals. He regularly wrote to the commanders of remote installations giving news and encouragement.  His response to a letter from some Roanoke, Virginia schoolchildren on the subject of how he selected general officers is characteristically kindly and thoughtful, (and I hope that it is still read in the Pentagon). Most of all, and unlike many other people in power, Marshall never lost the empathetic imagination to anticipate the effects that strategy and politics might have on ordinary people, most especially the army rank and file.  When the vital question of whether draft enlistments would be extended was being discussed in the House in 1941, Marshall rejected a proposal to shift responsibility for this action from the congress to the president.  He said, “I think it would be most unfortunate to do that at this time because the soldier would feel that he had been victimized by a maneuver, by sharp practice, under cover of the law.” Years later, when MacArthur was relieved from command and testified to Congress that the American army in Korea was “fighting with no mission…[and] losses are going to be staggering,” an upset Marshall privately pointed out the effect such a statement by their former commander could have on the morale of the soldiers still fighting and “called upon to make a tremendous effort over a long period of time.”  Although a undemonstrative and a pragmatist, Marshall was often remarkable for a kind of large-scale, disinterested benevolence in action, akin to what the ancient Greeks called philia.

Next: Marshall’s Mistakes


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