Monday, May 05, 2003


George Marshall may have been the greatest American of the 20th century. He was the "organizer of victory" and key military strategist/advisor for the US in WWII. Then, as Secretary of State he provide the leadership to keep the US engaged in Europe and to rebuild the shattered economies of both our allies and our defeated enemies. Finally, as the Cold War deepened and rearmament became the order of the day, he took over the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense.

As Army Chief of Staff he had to build up a ground force that numbered only 190,000 when Germany invaded Poland. At war's end, that army numbered over 6,000,000. The Wehrmacht prepared and rearmed for six years before they invaded Poland. Marshall had only three years before the US Army went into action. Six years after Marshall took the helm, the army he built was victorious in Europe.

Our three mid-century presidents admired him though they agreed on very few things. He was FDR's key military advisor, even though the president's heart was with the Navy. Truman appointed him to his Cabinet twice. It was Marshall who saw Eisenhower's potential when Ike was still an obscure officer.

Marshall challenges the our stereotype of military leadership. He was not flamboyant, loud, impulsive, or charismatic. Instead he was austere, rarely raised his voice, and delegated to subordinates with a vengeance. Yet he was truly a leader,-- not a manager or technocrat-- and his effectiveness resulted from his force of character.

"What stands out," said Dean Acheson, "was the loftiness and beauty of his character." And Acheson, who served under and with Marshall, was not an easy man to impress or fool. George Kennan, the scholarly but cold-eyed diplomat who was tasked with creating a plan for European recovery, was effusive about Marshall as he was no other American statesman:

I admired him, and in a sense loved him, for the qualities i saw in him, some of them well known, some less so: for his unshakable integrity; his consistent courtesy and gentlemanliness of conduct; his ironclad sense of duty; his imperturbability of a good conscience-- in the face of harassments, pressures, and criticisms; his deliberateness and conscientiousness of decision; his serene readiness-- once a decision has been made-- to abide by its consequences, whatever they might be; his lack of petty vanity or ambition; his indifference to the whims and moods of public opinion, particularly as manifested in the mass media; and his impeccable fairness and avoidance of favoritism in the treatment of subordinates.

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