Thursday, February 2, 2012

George Marshall Speaks to the Present Dilemma

Before he became the General of the Army as Chief of Staff in World War II, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the saviour of a war-ravaged Europe through the Marshall Plan, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (back when it had meaning), George C Marshall penned a prescient appeal to his compatriots in 1923, when he was a field grade officer and still absorbing the experiences of America's involvement in World War I.  It is a valuable insight that bears reading today:
[W]hen the [first world war] was over every American’s thoughts were centered in the tragedies involved in the lessons just learned, the excessive cost of the war in human lives and money.  However, in a few months, the public mind ran away from the tragedies of the war and the reasons therefore, and became obsessed with the magnitude of the public debt and the problem of its reduction.  Forgetting almost immediately the bitter lessons of unpreparedness, they demanded and secured the reduction of the Army, which their representatives had so recently increased for very evident reasons.
We talk of Valley Forge in Revolutionary days, and do not realize that American soldiers experienced something very like Valley Forge over in France in 1917.  I have seen soldiers of the First Division without shoes and their feet wrapped in gunny-sacks marching 10 or 15 kilometers through ice and snow. . . .  I have seen so many horses of the First Division drop dead on the field from starvation that we had to terminate the movements in which they were engaged. . . .  [These incidents] reflect the general condition of unpreparedness with which we entered the war, and it was only the strength of our Allies who held the enemy at bay for more than a year, that enabled us to fight the victorious battles which ended the war.
[This] has many precedents in the past. . . .  the astonishing fact is that we continue to follow a regular cycle in the doing and undoing of measures for the national defense.  We start in the making of adequate provisions and then turn abruptly in the opposite direction and abolish what has just been done. . . .

I venture the assertion that for every boy who comes out of public schools realizing that over a year elapsed before America’s soldiers [in World War I] could make their first attack on the enemy . . . there will be a thousand whose attention is not called to this. The small boy learns that we were successful in the end, but he is carefully prevented from discovering how narrow the margin of our success. . . . There seems to have been a conspiracy to omit pertinent facts or the lessons of our military history which would prepare the boy to be an intelligent voter or legislator.

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