Marshall: “Noblest Roman of Them All”

Marshall: “Noblest Roman of Them All”

Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty Press releas­es this month the sev­enth and final vol­ume of The Papers of George Catlett Mar­shall: “The Man of the Age,” Octo­ber 1, 1949 – Octo­ber 16, 1959. It was mas­ter­ful­ly edit­ed by Mark Stol­er and Daniel Holt under the aus­pices of the Mar­shall Cen­ter. It joins its pre­de­ces­sors pre­sent­ing the papers of one of the great­est gen­er­als and states­men of his age (1880-1959). I quick­ly assigned it for review by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, for its many ref­er­ences to Churchill in George Marshall’s final phase. This and the pre­vi­ous vol­ume are indis­pens­able for any­one wish­ing to under­stand the com­pli­cat­ed inter­na­tion­al scene imme­di­ate­ly after World War II.

MarshallAfter resign­ing as Sec­re­tary of State (1947-49) owing to ill health, Mar­shall recov­ered long enough to be Pres­i­dent Tru­man‘s Sec­re­tary of Defense (1950-51)—the only uni­formed mil­i­tary offi­cer ever to hold that posi­tion. In 1953 he head­ed the U.S. del­e­ga­tion to the coro­na­tion of HM Queen Eliz­a­beth II, and became the only career U.S. army offi­cer to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, large­ly for the Mar­shall Plan (Euro­pean Recov­ery Act) that helped Europe revive after the war.

Alis­tair Cooke always sniffed and told me that the Mar­shall Plan should real­ly have been called the Ache­son Plan, for all the work Dean Ache­son put into it. But Har­ry Tru­man insist­ed it be named for his Sec­re­tary of State. In part through Marshall’s efforts and pres­tige, it passed Con­gress with bipar­ti­san support—not some­thing trans­for­ma­tive Acts of Con­gress seem to do nowadays.

Thomas E. Ricks has a good brief review of “Mar­shall VII” in For­eign Pol­i­cy. “He had his faults, but he was a thought­ful, well-bal­anced man, and that comes out even in his minor exchanges. Again and again, I am struck at how well he han­dled Con­gress. He was clear and hon­est. Yet he also took very polit­i­cal steps.” Ricks calls Mar­shall “a decent man, not always treat­ed decently.”

Marshall and Churchill

 Churchill and Mar­shall prob­a­bly had more dis­putes over allied strat­e­gy in the war than Churchill and his own gen­er­als, yet their respect for each oth­er was pro­found. A friend direct­ed me to Marshall’s last poignant mes­sage to Churchill in this book, Jan­u­ary 1958: “I don’t know any­one with whom I had more argu­ments than with you, and I don’t know any­one whom I admire more” (986).
There is quite a lot more on Churchill here, includ­ing Marshall’s hand­writ­ten state­ment upon Churchill’s retire­ment, 5 April 1955 tele­phoned to the BBC at their request: “A great, a very great man has retired from a long and pow­er­ful part in World Lead­er­ship. The most remark­able career of mod­ern times has reached its active con­clu­sion. I was with him dur­ing many crit­i­cal moments [crossed out: ‘and days’]. Always he was tow­er­ing in his strength and courage. I am thank­ful that his voice can still be heard in is beloved House of Com­mons.” Alas, it nev­er was heard there again.
I have always admired Mar­shall (and, in some respects, Sen­a­tor William Jen­ner, whom Ricks calls “Rep­tile, Indiana”—but that is anoth­er sto­ry). Gen­er­al Mar­shall was of course the tar­get of par­ti­san Repub­li­cans once he became Sec­re­tary of State and acced­ed, after care­ful thought, to the relief of Gen­er­al MacArthur from Korea in 1951.  I only wish State had had some­one of his cal­iber these last eight years.
In Churchill by Him­self are two Churchill quotes on Mar­shall: “The noblest Roman of them all” (to Gen­er­al Ismay, which is famous), and a more obscure one from The Hinge of Fate, on a com­mu­niqué to the Russians—which shows Mar­shall the diplo­mat. After the Roo­sevelt-Churchill “Tri­dent” talks and Churchill’s sec­ond address to Con­gress in May 1943, the Pres­i­dent had sug­gest­ed Churchill take Mar­shall along in his air­craft (both were head­ed east) to dis­cuss the draft. Churchill wrote:
As soon as we were in the air I addressed myself to the Russ­ian com­mu­niqué. As I found it very hard to make head or tail of the bun­dle of drafts, with all our emen­da­tions in the President’s scrawls and mine, I sent it along to Gen­er­al Mar­shall, who two hours lat­er pre­sent­ed me with a typed fair copy. I was immense­ly impressed with this doc­u­ment, which exact­ly expressed what the Pres­i­dent and I want­ed, and did so with a clar­i­ty and com­pre­hen­sion not only of the mil­i­tary but of the polit­i­cal issues involved. It excit­ed my admi­ra­tion. Hith­er­to I had thought of Mar­shall as a rugged sol­dier and a mag­nif­i­cent organ­is­er and builder of armies—the Amer­i­can Carnot. But now I saw that he was a states­man with a pen­e­trat­ing and com­mand­ing view of the whole scene. I was delight­ed with his draft, and also that the task was done. I wrote to the Pres­i­dent that it could not be bet­ter, and asked him to send it off with any alter­ations he might wish, with­out fur­ther ref­er­ence to me.
​How dif­fer­ent these char­ac­ters were from their coun­ter­parts today. I’ve always appre­ci­at­ed Marshall’s reply to a pub­lish­er, after his retire­ment, who offered him a mil­lion dol­lars for a tells-all book. Mar­shall refused, say­ing, “I have been ade­quate­ly com­pen­sat­ed for my services.”

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