George C. Marshall

Harry Truman Administration

September 21, 1950 – September 12, 1951
Given the military situation in Korea and persistent criticism of Secretary of Defense Johnson, President Truman decided in September 1950 to replace Johnson with a person of great national prestige. His selection of General Marshall eminently met this requirement. The son of a coal merchant, Marshall was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on 31 December 1880. He entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1897, graduated in 1901, and took a commission as second lieutenant in the United States Army in 1902.

By 1917 he had served in the Philippines and at several stations in the United States, including two service schools. Marshall had extensive combat experience in Europe during World War I, and between 1919 and 1924 he was aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing. After three years in China (1924–27), he served for the next dozen years at posts in the United States, beginning with more than four years as assistant commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where many of the future Army leaders of World War II were on his faculty and staff. He became a brigadier general in 1936.

In 1939 just as World War II began in Europe, President Roosevelt appointed Marshall Army chief of staff. In that position and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff beginning in 1942, Marshall labored unceasingly to build up U.S. defenses and to prepare the Army for action. President Truman later described him as the "architect of victory" in World War II.

Within weeks after Marshall retired from the Army in November 1945 Truman sent him to China in an unsuccessful attempt to mediate the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists and to establish a coalition government. He returned to the United States in January 1947 to become secretary of state for a momentous two years, marked by the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, and negotiation of the NATO pact. After he left the State Department he achieved further distinction as president of the American Red Cross.

Marshall's appointment as secretary of defense required a special congressional waiver because the National Security Act prohibited a commissioned military officer on active duty within the previous 10 years from holding the post. Although the Senate approved quickly, questions did surface about a military leader holding a position clearly intended for a civilian. With the Johnson-Acheson competition in mind, some senators queried Marshall about his views on State-Defense relationships and service unification. Marshall noted that he had "suffered from the lack of unification throughout the war" and also that he had initiated several Army unification studies during the war period.

Marshall had to pay close attention to the conduct of the Korean War. Believing that the Communist attack proved that the Soviets and their satellites were willing to risk a general war and that U.S. military weakness encouraged the aggression in Korea, Marshall promoted a rapid expansion of the armed forces. Between July 1950 and June 1951, U.S. military strength increased from 1,460,000 to 3,250,000, with the final goal for July 1952 set at 3,600,000. Although Korea was an immediate concern, Marshall wanted "an enduring system of national defense." During the "great debate" over U.S. national security policy in the spring of 1951, he vigorously backed the administration's controversial proposal, which Congress finally approved, to increase U.S. ground forces supporting NATO in Europe from two to six divisions.

Because he saw the necessity for long-term preparedness, Marshall argued strenuously for universal military training (UMT), formally proposed by President Truman in March 1948. He described the Military Training and Service Act of 1951, although less than he wanted, as a historic step. This legislation revised the Selective Service Act of 1948 by lowering the draft age from 19 to 18 1/2, increasing the period of service from 21 to 24 months, and setting the total service obligation (active and reserve) at 8 years. It also approved UMT in principle, based on induction of youths for six months' service in a "National Security Training Corps." Although Marshall expressed confidence that Congress would pass legislation implementing UMT, it never did, thus eliminating what he considered the act's most important feature.

Confirming the crucial importance of manpower matters, Marshall established the new position of assistant secretary of defense for manpower and personnel and recruited for the post Anna M. Rosenberg, a dynamic labor and public relations specialist with previous service in the federal government. Responsible for industrial and service manpower, universal military training, and selective service, Rosenberg served under both Marshall and his successor, Robert A. Lovett. She was the first woman to hold such a high-level DoD position, and Marshall was justly proud of her selection and performance. Marshall also established the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), which first met in September 1951 and continues to function effectively today.

The conflict in Korea and the military buildup necessitated large increases in the DoD budget, a process begun before Marshall entered office. Total obligational authority in FY 1951, roughly coinciding with Marshall's tenure, totaled more than $45.1 billion, compared with just over $14 billion the previous year. For FY 1952, beginning on 1 July 1951, TOA skyrocketed to more than $57 billion, larger than any fiscal year since 1945.

The heaviest fighting during the Korean War took place while Marshall was secretary of defense. The dramatic landing of General Douglas MacArthur's forces at Inchon on 15 September 1950 initiated a period of military success for UN forces, which drove deep into North Korea in succeeding weeks until "volunteers" from the People's Republic of China intervened in massive numbers in October and November. The Communists then inflicted heavy losses on UN troops and forced them back into the southern part of the peninsula. Although lines became more or less stabilized by the spring of 1951, generally along the 38th parallel, the fighting continued for another two years. Marshall backed the U.S.-UN limited war objectives to return Korean boundaries to prewar lines, achieve an armistice, and then work for a diplomatic solution.

This approach precipitated the most serious controversy during Marshall's year in the Pentagon. General MacArthur, UN Supreme Commander in Korea, advocated a ground offensive all the way to the Chinese-North Korean border at the Yalu River and the bombing of bridges and supply routes between China and North Korea. Rejecting the concept of limited war, MacArthur believed in fighting for complete victory, even if it meant a major conflict with China and perhaps the Soviet Union. In spite of presidential and DoD directives to refrain, General MacArthur persisted in expressing personal views contradicting official policy. In a 20 March 1951 letter to Joseph W. Martin, House Republican minority leader, MacArthur directly challenged the president's policy, and a few days later, undercutting a UN plan for an armistice and negotiations, he publicly offered to confer personally with the enemy commander to discuss surrender terms.

On 10 April 1951 President Truman relieved MacArthur of his commands in the Far East. Marshall and the JCS, with whom Truman conferred, agreed with the president's decision. In congressional hearings during May 1951 Marshall testified for seven days. MacArthur's removal, he stated, stemmed from "the wholly unprecedented position of a local theater commander publicly expressing his displeasure at and his disagreement with the foreign and military policy of the United States." Some MacArthur supporters and Truman political opponents bitterly criticized Marshall for his role in these events. In June 1951 Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, who had earlier accused the Truman administration of harboring Communists, spoke for three hours in the Senate; he released a 60,000-word document reviewing Marshall's career since 1939 and charging him with leading a conspiracy to sacrifice the United States to the intrigues of the Soviet Union.

In fact, of course, Marshall devoted himself to improving the defenses of the United States and its allies. He placed great emphasis on collective security, particularly strengthening NATO by deploying more U.S. military forces to Europe. He testified at length in favor of the Mutual Security Act of 1951, which consolidated existing foreign aid programs within the framework of one law. This law gave the Department of Defense responsibility for the administration of military assistance to NATO and other nations under the umbrella of the Mutual Security Agency. In Marshall's last month as secretary of defense, the United States concluded three important security treaties: with the Philippines on 30 August 1951, with Australia and New Zealand on 1 September 1951 (the ANZUS Pact), and with Japan on 8 September 1951. This last pact coincided with the signing of a peace treaty between Japan and 48 other nations, marking the official end of the Pacific phase of World War II. In playing a role in the formulation of these treaties, Marshall added to his pioneer work in promoting collective security during his term as secretary of state between 1947 and 1949.

General Marshall informed President Truman when he became secretary of defense that he probably would serve only one year. He accepted the position because of the Korean emergency and the need to restore prestige to the office. Leaving the Pentagon on 12 September 1951, he retired to his country home in Leesburg, Virginia. In December 1953 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the development of the Marshall Plan and his other contributions to international peace ansd understanding. General Marshall died at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington on 16 October 1959 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Although sometimes controversial and subject to political attack in the later years of his public service, Marshall has been recognized as an effective and influential secretary of defense and indeed as one of the most distinguished leaders of the United States in the twentieth century.