Best Defense

George C. Marshall to George F. Kennan on executing a major policy: ‘Avoid trivia’

I recently drove down to the terrific George C. Marshall Library in beautiful Lexington, Virginia, to do a final couple of days of research there. (Btw, eat at the Red Hen, downtown.) While I was going through folders (notes to Patton, even Marshall’s desk litter, including his income tax statement), one of the researchers there ...

I recently drove down to the terrific George C. Marshall Library in beautiful Lexington, Virginia, to do a final couple of days of research there. (Btw, eat at the Red Hen, downtown.) While I was going through folders (notes to Patton, even Marshall’s desk litter, including his income tax statement), one of the researchers there showed me the transcript of an interview done with George F. Kennan in February 1953 about the making of the Marshall Plan, perhaps the most important foreign-policy action of the United States in the 20th century.

Marshall, not long after returning from Paris, called Kennan into his office. “After discussing the problem on which we were to work he said that he had only one piece of advice to give: ‘Avoid trivia.’ That was a nice laconic piece of advice, wasn’t it?”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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