Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Dipping into Gen. Marshall’s final papers: A decent man, not always treated decently

The mailboat the other day brought Volume 7 of the papers of Gen. George C. Marshall.

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The mailboat the other day brought Volume 7 of the papers of Gen. George C. Marshall. I dove right in, because it is a pleasure to spend time, mentally, with Marshall. He had his faults, but he was a decent, 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. To introduce the Women’s Army Corps, which he knew had wide opposition among Southern politicians, he nominated as its leader Oveta Culp Hobby, who was married to a former Texas governor. She went on to become the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Eisenhower said she should consider running for president to succeed him.

Anyone shocked by today’s political rhetoric should be reminded of how Marshall, a true American hero, was treated by Senate Republicans in the 1950s. Today we think of him as a model of generalship — dignified, reserved, and very conscious of civilian control of the military. So it is amazing to see the right wingers pound on him when he was nominated in 1950 to be seceretary of defense, a job he most certainly had not sought and did not want. Sen. William Jenner (Reptile, Indiana) calling him “a living lie” who was “eager to play the role of front man for traitors.” Also, an “errand boy, a front man, a stooge, or a conspirator” for advancing a treasonous pro-Communist agenda.

The mailboat the other day brought Volume 7 of the papers of Gen. George C. Marshall. I dove right in, because it is a pleasure to spend time, mentally, with Marshall. He had his faults, but he was a decent, 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. To introduce the Women’s Army Corps, which he knew had wide opposition among Southern politicians, he nominated as its leader Oveta Culp Hobby, who was married to a former Texas governor. She went on to become the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Eisenhower said she should consider running for president to succeed him.

Anyone shocked by today’s political rhetoric should be reminded of how Marshall, a true American hero, was treated by Senate Republicans in the 1950s. Today we think of him as a model of generalship — dignified, reserved, and very conscious of civilian control of the military. So it is amazing to see the right wingers pound on him when he was nominated in 1950 to be seceretary of defense, a job he most certainly had not sought and did not want. Sen. William Jenner (Reptile, Indiana) calling him “a living lie” who was “eager to play the role of front man for traitors.” Also, an “errand boy, a front man, a stooge, or a conspirator” for advancing a treasonous pro-Communist agenda.

I also liked a note Marshall wrote to Winston Churchill the year before Marshall died: “I don’t know anyone with whom I had more arguments than with you, and I don’t know anyone whom I admire more.” Well said, sir.

Photo credit: Al Aumuller/World Telegram & Sun/Wikimedia Commons

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. Twitter: @tomricks1

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