Marshall and The Great War

Welcome to the first of what will be a regular series of blogs from the GCMF.  These blogs will pertain to General Marshall, his life, times and legacy and the vitally important role of the foundation in ensuring that those considerations find expression both today and tomorrow.

Pershing and MarshallHere at the Marshall Foundation we are preparing to host a reception for the Washington and Lee University Alumni College, a week-long exposition of the origins, course and consequences of The Great War. Although the US entry into this global conflagration did not occur until 1917, it was 1914 that saw the eruption of fighting across Europe and in the colonial outposts of the European powers. The centennial of World War I is being commemorated by a specially appointed commission which intends to mark the event in appropriate fashion across the country and in especially at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City. It was World War I that shaped the 20th century in no uncertain fashion.

These considerations rather had us thinking about the rhythms of history; how George C. Marshall undoubtedly shaped the events of the American Century and how his actions influence the world today, in the 21st century. Marshall of course was, himself, made by the formative years he spent at the Virginia Military Institute, on whose post the Marshall Foundation resides. World War I however fashioned Marshall too. His time in France saw an early example of his willingness and ability to speak “truth unto power” effectively, to General Pershing, whilst serving as the chief of operations of the 1st American Expeditionary Forces Division. Later, as a staff officer for the US First Army and then a corps chief of staff, Marshall had ample opportunity to observe what went right and what went wrong during the last, decisive, months of war and the first, tentative, months of peace. The lessons of unpreparedness, and the challenges of coalition warfare all made an impression on Marshall and all taught him lessons that would stand him in good stead some twenty years later and serve the United States, and the wider world, even better. As we work to complete Volume 7 of the Marshall papers we frequently come across wonderful insights into the man Marshall was. GCM WWI Letter  This excerpt, where Marshall speaks longingly and lovingly to his first wife, Lily Coles Marshall, noting that “I even think a mud hole would be pleasant with you in it,” was written from France and dated Nov. 18th, 1917, and is a very human comment amidst a terribly de-humanizing experience. The “Great War” of course would continue for another twelve long and bloody months.

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