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Editorial Note on the Essay “Profiting By War Experiences”
Summer or Fall 1920 (?)
Sometime during 1920, Marshall wrote a brief essay entitled "Profiting By War Experiences" for the Infantry Journal 18 (January 1921): 34-37. He worried that the typical A.E.F. officer’s brief, frenetic, and narrowly circumscribed service might encourage such men to draw dangerously erroneous lessons. Conditions on the battle front changed dramatically between the spring and the autumn of 1918, he noted; moreover, the special conditions which existed in different sectors of the front necessitated careful study before presuming to deduce general conclusions regarding tactics and organization.
Infantry officers, Marshall observed, seldom understood the role of machine guns and field artillery, and frequently misused them. The too frequent breakdown of communications between units at the front and their various headquarters bothered him. “Our troops suffered much from the delays involved in preparing long and complicated orders, due to the failure of the Staff concerned to recognize that speed was more important than technique.”
Marshall reminded officers who participated only in the later phases of the war that tactical mistakes of little consequence then would have proved disastrous if made when the German Army’s morale was high, its reserves were adequate, and its troops were on the offensive. “What we actually accomplished was a military miracle, but we must not forget that its conception was based on a knowledge of the approaching deterioration of the German army, and its lessons must be studied accordingly. We remain without modern experience in the first phases of a war and must draw our conclusions from history.”
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 205.