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Memorandum for General De Witt1
August 4, 1939 Washington, D.C.
I apologize for sending you this heavy bundle of papers, but I would appreciate very much your scanning them and letting me have a very informal opinion—as early as practicable.
The thought occurred to me, when reading previous proposals for a National Defense College, General Pershing’s comments, etc. that a very practical solution might possibly be found by having a series of special lectures and conferences conducted at the War College, as part of the regular course, but so scheduled and arranged that specific personnel from other Departments of the Government would attend—and participate. This, off hand, would seem to have the advantage of not involving undue overhead, and of providing a course under conditions which would permit important officials to attend without undue loss of time, and would bring into the atmosphere of the War College under officials of the Government—to the advantage of the Army and planning of national defense.2
To expand on my idea a little bit: Suppose we assume that ten lectures of an hour each, followed by half of hour conference-discussion, were spaced one a week throughout a certain period of the course; suppose that conference groups were formed following this for special local discussion and report—this not requiring more than half a day’s presence by the non-military personnel attending—the Military and Naval members contributing more of the spade work than the other parties. Suppose the reports of these conference groups were made on the basis of an hour’s lecture and a thirty minutes’ discussion. Such an arrangement would permit a highly informative course for civil officials, with a minimum of time obligated. The War College student would enter this somewhat in the role of a veteran, which would have an impressive effect on the civilian. I am supposing that the Naval phases of this are introduced, in Washington, for greater convenience than at Newport,3 and at the War College for the same reason.
Now I know you will be shocked at the very thought of such an injection into your present course. And maybe you are entirely right. However, we should be prepared, with the proper logic and background, for a choice between a new time, personnel, and money consuming set-up, or of some thing integrated into our existing machinery—which means a certain amount of compromise.
It seems to me at the moment, that such an idea as I have hurriedly sketched, might be tremendously beneficial from the point of view of bringing into intimate contact with the War College prominent officials of the State and other Departments, and certainly engendering in them a feeling of more respect for that institution.4
[P.S.] This is a first dictation of an idea, without time for much thinking. Please accept it as such.
—G. C. M.
Document Copy Text Source: Army War College Papers, United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. Major General John L. De Witt had been commandant of the Army War College since July 1937.
2. In 1934 the War Plans Division disapproved a proposal for a defense college on several grounds: they opposed greater civilian participation, with the exception of the State Department, in defense planning; they found the plan inoperable because only the State Department had a permanent, professional bureaucracy; and they feared that such a college would become a “super-joint-planning committee.” Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur took no action at that time. (Captain Carter B. Magruder, “Digest—National Defense College,” undated memo, USAMHI/Army War College Papers.)
In March 1939 Assistant Secretary of War Louis Johnson wrote President Roosevelt to urge the creation of a national defense college to study national strategy and the political, economic and social problems of mobilization and war. Johnson wanted experts from each of the major executive departments to form a student body of twenty-five to thirty, unifying the planning and research functions of the executive branch. France, Germany, and Great Britain already had such colleges. (Johnson Memorandum for the President, March 8, 1939, ibid.)
On June 15 Brigadier General Edwin M. Watson, one of the president’s secretaries, sent Johnson’s proposal to Marshall and asked him to “give the President your views.” In response, the War Plans Division reiterated his 1934 conclusions against such a college, adding that the college provided no curriculum advantages over the existing army and navy war colleges. (Watson Memorandum for General George C. Marshall, July 15, 1939; Magruder, “Digest—National Defense College,” ibid.)
3. Newport, Rhode Island, is the site of the Naval War College.
4. De Witt replied that he favored Marshall’s idea, but he thought experience had demonstrated that participation by other executive departments would be “casual and superficial.” Assigning a few State Department and Commerce Department men as full-time students at the War College would be more beneficial than, as in the past, merely having them attend a few lectures and conferences. However, if certain lectures were to be added, “it would not be necessary to revise our program.” He also agreed with War Plans Division that the planning function should be centralized in the Joint Board. (De Witt Memorandum for General Marshall, August 8, 1939, ibid.)
Marshall wrote to General Watson that he agreed with De Witt and proposed the expansion of the existing Army War College, without duplication of effort. Because of the European situation, which necessitated the expansion of the army and the closing of the service schools to provide more officers, it was impossible to take immediate action on a national defense college. (Memorandum for General Watson, October 19, 1939, FDRL/F. D. Roosevelt Papers [OF 335, National Defense].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 28-30.