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To General John J. Pershing
December 2, 1930 Fort Benning, Georgia
Your letter of Sunday, by special delivery, reached me an hour ago.1 I have just telegraphed you that I can arrive in Washington early Sunday morning, and request orders be issued. By leaving here at 7:00 AM Saturday, I can be in Washington about 9:00 o’clock, I think, on Sunday morning. I should leave Washington late Tuesday night.
As to the various points in your letter: I am sorry my criticisms did not appear constructive, as I tried to indicate in the brief time at my disposal what line it seemed to me you should take.
Taking up the comments in your letter in the order in which you make them:
(1) References to building up the American Army,—I think your presentation of this phase of the A.E.F. is excellent, except where you guessed at some hidden motive on the part of the Allies in a seemingly commendable attitude or offer of theirs. There was enough overt persistence, without referring to the hidden efforts.
(2) Condemnation of the Allies,—I tried to make clear in my hurried comments that I thought it inadvisable to make such frequent criticisms; rather to state the facts and only ever now and then indulge in a general criticism, based on the numerous facts previously presented. It is the frequent reiteration of criticisms that I think weakens the presentation.
(3) Details of Allied efforts to thwart our purpose,—I do not think you have gone too much into those details. It is only that I think you have allowed the critical tone or touch to appear too often.
(4) Armistice terms,—Without the text before me, I find it difficult to comment on this. The impression now in my mind is that you handled the Armistice terms in a satisfactory manner.
(5) Style, English, personal attitude,—I like the style of the book; it is yours. The English is also very plainly yours, and, as always, of a very high standard. Your personal attitude is what most of my comments were directed towards. You displayed marvelous restraint during the trying days in France,—more restraint, I believe, than any of your staff. You have appeared since the war as a model of restraint, the constant subject of increasingly favorable comment on this admirable attitude. The manuscript presents you in a different light, because of the frequency of criticisms of the War Department and the Allies. I do not mean that the criticisms in most instances were not deserved. But I think in most instances a statement of the facts should suffice, and your criticisms should be reserved for more general statements or summations from time to time. As to the War Department, it seems to me most of your criticisms should take the form of showing the American people the deplorable plight in which they, the people, permitted the country to find itself. Practically all of the errors grew out of this, rather than the acts of omissions of particular individuals. The War Department and army were not organized on a decentralized basis, and the former, as a result, was practically submerged in 1917 under the flood of business that poured in as a result of the centralized set up. But regardless of the efficiency or inefficiency of the main heads of the War Department, it is to be remembered that not only the permanent bureaus but the Democratic Congress violently attacked the General Staff. Chairman Hay, of the Military Committee, as I recall, led in the successful emasculation of the General Staff just prior to our entry into the war.2 This attitude, the resistance to a properly coordinated War Department in favor of the money spending bureaus, the past refusals to accumulate important war stocks—guns, ammunition, powders, electrical technical equipment, airplanes—marks in my mind the reason for most of the errors committed by individuals and is a proper subject for text for lecturing the American people.
(6) What is the book worth,—I think when you finally turn it out the book will be the most valuable historical contribution to the war from the American point of view. But I also think the standard you have set for yourself during, and particularly since the war, demands the same high standard of the book, and I have indicated where I think you have not met this requirement. In most, or at least in many cases, the omission of the last sentence of the paragraph accomplishes what I have in mind.
(7) The Meuse-Argonne,—I do not think my comments regarding the Meuse-Argonne necessarily mean a shortening of this portion of the book. There is much to be said about the battle, and there is only the question of what line you choose to take.
All of these points I can go over with you personally, but I am including them here so that you may have an opportunity to consider them before I arrive. In all of this I fully realize that I have put myself in a very difficult position, possibly a questionable position, but I am merely trying to tell you what my impressions are, and I realize that they differ very decidedly from those of many other officers of very high position. I have been both frank and honest, which is the best service I can offer you. I am not pessimistic about the book, but I devoted my attention to those phases which I think might be improved. Practically every one of position who has written about the war has lost somewhat by doing so. I do not want to see this happen to you.
G. C. Marshall, Jr.
Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, General Correspondence, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Document Format: Typed letter signed.
1. No copy of Pershing’s November 30 letter has been found in either the Pershing or the Marshall collections.
2. Congressman James Hay, a Democrat from Virginia, was chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs. He was instrumental in reducing the size and authority of the General Staff Corps between 1912 and 1916.
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), pp. 368-370.]