Study Guide

George C. Marshall in The Marshall Plan

By George C. Marshall

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George C. Marshall

George C. Marshall is the kind of person who seems to exist solely to make you feel bad about what you've done with your life. He spent the bulk of his life in the Army, going all the way up the ladder, and instead of retiring, went on to other parts of public service. Then, just to prove that he could, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

What have you done today? Watched Jessica Jones in your sweat pants? Yeah. We thought so...because that's exactly what we've been doing.

George Marshall: The Origin Story

Marshall's father sold coal, because no part of Marshall's backstory didn't come right out of a Disney movie. He was, by all accounts, not the greatest student in the world, but he started shaping up about the time he entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1897. (Source)

He graduated in 1901, and passed the test to become a Second Lieutenant, which he got in February of the following year. Marshall served in the Philippines for eighteen months, before coming back and attending the Army Staff College, which he graduated in 1908. At this point, he was already considered to be pretty cool, but he was still awesome-ing at about 40% of his power. (Source)

World War I

Marshall never commanded troops in battle, which is a little weird to say about a military officer that's pretty much universally admired. He spent World War I, which was kind of like the gritty early garage band LP to World War II's slick studio release, as an aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing. Pershing was the guy in charge of the Army at the time. Like, the whole Army.

That's the thing about Marshall: you don't have to command troops in battle to be a good officer. The Army is a big organization, and making sure everyone has what they need can be just as important.

World War II

By the time the bigger sequel rolled around, Marshall had risen in the ranks. President Roosevelt made him the Chief of Staff of the Army. Yes, the entire Army. This is the guy in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The buck stops with him. He's the Army Man. And for World War II, the largest conflict in human history, that man was General George C. Marshall.

Impressed yet?

Well, he took what at that time was a poorly and primitively equipped Army and helped turn it into the technological juggernaut the United States is known for. (Source)

Marshall was a forward thinking kind of guy even then. He thought we should be ready for a fight even before Pearl Harbor and, what do you know, he was right on the money. (Source)

Diplomacy Days

After the war, which he helped win, he resigned from the Army and turned himself into a diplomat. Wouldn't you know it; he was good at that too. He was special ambassador to China, then Secretary of State, then president of the Red Cross, then Secretary of Defense (during the Korean War no less). (Source)

Marshall's first post as special ambassador to China was at the request of President Truman, who wanted him to head off a civil war over there between the western-friendly Kuomintang government and the communists. He failed there, but still got the job as Secretary of State mostly because no one else could have done better. Not everyone agreed: the infamous red-baiter, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, went after Marshall for this failure. (Source)

Everyone's (got) a critic.

The Man with the Plan

Marshall's career hit its apex with the plan that was named for him. While the U.S. and Britain had won the war, it was looking like they were losing the peace, specifically against former ally, the Soviet Union. The USSR was always the most uneasy of the allies and was looking at the postwar situation as a good time to spread some communism. And communism is most appealing when no one has anything.

Marshall, along with the State Department, thought that the best plan would be to prop up the governments of Europe with money and food. This included allies and former enemies. Also, you might have noticed that this amounts to socialism. Yep, Marshall's plan to fight communism was socialism. All the socialism.

The crazy thing was that it worked. There's some revisionist thinking now that says it might not have, but the facts aren't debatable. Before the plan, Europe was stagnating. After the plan, it was better off than it had been even before the war started. So it either worked or was a massive coincidence.

In any case, he got a Nobel Peace Prize for it. (Source)

He also got a scholarship named after him. In 1953, the United Kingdom put together a scholarship intended as a gift to the USA for all the help, and named it after the guy proposing the helping. Yeah, Marshall was that popular. (Source)

Dignified to the End

Marshall's first wife died in 1927 after a surgery, and he remarried three years later. His new bride was a widow with three children of her own, who became his step-kids. These were actually the only kids Marshall ever had. This probably won't surprise you, but of the three, the two boys later served in the military.

Marshall retired in 1951. Really, there was nothing else for the man to do. After you've run a world war and then fixed Europe, you've pretty much done all there is. But come on, this is Marshall. He still served as the Chairman of the American Battle Monuments until his death.

Marshall died in 1959 at the age of seventy-eight, pretty much universally admired. Truman said that Marshall had the most effect on the last thirty years than any other man in existence. That's high praise from a president—after all, it's the presidents that are supposed to win the Most Influential Over Time prize.

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