George C Marshall

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US Army Chief of Staff (1939-1945)

Ist General of the US Army Chief of Staff(1944)

US Secretary of State (1947-1949)

US Secretary of Defense (1950-1951)

Awards : Nobel Peace Price (1953)

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One of the greatest army commanders of the 20th century was General George C. Marshall of the United States. He finished first in his class at the Army School of the Line, in 1907, and repeated his success a year later by graduating first from the newly established Staff College Course.

Over the next 45 years, General Marshall established a reputation worldwide as a soldier, scholar, diplomat and humanitarian, winning the Nobel Peace Prize along the way in 1953 for his proposal and stewardship of a 4-year initiative, in the form of economic aid for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Europe after World War II. The aid program came to be known as the ‘The Marshall Plan”.

The main goal of the initiative, which went operational in 1948, was to ensure that the western-style economies of the major European nations, including the erstwhile enemies, Germany and Italy, bounced back as quickly as possible and prevented the spread of Soviet Communism westward through the continent.

In total, in 4 years beginning 1948, American tax-payers pumped around $13 billion into the European economy. That was a lot of cash those days, considering that the US’s GDP was only $258 billion in 1948. The plan worked and within just over a decade, by the early 60s, Europe was back in business. Europe’s rejuvenation in turn had a direct effect on the economies of the rest of the free world, in the form of renewed trade and investment.

The Marshall Plan still stands as the single most successfully administered aid program ever. The world has never again seen one single country give away 5% of its GDP in aid to a whole region, transforming a devastated moonscape called Europe into a thriving economic juggernaut. For Marshall, they should have named it the Nobel Peace and Prosperity Prize.

Therefore, while it is common these days to curse the US for global economic meltdowns, it pays to not forget the great amount of good that the US did in the past, to stabilize the world’s financial markets and help individual nations achieve their potential, after the horrific destruction from a war that America did not provoke.

When President Franklin Roosevelt made him Chief of Staff in 1939, General Marshall inherited a dysfunctional War Department with aging senior officers, power bases and fiefdoms and a poorly equipped army of 189,000 men. This he single-mindedly transformed into the world’s largest fighting force almost overnight, so that by 1942, when it entered the war, the US had over 2 million fighting men in its ranks.

Defense production was not far behind. Marshall’s hand-picked aides threatened and cajoled America’s large aviation and auto industries into gearing up for massive armament manufacture. By the time the guns fell silent in 1945, America had made 350,000 aircraft, 141 aircraft carriers, 350 destroyers and 203 submarines and carried 34 million tons of equipment, armaments, fuel and provisions across the Pacific and the Atlantic.

At the head of that juggernaut stood one man, George C. Marshall, a great motivator and communicator and above all a fantastic judge of people.

As soon as he took over as Army Chief, he hand-picked a team of brilliant fighting men. Among them were Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Mark Clark and George S. Patton, men who later went on to become the architects of the victory for the Allies. Marshall exuded authority and he made certain things very clear to his team – First, he would leave them to do their jobs as long as they followed his general guidelines and specific goals. Second, there was to be a concerted effort to reduce waste at all levels.

On the subject of his constant stress on waste management and personal integrity, here is an anecdote I found in a back issue of Time Magazine….

The Military Director of the Manhattan Project (the push to build the first atomic bomb), General Leslie Groves once went to General Marshall for his signature on a $100 million appropriation request. Marshall was engrossed in reading notes that had been left for his study and as Groves waited, the Army Chief picked up his pen and put his signature on a cheque that was lying inside a folder. Having done that, Marshall looked up, held his hand out, took the paper from Groves and scribbled his signature on it, all without a word.

As Groves turned around and started to leave, he heard Marshall’s gruff voice finally speak, “It might interest you to know what I was doing…. I was writing out a cheque for $3.52 for grass seed for my lawn.”