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Winston Churchill called George Marshall the organizer of victory in World War II. President Harry Truman said George Marshall made the greatest contribution to the country over the preceding thirty years. Yet we rarely hear or read much about him. “George Marshall: A Biography” was begun some years ago by the historian Stanly Hirshson. After his death in 2003, Debi and Irwin Unger took up the project. The book is based mainly on previously published sources and says relatively little about Marshall’s personal life and the book breaks no new ground. Marshall presented a difficult problem for biographers. Marshall did not write his memories nor did he leave a trail of revealing letters or diaries.
George Marshall was a descendant of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. George Marshall was born in Pennsylvania in 1880. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. He was posted to the Philippines, and then when reassigned to the States he worked at the Infantry and Calvary School at Fort Leavenworth Kansas. In World War I Marshall served as an aid to General John Pershing, planning battles and trying with Pershing to make the case for universal military training. George Marshall was Army Chief of Staff during World War II, transforming a week military to the world’s strongest. The Unger’s reveal how he turned what was an Army of 200,000 ill-trained, ill equipped men in 1939 into one of 8.5 million six years later. It was a huge bureaucratic task and it was done while identifying and elevating men like Eisenhower, Patton, Clark and Bradley through the ranks, dealing with Congress and the British, and not least, strategizing about how to defeat the Japanese and Nazi simultaneously. The authors write that Marshall’s management process was to identify talented men in the War Department and empower them. In other words he was an excellent delegator. Marshall appointed Eisenhower to preside over the Allies and to command D-Day. Marshall was Secretary of State (1947-1949) and fought to sway the acceptance of the Marshall Plan and fought with Congress to enact it. Marshall promoted and encouraged the careers at State of George Kennan and Dean Acheson. Marshall acted brilliantly as Secretary of State and Ambassador to China. He was Secretary of Defense in 1950 and retired to private life in 1951. Marshall won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 the same year Churchill won it for Literature.
The book is not a balanced account. The unexceptional portrait that emerges from the pages of the book consistently under rates or misrepresent Marshall’s motives and the challenges he had to overcome. The Unger strike a revisionist view of Marshall. The Unger’s persistently seem to be looking for any negative flaw in Marshall and if they could not find one, they overlooked or misrepresented Marshal’s motivation and actions to undermine him. Marshall’s integrity outweighed even his military, strategic and diplomatic skill but the authors overlooked this. Forrest C. Pogue’s biography in 1963 and Ed Cray’s “General of the Army” 1990 remain the standard account of Marshall.
What I look for in a biography is a balanced, unbiased reporting of the facts; I except the author to have done due diligence in researching for documentation and to gather verify information from more than one source before reporting it as a fact in the book. I cannot recommend this book unless one already has studied World War Two and the post war period and has a firm understanding of the history of the period and the role Marshall played. Johnny Heller narrated the book.
27 of 27 people found this review helpful
George Marshall, as Chief Of Staff of the US Army during World War 2, was central to the planning, coordination and scheduling of the activities of not only the US military but also, in coordination with the British General Staff, to that of the British and, having read a great deal on the war, I was interested in knowing more about both him and his actions prior to, during and after the war. In particular I was interested in knowing how he, a relatively little known officer in the early 1930s, came to be picked as Army Chief Of Staff over his colleagues, more information about his reputed “little black book” listing the names of those officers he thought both competent and incompetent, his relationship with the British Army General Staff and the Russian political leadership and his actions as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense after the war. Having read a great deal on the war itself I was familiar with most of his actions during the war and was thus more interested in the periods immediately preceding and following the war.
General Marshall’s life and early military career are covered, although not in much detail. Marshall’s life was full considering his rise through the military, his actions to prepare the US for the war, his actives during the war and his public life after the war and this book, at only 15 1/2 hours, is really too short to give much detail. Eisenhower’s recent biography is more than 28 hours, McArthur’s more than 31 hours, William Manchester’s 3 volume Churchill biography is more than 130 hours and FDR’s is more than 32 hours. By comparison this is a short biography and so can not cover much in detail.
In particular I was disappointed in the book's coverage of the period prior to US entry into the war since it did not go into much detail and I did not get most of my questions answered. The book is more complete in its coverage of General Marshall’s actions during the war and very informative about his actions as Secretary of State and of Defense and gives a great deal of information on his thoughts and actions during the Berlin Airlift, the declaration of independence of Israel, the start of the Korean War and other important events.
Although some of the details in the book are inaccurate or, at least, misleading (General McArthur was ordered out of the Philippines by the President, he did not “abandon” his men, Hitler had no treaty obligation to declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor and I have never seen any other author speak of the French Foreign Legion soldiers as being 2nd or 3rd class troops. John Keegan, in his book on World War 2, refers to them as some of the few first class troops in the Western armies.) I generally found the book to be interesting, if a bit short of detail. Some parts, like the discussions of his family and life long friends, were reasonably complete. Other parts, like his rise through the officer ranks, his interactions with those he later appointed to high position and why he rose in rank so quickly in the late 1930s left a great deal to be desired.
So, in general, I found the coverage of the book to be spotty. Marshall’s early Army life is not covered in much detail, there is a great deal of detail about his participation in World War 2, but that coverage is mostly duplicated in any book covering US participation in the war and his time serving as Secretary of State and, later, of Defense, covers his participation in highly public events and was very informative. Johnny Heller’s narration is adequate although his gravelly voice is, at times, a bit annoying. On the whole 3.5 stars.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful