Study Guide

General of the Army

by Ed Cray

General of the Army Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

General George C. Marshall emerges in Ed Cray’s biography as a leader and statesman whose influence on the course of history ranks him among the most important figures of his time. The biography chronicles a career of more than fifty years that built upon strengths of character and experience and left Marshall with a reputation for integrity and achievement that few world leaders have equaled. As Chief of Staff of the United States Army during World War II and as a cabinet member under President Harry S Truman, first as secretary of state and then as secretary of defense, Marshall helped direct American war strategy, postwar defense, and foreign policy. His career was crowned in 1953 with the Nobel Peace Prize, an award rarely accorded a professional soldier.

Cray’s biography appropriately centers on Marshall’s military career, with more than half the text devoted to his leadership during World War II as Chief of Staff of the United States Army (1939-1945). This proportion is similar to that of Forrest C. Pogue’s standard four-volume biographyGeorge C Marshall (1963-1987), a text of more than two thousand pages, half of it concerning the years 1939 to 1945. In dealing with Marshall’s early life, Cray focuses on the experiences and traits that contributed to his development as a soldier. Cray gives relatively little attention to Marshall’s personal life or experience and deals only briefly with his contributions as a statesman.

The personal experiences seem bland enough; one paradox of Marshall’s life was his lack of promise as a youth. In his boyhood home of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, he received the support of a doting mother and felt the sometimes severe discipline of a stern father. Given to boyhood pranks, he was an indifferent student in the Union-town public schools. When he overheard his older brother Stuart pleading with his mother not to send him to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on the grounds that the lanky youth would become an embarrassment to the family, George resolved to succeed and, after entering VMI, showed promise as a cadet and athlete, though no strong academic potential. At VMI, his oldfashioned virtues of integrity, patriotism, duty, hard work, and self-sacrifice began to appear. Commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in 1902, he was assigned to a series of remote outposts where he demonstrated to his superiors an ability to accomplish challenging tasks requiring attention to detail and often involving personal hardship.

During World War I, Marshall was sent to France as staff officer in the First American Division. His gifts for detail, planning, and logistics became apparent after initial engagements, and he was transferred to General John I Pershing’s staff Given weighty responsibilities, he planned the complicated American troop and supply movements for the Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918 50 successfully that he gained Pershing’s lasting confidence and his support during the interval between the world wars at a time when military promotions were scarce. Even with the support of Pershing, Marshall, a major at the end of the war, would wait until 1938 before becoming a brigadier general. His assignments between the wars were quite varied and often routine. As head of the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, however, he had the opportunity to study the latest developments in military strategy and to come into contact with the army’s most gifted young officers. From the classes there, he was able to select some of the most able American commanders of World War II.

At the age of fifty-nine, when most military men are retired and the others at least contemplating retirement, Marshall became Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and his career began to gather momentum. Immediately, he had to represent the army before Congress to plead for allocations to build the army and air forces in response to the threats posed by Fascism and Japanese militarism. In a time of strong crosscurrents in American opinion about war, he succeeded in securing from a reluctant Congress the funds to place American industry on a war footing and to begin building the armed forces toward levels that he had deemed necessary. In his former years, political considerations had little place; though nominally a Democrat, he remained essentially nonpartisan and was firmly committed to civilian authority over the military. As chief of staff though, he had to become an effective military spokesman to Congress and the national administration. Before congressional committees, he acquired a reputation as a man of truth, reliability, and integrity. When his temper was aroused, he was capable of speaking harshly with superiors. Once a decision had been made, however, all knew that he would abide by it without complaining to the press when he disagreed. He enhanced his chances...

(The entire section is 1975 words.)