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George Catlett Marshall

(1880—1959) American general and statesman


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(1880–1959)

US general, administrator, and diplomat, who organized the massive expansion in US armed forces during World War II and implemented the programme of economic aid to postwar Europe known as the ‘Marshall Plan’. He was awarded the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.

Graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 1901, Marshall joined the infantry as a second-lieutenant. He served in the Philippines (1902–03) and in World War I was chief of operations of the US 1st Army, then chief of staff of the 8th Army Corps. After serving as aide to General Pershing (1919–24), and a posting to China with the 15th Infantry, in 1927 Marshall started a six-year spell as assistant commander of instruction at Fort Benning infantry school. On the outbreak of World War II in Europe, he was appointed army chief of staff, responsible for building an army of less than 200 000 men into the formidable fighting force that joined the Allies after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

With his effective political lobbying, Marshall won government approval for his ambitious plans and in 1942 entirely regrouped the US army command structures into ground, air, and supply forces. Appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, he was thus in close contact with the president, accompanying Roosevelt to all the major Allied conferences and winning great respect for his immense ability and self-effacing manner. Instead of commanding the Allied invasion of Europe, as many had anticipated, Marshall stayed on in Washington as top presidential adviser. In December 1944 he was promoted to five-star general.

After the war, Truman appointed him special ambassador to China in a vain attempt to mediate in the civil war. Appointed secretary of state in 1947, Marshall instituted a programme of emergency economic aid to European countries, which played a crucial role in helping them to reconstruct their shattered economies. However, his period as defence secretary (1950–51) was marred by unfounded attacks on Marshall by the bête noir of postwar US politics, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Subjects: History — Warfare and Defence.


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