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    George Marshall : A Biography

    By: Debi Unger

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    A major historical biography about the man who ran the U.S. campaign during the second World War, George Marshall, that corrects and complete the picture of his life-from Pulitzer Prize winning authors Irwin and Debi Unger. We all know the generals and admirals who fought WWII. We know about Eisenhower and Patton, Bradley and Montgomery in Europe. We know about MacCarthur, Nimitz and Leahy in the Pacific. But who actually ran the war? The answer: George Marshall. This is an interpretive biography of George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945, the years encompassing World War II and the defeat of the Axis powers. Marshall also served as Secretary of State for two critical years of the emerging Cold War (1946-48), playing an important role in molding the Truman administration's response to Soviet postwar expansionism that culminated in the Marshall Plan to rescue the European democracies from the postwar economic suffering that made their people susceptible to communist takeovers. As a final chapter of his public service he briefly headed the U.S. Defense Department during the Korean War and helped Truman weather the blast of public disapproval when he fired the popular general Douglas MacArthur as commander in chief of forces in Korea. Born in Western Pennsylvania to a businessman with Virginia roots that included the eminent Chief Justice, John Marshall, George was frequently seen as an aristocratic Virginian rather than a Yankee. The misconception was reinforced by his marriage to a Virginia lady, by his military training at the Virginia Military Institute, and by his assiduous cultivation of the images and virtues of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. At every turn this persona served him well by providing an aura of gravitas and impeccable rectitude to all his efforts and decisions. His reputation even survived his failures both the real ones and his supposed ones. Marshall's progress through the officer ranks to top command was a slow one. His appointment as Chief of Staff was almost an afterthought by president Franklin Roosevelt. But the appointment occurred at a propitious time: Britain and France declared war on Germany, ushering in WW II, just days later. Marshall never served as a combat commander. During World War II his role was to build, almost from scratch, an Army of eight million men, choose their battle commanders, plot grand strategy for that Army, and negotiate the very real military differences with America's chief ally, Great Britain, over how to defeat the shared Axis enemy. His performance in each of these tasks was impressive, though imperfect. Marshall made two major contributions to Allied grand strategy. Soon after Pearl Harbor, at the first major Anglo-American planning conference, he succeeded in convincing the British to accept the idea of a unified command-transcending nationality and service branch-for each theater of operation. His second strategic success was to press successfully for a massive Anglo-American invasion of occupied France to confront and defeat the Wehrmacht directly and end the war. Though they gave lip service to Marshall's plan, Churchill and the British chief of staff, Alan Brooke, who remembered the bloodbath of World War I and had already, in 1940, experienced humiliating defeat by the German army, resisted the strategy. Instead, they endorsed attacking the Axis enemy at Europe's periphery and waiting until attrition through blockade and aerial bombing weakened it sufficiently to make a successful cross-Channel invasion likely. Churchill especially pushed a "soft underbelly" attack in the Mediterranean and in Italy as a better choice than France. In the end, of course, the Allied cross-Channel landing in Normandy, driven in part by Russian insistence on a "second front" to relieve the excruciating pressure of the 1941 German invasion, was accomplished, but Marshall, through the intercession of Roosevelt, was also compelled to yield to Churchill's Mediterranean strategy which proved costly in lives and resources relative to gains. Marshall's strategy in the Pacific and Asia was neither coherent nor successful. A single commander was never chosen for the Pacific where MacArthur and King could never be reconciled. At times the American campaign to roll back the Japanese offensive suffered. As for the China-Burma theater, he and his chief, secretary of war Henry Stimson, placed their bet on Chiang Kai-shek and his American adviser, General Joseph Stilwell to contribute substantially to the defeat of Japan. They never did. Marshall retired from the Army in November 1945 after Japan's surrender. The chief of staff had never been close to Roosevelt but FDR's successor, Harry Truman, had developed an almost mystical esteem for Marshall's objectivity and selfless dedication to achieving American victory. Almost before Marshall could catch his breath Truman sent him to China to induce Chiang's reigning Nationalists and their bitter opponents the Chinese communists to reconcile and forge a united Chinese nation. The differences proved intractable and Marshall failed. Truman did not blame him but an influential group of pro-Chiang, anti-communists loosely organized as the "China Lobby," considered Marshall too critical of the Nationalists and never forgave him for the eventual "loss of China." Marshall returned from the failed China mission in January 1947 to take on a greater task for the president: running the State Department. With the full emergence of the Cold War and the loss in the 1946 midterm elections of the Democratic majorities in Congress Truman once more called on Marshall for help. Now the new secretary would have to provide support to an internationalist foreign policy designed to "contain" Soviet expansionism against a reenergized largely Republican neo-isolationist cohort more interested in Asia than Europe. Marshall's chief contribution to Cold War foreign policy was his successful promotion of the European Recovery Program better known as the Marshall Plan. This pumped billions of American dollars into a devastated postwar Europe whose impoverished people seemed susceptible to communist temptations. Marshall was not the sole author of the Plan, however; Dean Acheson, his colleague in the State Department, and George Kennan, chief of the department's planning staff, were probably more responsible for its provisions. But Marshall's endorsement and his extraordinary lobbying efforts among businessmen, academics, and local political leaders helped get the program, deemed by most historians responsible for saving Western Europe from Soviet domination, through a reluctant, penny-pinching congress. His health deteriorating, Marshall left the State Department after two years. Truman had surprisingly been elected to a full four-year term in November 1948 with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and Marshall's bipartisan prestige was no longer needed. He served briefly as head of the American Red Cross and later as secretary of defense, at the outbreak of the Korean war. After a year as head of Defense and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, Marshall retired for good. Living quietly with his second wife at his Virginia country house in Leesburg, his health worsened. He died in October 1959 at the age of 78.

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