As we mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, one of history’s greatest and most tragic ironies deserves mentioning: the fact that George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, secretary of State and Defense, father of the Marshall Plan and a Nobel Laureate, is not widely acknowledged as one who stands alongside Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as one of this nation’s indispensable Americans.
Marshall is rightfully regarded as the architect of Allied victory. He strenuously lobbied for combined Allied leadership in both the European and Asian theaters — something the British initially staunchly opposed. He also remained the most unwavering proponent of the invasion of France, which played the critical role in securing victory over Germany. D-Day would not have been possible without his iron will and concentrated strategic vision.
The British, with vivid memories of the bloody Battle of the Somme in World War I, would have been happy bleeding the Germans in countless amphibious landings in southern Europe, which Churchill erroneously perceived as Germany’s soft underbelly. Marshall knew better. Democratic peoples lose interest in protracted wars. He knew that the fight would have to be taken to the plains of northern Europe where America’s industrial might, expressed in armor and air power, offered the best prospect for ending the war as quickly as possible.
Marshall was also one of the most selfless American statesman who ever lived. His command of the D-Day landings was his for the asking. But in keeping with his deep for respect democratic values and civilian control of the military, he left this decision to President Roosevelt, who desperately wanted to keep Gen. Marshall in Washington to serve as Army chief of staff. For that reason, Marshall remains a relatively obscure American historical figure — one of the greatest tragedies of American history.
Today is George Marshall’s day, his legacy — 70 years of freedom and democracy in western Europe. He deserves a monument every bit as conspicuous as Washington’s, Jefferson’s and Roosevelt’s.
So, as we commemorate all the soldiers who bore the burden of ridding western Europe of one of the greatest tyrannies in human history, let’s not forget the greatest soldier of them all: George Catlett Marshall.