- The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, volume 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945–January 7, 1947
Volume 5 of the Marshall Papers possesses the same laudable features as its predecessors: selections from a variety of sources; meticulous attention to detail; and numerous helpful aids, including a chronology and excellent illustrations. This volume consists of 508 documents and covers the years 1945-46, and editors Bland and Ritenour Stevens have divided it logically by year into two periods. During 1945, Army Chief of Staff Marshall's primary concerns were the final stages of World War II and preparing the Army (and the defense establishment) for the postwar era. The day after he retired on 26 November, President Truman asked him to serve in a new and quite different capacity, as an emissary to China to try and resolve the factional conflict in that troubled country. Despite Marshall's valiant effort, by the end of 1946, his China mission had failed, and the Nationalist-Communist civil war finally ended in a Chinese communist victory in 1949.
Marshall's activities in 1945 were much more upbeat, and his correspondence reflects his optimistic outlooks. To be sure, he was genuinely anxious about the redeployment of troops in the Pacific; the timely discharge of other soldiers returning from Europe; and remembering America's military weakness in 1939, the need for a strong defense to help keep the peace after the war was over. But he also took time to write the bereaved parents as well as family and friends and to spell out his vision for the future in speeches to such disparate groups as the Academy of Political Science, Maryland Historical Society, Salvation Army, and the Women's Conference on Universal Military Training (which he favored). Moreover, in spite of Marshall's admission [End Page 275] to Admiral Harold Stark in September 1945 that "I have never been busier," (p. 318), he still made clear how much he looked forward to retiring with his wife, Katherine, to their Leesburg, Virginia, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, homes.
Any time for leisure, however, was not to be. In the 1946 portion of Marshall's papers, the editors skillfully weave together the various strands that made up his China mission. Since we know the outcome, the China sections make for depressing reading, and Marshall himself realized from the beginning that his "chances of success were slim" (p. 398). Yet, he did everything in his power to persuade especially the Communist foreign minister, Chou En-lai, and the Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, to have their forces stop fighting and to agree to a democratic government and a unified army. Even though Marshall ultimately failed in his creative attempts to reconcile the two parties, he amply demonstrated the qualities of perseverance, determination, and diplomatic skill that made him such a great leader. These characteristics also stood him in good stead for his next assignment as secretary of state.
Rounding out the volume are an appendix giving the names of War Department officials and theater commanders during this time, beneficial maps and organizational charts, a glossary, and a list of Chinese names and places rendered in both Wade-Giles and pinyin spellings. The longtime editors have maintained the high standards of previous volumes, and readers and researchers can look forward to the next installment.