We Have Seized the Initiative


By GENERAL GEORGE C. MARSHALL, Chief of Staff of the United States Army

Delivered before Conference of Governors, Columbus, Ohio, June 21, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 659-661.

IT has seemed advisable as the war develops that public statements by the Chief of Staff of the Army should be restricted to a few special occasions. A conference of the Governors, the leaders of the various States, is such an occasion. Furthermore, this is a most critical summer both for us and in the history of the world. We have passed through the period of military adolescence, our initial deploy-

ments have been completed and lines of communications solidly established. Quantity production of both men and materiel, the former in as exact a pattern as the latter, is now in full blast, the enemy's initial advantage in men and guns, and in ships and planes, has been overcome. We have seized the initiative, the most vital factor in war.

The past two years of preparation have been a tryingperiod, especially the prolonged strain of German and Japanese successes during which we struggled to meet the surge of power which they had carefully accumulated during the past decade. The change in the attitude of the public essential to the furtherance of the necessary legislation and appropriations presented many complications. The establishment of our industries on a full war basis had its multiplicity of troubles, and the building of the full war military machine entailed a stupendous task of a wide variety of problems, invariably arousing pronounced individual reactions of our people.

Today we stand squarely on our feet in all these respects. Initial strategic problems involving hectic application of piecemeal tactical actions—anathema to a soldier—are things of the past.

Furthermore, and probably most important of all, we have secured a basis for unity of action as to strategy, operations, shipping, materiel, and virtually every phase of this warfare, in a manner without precedent in history.

The pattern for victory is clear. If we had set the stage we could not have provided a more sharply defined picture than that offered by the battle of Tunisia. There we had:

A perfect example of coordinated leadership for Allied action.

An assemblage of overwhelming military power, air, land and sea.

The explosive effect of the skillful application of that power.

Incidentally, the psychological by-products of that battle are proving of immense importance. There has been a rebirth of the French Army with a splendid example of courageous and aggressive fighting power. The observing nations have seen selected German troops humbled by an extension and improvement of the technique that brought about the downfall of France. The Allies have gained great confidence in each other, and in the Allied fighting men, and the scales have so tipped that those nations who have been maneuvering merely to be on the winning side can no longer escape the conclusion that there is no victory in prospect for Germany. The superman has had his day. The democracies have called his bluff.

Tunisia gave us an invaluable pattern for the future. But the tasks will be increasingly difficult, usually with the great hazard of an overwater approach and a heavy battle to be maintained beyond the beaches. The way will be far from easy, the losses heavy, but the victory certain.

The recent battle in Attu has special significance. There we encountered probably the most difficult of fighting conditions. An amphibious operation in uncharted waters over a stormy sea, deep snow and high mountains, with a complete absence of roads and trails; an enemy dug in with complete cover and communications and our own troops transferred through necessity directly from the pleasant climate of California to a battle with the elements over extremely difficult terrain, against a desperate enemy. It was a severe test of the American soldier, but today we hold Attu, with more than 1900 Japanese graves as a memento of their previous occupation. More than three Japs were killed for each American soldier lost.

The fighting in the tropics of the South and Southwest Pacific has also presented great difficulties of climate and terrain. It has been vicious throughout but we have been successful in each operation since the initial offensive move into the Solomons.

One of our great puzzles is how the Japanese can stand the beating they are taking in the air—no other word adequately describes the situation in this respect. Judgingfrom our own reactions, particularly those of the press when we have a moderately heavy loss in planes, it is hard to visualize the state of mind of the Japanese command when their ordinary air losses run from 30 per cent to 75 per cent, with very moderate losses on the part of the American pilots. In the recent air battle in the Solomons we destroyed 94 out of 120 planes and lost but 6. Furthermore, the Japanese suffer continuous losses of planes on the ground. We find the usual average is one destroyed on the ground for every one lost in the air, and in addition probably a training or operational loss outside of combat at the same rate. Evidently our equipment is excellent, and our pilots, gunners, bombardiers and navigators are superb.

The daylight precision bombing out of England has had a tremendous effect on the air operations of the German Army. The losses inflicted on German fighter planes during these daylight bombing expeditions had a direct and important bearing on the victory in Tunisia and a similar bearing on the German air power on the Russian front. The fact of the matter is, the Germans must check this precision bombing and they have assembled their best pilots in large numbers in an endeavor to halt these staggering blows at vital installations, delivered with constantly increasing frequency and mass.

Measured by the losses in planes and installations suffered by the enemy our own losses have been surprisingly small.

While on this subject I think it proper to express a word of caution against hasty conclusions or impromptu conceptions regarding the utilization of air power or any special weapon in the conduct of this war. I am convinced more and more each day that only by a proper combination of war-making means can we achieve victory in the shortest possible time and with the greatest economy in life. Pantelleria was an experiment, for which there appeared to be, and proved to be, a sound logical basis. However, the situation there was unique as to the character of the Island, the quality of the garrison, the complete naval control of the surrounding waters and the proximity of Allied airfields. The victory of Tunisia was favored by overwhelming air power, but the result would have been a stalemate without aggressive ground and naval action.

Your adversary may be hammered to his knees by bombing but he will recover unless the knockout blow is delivered by the ground Army, with infantry and artillery as important as tanks and anti-aircraft, and engineer and signal troops vital to the whole.

The encouraging aspect of the situation today is the fact that we have the men trained, the guns and tanks, the ships and planes in constantly increasing numbers; that the Russian forces grow steadily more formidable and present a constant and terrible threat to the bulk of the German Army; and that there is a steady improvement in the equipment and training of the Chinese forces to sustain them in their fixed determination to expel the Japs from China. There can be but one result unless the enemy succeeds in creating internal frictions among the Allies, divisions of one against the other and misrepresentations leading to public loss of confidence in our war effort.

We are engaged in this war to maintain the democratic form of government. We fight to destroy dictatorships, to guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Yet sometimes I am discouraged by the democratic processes in a great and critical emergency like that of today.

For example, I returned from Africa two weeks ago to find the most atrocious, if not subversive, attack being directed against an organization of the Army, one of the finest we have ever created, I refer to the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. There was no foundation for the vicious slander, though it was given wide publicity. Some seem to be intent on the suicide of our own war effort, not to mention the defamation of as fine an organization of women as I have ever seen assembled. Such a procedure to me appears inexcusable. If we can't be decent in such matters we at least should not be naive enough to destroy ourselves. I very much hope you gentlemen will take the lead in building up a public opinion which will suppress actions of individuals who abuse our liberties by propagating such outrages.

There is another phase of the present situation for which I would solicit your strong support, and that is a check against sudden waves of optimism leading the public to feel that we have made our great effort and the end is in sight. This is far from the case. We are just getting well started. The great battles lie ahead. We have yet to be proven in the agony of enduring heavy casualties, as well as the reverses which are inevitable in war. What we need now is a stoic determination to do everything in our power to overwhelm

the enemy, cost what it may, to reduce him to a supplicant under the impact of aroused and determined democracies.

The failure today to surge forward with every ounce of power and effort we possess would be to write a tragic page for history. The temptation to ease up after initial and relatively minor successes seems difficult to resist. The Axis nations probably count on this as a weak element of Allied psychology. Their opinion has been contemptuous of our soft way of living, of our toughness and our military stamina. The most forbidding prospect with which we can now confront the enemy is the continuation in full measure of methodical, ruthless preparations to overwhelm them in the same manner that the Army of von Arnim was eliminated in Tunisia. The Allies have unified their military effort. We must all do the same at home.

Two things we must guard against:

There must be no divisions among the Allies. There must be no let-up in our preparations.