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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

The Marshall Appointment

(27 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 4, 27 January 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Old Max Lerner continues to creep around intellectually, a nostalgic reminder of that nobler species, the American Liberal, most of whom died during the war, some from the patriotic fever, others from the Stalinist pestilence. Lerner was heavily wracked, but he can still tell a hawk from a handsaw when the political wind is right.

“We live in the kind of world,” he said recently, “in which the distinction between the General Staffs and the Foreign Offices has been narrowed almost to nothingness. More and more the generals and admirals, not only in America, but also in Russia and elsewhere, have come to occupy diplomatic posts and shape state policy.”

This is, of course, correct, and Lerner is here merely noting an inevitable accompaniment of the decline of capitalism.

The appointment of General Marshall as Secretary of State reflects this trend. In the context of the impending meeting of the council of foreign ministers in Moscow, the appointment signifies a stiffening in the United States’ attitude toward Russia. It follows a period in which Byrnes was frequently criticized for being too conciliatory toward her.br />  

Cold Comfort for the Kremlin

The Stalinists have been half-heartedly trying to derive comfort from the “conciliationist” role allegedly played by Marshall in China. His report, conveniently released just before his appointment so as to create a little synthetic diplomatic background for him, provides a very weak straw for the Stalinists to clutch at. A critical attitude toward the Kuomintang has been an integral part of recent U.S. policy. This was necessitated by the recognition that the reactionary character of the Chiang Kai-shek regime alienated the support of the Chinese masses from the base of U.S. influence in China, the Kuomintang. The more militant program of the Stalinists permitted them to work up extensive support from the peasants.

Actually, the Marshall report whitewashed Chiang Kai-shek, the real leader of the Kuomintang, who is hardly more seriously interested in stabilizing present relations in China than the “reactionaries” of the Kuomintang, the United States’ differences with the Kuomintang are family differences. The differences with the Stalinists are of a more serious order. Time correctly pointed out recently that “U.S. policy, unsuccessful as it had been so far, would still be geared to the legal government of China.”

Tactical support to the political strategy enunciated by Marshall will be given by military figures who more and more occupy key commands in the United States imperialist offensive: MacArthur in Japan, Clark in Austria, Clay in Germany, Smith in Moscow, Kirk in Belgium, and Holcomb in South Africa. The assistant secretary of state for occupied areas is also a soldier – Major General John H. Hilldring.

Marshall is also expected to clean house in the State Department, which has been frequently criticized recently for its lack of unity of policy, its general disorganization, and its ineptness. The State Department has to be elevated to the level of the world tasks with which it has suddenly been confronted. In 1938, the year before the war, it employed 963 persons. In 1946 this number had increased to 7,623.

Unlike the British Foreign Office, which has behind it centuries of skilled diplomatic swindling, the U.S. State Department is really only going through its apprenticeship. The United States is now confronted by a complex of economic, political, military, social, and cultural problems which cannot be solved on the former pragmatic basis. Marshall is to bring the house to order.

Not the least interesting aspect of the Marshall appointment was to reveal how much of American “representative” government is government by bureaus and by appointment. Marshall’s appointment, which had been arranged by Truman months before, was ratified by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in twelve minutes. A man whose beliefs are almost absolutely unknown to the people, not to speak of the members of the new Congress, was thereby chosen for one of the most important posts in the country. If Truman were to be carried off through the effects, say, of his well-known mental anemia this unknown would become President of the country!

Marshall represents the growing tendency toward Bonapartism in the United States, that is, rule primarily based not upon the electorate but upon the government departments and the military machine. For the time being this Bonapartism is directed externally – specifically, against Russia.

Marshall fits the Bonapartist mold well: he is “above parties” (the Republicans and the Democrats both support him) he has never even voted, and he is a soldier – a strong man.br />  

But Who Is He?

How successful Marshall will be, this man out of a world where nobody talks back, is not our problem. What actually is remarkable, however, is how little is known about the man or his thinking. Beyond such biographical trivia as that as a youth he preferred cock fighting to pumping the organ at church, that he sat on a bayonet at Virginia Military Institute, or that Truman (O.K., men, let’s stop that snickering in the ranks!) considers him a greater commander than Alexander, Genghis Khan, or Napoleon, information on him is meager.

A 1901 graduate of VMI, not of West Point, Marshall went through the normal belt-line of a regular army career. By 1918 he had become an aide to Pershing. Two decades of peace and slow preferment followed. In 1939, however, Roosevelt jumped him over thirty-four other candidates and made him Chief of Staff. He became the prototype of the politico-military mediator, of whom Eisenhower was an example and for whom Roosevelt with his skill in politics, served as mentor.

But this all hardly adds up to a suitable background for a Secretary of State. His political intervention during the war and after was always determined for him – he merely enunciated it. From this point of view he is hardly superior to former secretaries like the ailing, aged, and provincial Hull; Stettinius, the Morgan partner, a man whom even his friends didn’t consider overly bright; or Byrnes, more adept at congressional horse trading than international politics. What Marshall is expected to bring is iron to the policy.

“In a military truce,” says the often not unperceiving Washington correspondent, Paul Mallon – “which is what this situation is – what could be more logical a choice than Marshall?”

What could, indeed?

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