George C. Marshall

Name George C. Marshall
Born December 31 1880
Died October 16 1959
Birth Location Uniontown, PA

Army chief of staff during World War II, secretary of state and secretary of defense after the war, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. One of America's greatest military leaders and statesmen, General George C. Marshall (1880–1959) also was a minor player in the Japanese American incarceration drama.

Background and Army Chief of Staff

George Catlett Marshall Jr. was born on December 31, 1880, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1901 and embarked on a career in the army. After two stints in the Philippines, he served as on the staff of General John J. Pershing during World War I and continued as Pershing's aide when Pershing became army chief of staff in 1921. In 1927, he became an instructor at the National War College, then the head of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he trained some 200 future generals over the next five years, many of whom would become key figures in World War II. In the 1930s, he commanded posts in Georgia and South Carolina, was a senior instructor to the Illinois National Guard, and commanded the Fifth Infantry Brigade at Vancouver Barracks in Washington state.

In April 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him army chief of staff. Over the next two years, he saw the army expand from 175,000 men when he took over to 1.4 million two years later thanks in large part to peacetime draft and military spending bills he had shepherded through Congress. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he became the de facto leader of the newly formed Joint Chiefs of Staff, an invaluable presidential advisor, and one of the key strategists of the Allied war in Europe.

Japanese American Incarceration

For the most part, Marshall was not involved in the decision to exclude and ultimately incarcerate all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Focused on other concerns, he did not pay much attention to the evolving policy on Japanese Americans revolving around his old friend and colleague General John DeWitt , head of the Western Defense Command . [1] Concerned about DeWitt's calls for more troop support to defend the West Coast, he sent his deputy Gen. Mark W. Clark to visit the WDC in late January and also had Clark investigate the Japanese American question after talking to DeWitt on February 3. Despite Clark's recommendation against mass removal of the Japanese Americans—and Marshall's apparent concurrence—President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19 and such a mass removal did occur.

At around the same time, Marshall circulated a draft recommendation for the Joint Chiefs for Hawai'i in which he advocated the removal of 100,000 Japanese Americans to mainland concentration camps. The Joint Chiefs later approved the recommendation but without the 100,000 figure. Later, President Roosevelt approved a plan to remove 20,000 of the "most dangerous" Japanese Americans from Hawai'i. Marshall later opposed Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox's call for mass removal of Japanese Americans from Hawai'i. [2]

As the war continued, Marshall approved the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion and later, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He also believed that exclusion could be ended by the middle of 1943 and saw the potential acts of violence against returnees that might further endanger American prisoners held by the Japanese as the only reason not to allow Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast. [3]

After the War

Immediately after the war, President Harry Truman asked him to become a special emissary to China in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to avert civil war there. He went on to become secretary of state under Truman, where he is best remembered for the Marshall Plan and Berlin airlift, massive foreign aid efforts that helped rebuild war torn Europe. After retiring in 1949 for health reasons, he was called out of retirement to serve as secretary of defense during the Korean War. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Marshall never wrote his memoirs, though he did do an extensive set of interviews with Forrest C. Pogue in 1957. At that time, he suggested that the exclusion took place for the protection of Japanese Americans:

And the people out there... were just bitter in their feeling that the Japanese should not be allowed to stay there. They were suspicious... of everybody Japanese. Therefore it reached such a point that it seemed to be the only thing we could do short of a semiriot or terrible occurrence out in California to put these people in an internment camp.... It was a very trying duty and trying necessity. [4]

His role in the exclusion remains contested, with different historians ascribing different levels of responsibility to Marshall. [5] A full assessment of his role remains to be written.

He died after a series of strokes at Walter Reed Army Hospital on October 16, 1959.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Pogue, Forrest C. George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory, 1943–1945 . New York: Viking Press, 1973.

Pops, Gerald M. Ethical Leadership in Turbulent Times: Modeling the Public Career of George C. Marshall . Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2009.

Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Stoler, Mark A. "George Catlett Marshall, Jr." In American National Biography, Vol. 14 , edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes: 556–60. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.


  1. According to Forrest C. Pogue, Marshall and DeWitt had been friends since 1906–07 and were colleagues on the First Army staff during World War I. Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory, 1943–1945 (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 142.
  2. Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 151.
  3. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1982), 15; Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps, North America: Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II (Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1981), 156.
  4. Pogue, George C. Marshall , 146–47.
  5. While most accounts suggest that Marshall was either largely unaware, preoccupied or ultimately not consulted on Japanese American exclusion, Jacobus tenBroek, Edward N. Barnhart, and Floyd Matson in Prejudice, War, and the Constitution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954, 111) and Forrest C. Pogue in George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory, 1943–1945 (144) state that Marshall approved DeWitt's decision to remove Japanese Americans. A recent biographer, Gerald M. Pops, suggests that Marshall, through his close consultation with War Department leaders Henry Stimson and John McCloy knew about the plan for exclusion and, as DeWitt's supervisor, could have "contained" him. (Gerald M. Pops, Ethical Leadership in Turbulent Times: Modeling the Public Career of George C. Marshall (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2009), 274).

Last updated June 19, 2020, 4:07 p.m..