US soldier and secretary of state, born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, USA. Son of a well-to-do coal dealer, he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (1901), received a commission in the army the next year, saw service in the Philippines insurrection campaign (1902–3), and proved himself to be an outstanding staff officer in a series of appointments leading up to World War 1. One of the first officers to go to France, he was chief of operations of the 1st Infantry Division, and then held the same post with the First Army. His brilliant transfer of troops in the Meuse-Argonne campaign caught the attention of General John Pershing, and Marshall became his principal aide (1919–24). Tall, confident, soft-spoken, and politically adept, he continued to advance his reputation as an administrator. He served in China (1924–7), organized the Civilian Conservation Corps, and was chief of the war plans division and deputy chief of staff (1938–9).
As World War 2 commenced, he became the chief-of-staff of the US Army, a post he held until 1945. Although not the most glamorous of jobs, all recognize that he played a crucial role in training the massive new army, drawing up strategic plans, appointing top military personnel (he advanced Dwight Eisenhower to command the operations in North Africa and Sicily), and balancing out the competing goals of Allied political and military leaders. He wanted to direct the invasion of France, but President Franklin Roosevelt preferred to use his talents in Washington, and by the end of the war he had earned Winston Churchill’s accolade, ‘the true organizer of victory’.
After an unsuccessful effort to establish a coalition government in China (1946), he was named secretary of state by President Harry Truman (1947–9), in which post he implemented the post-war recovery plan for war-ravaged Europe that was known as ‘the Marshall Plan’ (although he himself never claimed to have initiated it). He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his many contributions to the post-war world (the only professional soldier to be so honoured). Resigning in 1949 because of poor health, he served as head of the American Red Cross (1949–50). With the outbreak of the Korean War, he returned to government service as secretary of defence (1950–1). In 1951, Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that Marshall had been ‘soft on Communism’ in connection with his effort to mediate the civil war in China (1945–7), but members of both parties and numerous other prominent Americans defended Marshall vigorously, and he has retained his reputation as one of the finest individuals ever to serve America.
See also Marshall Plan.