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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Gen. George Marshall and Henry Stimson Built America’s WW2 War Machine and Created the Postwar Global Order

00:00 56:42
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Five years after World War II ended, Winston Churchill said he was still amazed that the United States, which before WWII had a tiny military and was fully committed to isolationism, “were able not only to build up the armies and air force units, but also to find the leaders and vast staffs capable of handling enormous masses and of moving them faster and farther than masses have ever been moved in war before.” He was speaking in general about the United States, but much of the credit arguably was with Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson.
From 1940 until the end of the war, Marshall and Stimson headed the army machine that ground down the Axis. Theirs was one of the most consequential collaborations of the twentieth century. According to Dwight Eisenhower, the two possessed more greatness than any other men he had ever met.
The general and the secretary traveled very different paths to power. Educated at Yale, where he was Skull and Bones, and at Harvard Law, Henry Stimson joined the Wall Street law firm of Elihu Root, future secretary of war and state himself, and married the descendant of a Founding Father. He went on to serve as secretary of war under Taft, governor-general of the Philippines, and secretary of state under Hoover. An internationalist Republican with a track record, Stimson ticked the boxes for FDR, who was in the middle of a reelection campaign at the time.
Thirteen years younger, George Marshall graduated in the middle of his class from the Virginia Military Institute (not West Point), then began the standard, and very slow, climb up the army ranks. During World War I he performed brilliant staff work for General Pershing. After a string of postings, Marshall ended up in Washington in the 1930s and impressed FDR with his honesty, securing his appointment as chief of staff.
Today’s guest is Edward Aldrich, author of The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration that Won World War II. Marshall and Stimson were two very different men who combined with a dazzling synergy to lead the American military effort in World War II, in roles that blended politics, diplomacy, and bureaucracy in addition to warfighting. They transformed an outdated, poorly equipped army into a modern fighting force of millions of men capable of fighting around the globe.
They, and Marshall in particular, identified the soldiers, from Patton and Eisenhower to Bradley and McNair, best suited for high command. They helped develop worldwide strategy and logistics for battles like D-Day and the Bulge. They collaborated with Allies like Winston Churchill. They worked well with their cagey commander-in-chief. They planned for the postwar world. They made decisions, from the atomic bombs to the division of Europe, that would echo for decades.
August 09, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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