February 23, 2017

Letters They Wouldn't Publish

November 13, 2003

Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post

Dear Editor:

Your November 12 edition, reporting on Secretary of State Colin Powell's receipt of an award named for Gen. George C. Marshall, referred to Powell's "well-known admiration for Marshall" and mentioned the portrait of Marshall displayed prominently in Powell's office.

Secretary Powell is evidently unaware of Marshall's record of troubling statements and actions regarding Jews and African-Americans during the 1930s and 1940s.

The preeminent expert on the history of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S. military, Professor Joseph W. Bendersky of Virginia Commonwealth University, has written (in his book The 'Jewish Threat': Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army; Basic Books, 2002) that Marshall used the racial epithet "darkey" in reference to African-American soldiers, and was "hostile to integrating the army, warn[ing] that such proposals were pushed by the Communists. Marshall's reservations about the potential of African-American troops stemmed in part from his low estimate of their inherent capacities." (pp.309-310)

Shortly after Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939, during which the Germans committed widespread atrocities against Polish Jews and others, U.S. Major Percy Black returned from Germany and accused the American press of spreading unfairly negative reports about the Germans. "There is, among the German people, from top to bottom and among the leaders, a very sincere desire for peace," he declared. Black said he did "not believe any of the atrocity stories" and insisted the Germany army was feeding Polish women and children in soup kitchens. Marshall, then deputy Chief of the Staff of the army, decided to send Black on a speaking tour to U.S. military installations to present his view of the Germans. Black's account "would interest any formal gathering" regarding Germany, Marshall wrote to his colleagues, while cautioning that the speaking tour should not be "publicized" because of the "violent Jewish reaction" to Black's statements (pp.276-278)

Marshall was also alarmingly close to General George Van Horn Moseley, who publicly asserted in 1938 that the U.S. was government was being manipulated by the "alien element in our midst" and that immigrants should be allowed into the U.S. only if they were sterilized before disembarking. After Moseley's retirement later that year, Marshall wrote him to pledge his "loyal devotion to you for what you have stood for ... it makes me very sad to think that I cannot serve with you and under you again." During the next two years, Moseley made a series of virulently anti-Semitic speeches around the U.S. ("The war now proposed is for the purpose of establishing Jewish hegemony throughout the world," he declared in one such tirade), and was widely-considered the prime candidate for leadership of a proposed nationwide fascist ement--until he told a Congressional committee about his belief that his critics were conspiring to poison him. Gen. Marshall nevertheless continued to maintain a close relationship with Moseley, sharing confidential military information with him and never publicly or even privately taking issue with Moseley's anti-Semitism. (pp.249-255, 309)

General Marshall's record of military leadership during World War Two and postwar government service earned him widepread respect and admiration. A closer look at his statements and actions regarding Jews and African-Americans provides a more complete, and troubling, picture.


Rafael Medoff, Ph.D.
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies



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