The future could/would
When we think about the past, present
and future, and their connections –which we should all do from time to time
more than we do today—we often assume that there may be repetitive patterns, or
cause and effect, or (yes) effects and causes of other mysteries.
Reading a recent and fabulous new
biography [Defender of the Republic -David Roll] of General George Marshall,
Franklin Roosevelt’s Military Chief of Staff for all of WWII, the foregoing
thought came to mind.
Marshall was FDR’s right arm for the five
years of WWII. Among the most important things he did was bring Eisenhower to
FDR’s attention based on their service together in the Philippines. And, when
FDR finally had to decide on the commander of all allied forces for the crucial
invasion of Europe in 1943, the President was pressured from all sources to either
elevate Eisenhower or ‘demote’ Marshall. It became clear to most people that if
Marshall had asked FDR for the assignment (which he refused to do on principle,
which was consistent with his lifelong characteristic of always doing the right
thing the right way), it now appears in the most reliable sources that FDR
would most likely have named Marshall.
The argument not to change a winning
team apparently won the day for Eisenhower. Marshall himself, always the obedient
general, NEVER, before or later, uttered a word on the subject.
We all know what happened after that.
Eisenhower managed the fall of
Germany with a minimum of mistakes and kept USSR east of Berlin.
And Marshall, with Admiral Leahy, effectively
accomplished the same goals in the Pacific.
Subsequently, Truman asked Marshall
to save China (impossible!). Then, Truman made Marshall Secretary of State,
where he crafted what became known as the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and
avoid another China.
In the meanwhile, Eisenhower became a pleasant
and comfortable “hidden hand” President for two terms.
OK, but where does the ‘but for’ come
Likely, if FDR had ‘demoted’ Marshall
to be head of the invasion of Europe, Eisenhower would never would have become
President, a position which history shows has been the just reward of a
grateful nation to the General who won on
the field a BIG war (as with George Washington,
of course and then Ulysses Grant after
the Civil War).
If that had happened, there might
never have been a Marshall Plan, which was born largely from Marshall’s China
experiences as well as his earlier strategic involvements with Europe, which
set the course of post-war history for half a century.
There is no rational reason to
believe that anyone at the time –including FDR— might have thought about the but-for
in making the decision on Eisenhower v Marshall in 1943.
But, it is clear today that Eisenhower’s post-heart
attack, weak second term lessened Republican leadership at the time and opened
a door to a political turnover in 1960. In hindsight, the Kennedy/Johnson years
led to major Pacific issues which continue to haunt us today. [That should NOT
be taken as blaming them.] Indeed, the world today likely would have been quite
different, if Marshall had been President.
There is a case to be made that more
fore-thoughted decision making at that time might have/ could have/ should have
taken all those possibilities into consideration. One can speculate along many
and varied lines. But reasons for thinking along those lines should be
The unfolding of events after World
War II, while perhaps not ideal, were generally beneficial to America’s
interests, and it is not necessary to criticize Eisenhower’s execution of the
war effort and post war efforts, whatever his subsequent shortcomings in political
BUT it does serve to illustrate the utility of ‘but-for’
thinking in making major, important decisions with potentially very long term