Editorial Note on the Military Unification Issue

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Editorial Note on the Military Unification Issue

May 1944–June 1945
Study and debate concerning a unified military department began shortly after World War I but swiftly died in the face of army and navy opposition. The idea was resurrected in 1940 and 1941, and Marshall was a well-known supporter of the concept. Marshall directed that demobilization planning begin in the spring of 1943; the planners needed to know what the postwar military establishment would look like, so the army conducted more studies on unification. The Select Committee of the House of Representatives on Postwar Military Policy held hearings in April and May 1944, but it soon decided that nothing could be done until the war was over. (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4–356 to #4–358 [4: 416–21], and #4–379 [4: 444–45]. See also Ray S. Cline and Maurice Matloff, “Development of War Department Views on Unification,” Military Affairs 13 [Summer 1949]: 65–74.)

On May 9, 1944, the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed a four-man (two army, two navy) Special Committee for Reorganization of National Defense, under the chairmanship of Admiral James O. Richardson (commander of the U.S. Fleet, 1940–41), which held hearings in Washington, D.C., and in the field for ten months. The committee reported to the J.C.S. on April 11, 1945. With Richardson dissenting, the three-man majority recommended: (1) the creation of a single department of armed forces; (2) three equal services (thus adding an independent Air Force); (3) a single commander of all forces who would be in charge of strategic planning and would direct military operations in the field; (4) a single Services of Supply; (5) a U.S. Chiefs of Staff organization with duties limited to advising the president on military strategy and the budget but without operational authority. The J.C.S. debated unification throughout the summer. (See the proposed organization chart in Alice C. Cole et al., The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944–1978 [Washington: GPO, 1979], p. 5.)

Admiral Richardson submitted a minority report advising against the concentration of power in a single department and the creation of an independent air force. The navy feared that its particular problems and strategic mission might tend to be ignored if it were only one of three military departments. Moreover, the justification for the navy’s having its own air and land forces might be questioned. Consequently, in mid-June 1945, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal directed that his friend Ferdinand Eberstadt (investment banker and former chairman of the Army-Navy Munitions Board and vice chairman of the War Production Board) undertake a study on an alternative to the proposed consolidation of the War and Navy departments. Eberstadt completed his report on September 25. (Ibid., p. 6. There is a summary of the unification issue in Papers of DDE, 6: 216–17.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945–January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 313–314.

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