How George Marshall’s quiet genius for planning helped the US win world wars

As a young U.S. Army infantry officer in the Philippines in 1902, George Marshall was leading his soldiers single file across a stream when one of them spotted a crocodile. Panic ensued, with the men scrambling out of the water to safety. Marshall had graduated from the Virginia Military Institute not long before, and he was younger than most of the men he was commanding. Still, despite his relative inexperience, his immediate response was to order the soldiers to return to the stream. 

Josiah Bunting III tells the revealing story in “The Making of a Leader: The Formative Years of George C. Marshall.” The subject of this engaging and admiring biography went on to lead the Allies to victory in World War II and, later, to serve as secretary of state and secretary of defense; the plan that helped rebuild Europe in the war’s aftermath bears his name. Bunting’s book concludes long before those accomplishments, however, instead pondering how a young Marshall grew into the towering figure we remember today. His leadership qualities, as the crocodile incident suggests, were apparent early on.

Indeed, Bunting observes that from the time he was an adolescent, Marshall – born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1880 – evinced a quiet and cool determination. “He began to cultivate a certain solitude of spirit, a reserve, that would become a settled part of his adult character,” the author writes. Marshall was ambitious, but he didn’t distinguish himself academically. Sensing that the Army would be the best outlet for his talents and drive, he attended the Virginia Military Institute, where he excelled in military subjects.   

Previous ArticleNext Article