link In early February of 2006, I submitted a book proposal about the wartime relationship between Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower to a group of New York publishers. “Wasn’t Marshall an anti-Semite?” he asked. I’d heard this claim before, but I was still shocked by the question. For me, George Marshall was an icon: the one officer who, more than any other, was responsible for the American victory in World War Two. He was the most important soldier of his generation — and a man of great moral and physical courage.
That Marshall was an anti-Semite has been retailed regularly since 1948 — when it became known that, by that time as US Secretary of State, he not only opposed the U.S. stance in favor of the partition of Palestine, but vehemently recommended that the U.S. not recognize the State of Israel that emerged. Harry Truman disagreed and Marshall and Truman clashed in a meeting in the Oval Office, on May 12, 1948. Truman relied on president counselor Clark Clifford to make the argument. Clifford faced Marshall: the U.S. had made a moral commitment to the world’s Jews that dated from Britain’s 1919 Balfour Declaration, he argued, and the U.S would be supported by Israel in the Middle East. The Holocaust had made Israel’s creation an imperative and, moreover, Israel would be a democracy. He then added: Jewish-Americans, were an important voting bloc and would favor the decision.Marshall exploded. “Mr. President,” he said, “I thought this meeting was called to consider an important, complicated problem in foreign policy. I don’t even know why Clifford is here.” Truman attempted to calm Marshall, whom he admired — but Marshall was not satisfied. “I do not think that politics should play any role in our decision,” he said. The meeting ended acrimoniously, though Truman attempted to placate Marshall by noting that he was “inclined” to side with him. That wasn’t true — the U.S. voted to recognize Israel and worked to support its emerging statehood. Marshall remained enraged.When Marshall returned to the State Department from his meeting with Truman, he memorialized the meeting:I remarked to the president that, speaking objectively, I could not help but think that suggestions made by Mr. Clifford were wrong. I thought that to adopt these suggestions would have precisely the opposite effect from that intended by him. The transparent dodge to win a few votes would not, in fact, achieve this purpose. The great dignity of the office of the president would be seriously damaged. The counsel offered by Mr. Clifford’s advice was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem confronting us was international. I stated bluntly that if the president were to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice, and if I were to vote in the next election, I would vote against the president.Put more simply, Marshall believed that Truman was sacrificing American security for American votes.
Was Marshall’s opposition to recognition of Israel a reflection of his, and the American establishment’s, latent anti-Semitism? Or was it a credible reflection of U.S. military worries that the creation of Israel would engage America in a defense of the small country that would drain American resources and lives?
In the wake of my March 13 article in these pages (“The Petraeus Briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story”) a storm of outrage greeted my claim that Israeli intransigence on the peace process could be costing American lives. One week after that article appeared, I called General Joe Hoar, a former CENTCOM commander and a friend. We talked about the article. “I don’t get it,” he said. “What’s the news here? Hasn’t this been said before?” If history is any guide, the answer is simple: it was said sixty years ago by one of America’s greatest soldiers. George Marshall wasn’t an anti-Semite. But he was prescient.
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