University of Vermont

Stoler Presents Vol. 6 of Marshall Papers to Hillary Clinton

Soler and Clinton
At the Marshall Library in Lexington, Va., Professor Emeritus Mark Stoler shows Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the original Marshall Plan speech, delivered at Harvard on June 5, 1947. (Photo: Kevin Remington)

Being asked to work on the definitive text chronicling the papers of George C. Marshall, U.S. secretary of state from 1947-49, was a true honor for Mark Stoler. Ever modest, the UVM professor emeritus of history admits his first thought was that more qualified people must be available. But the highly distinguished military and diplomatic historian -- and author of the acclaimed biography George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century -- was a clear fit for the job.

His hire as editor of the Marshall Papers in 2008 by the George C. Marshall Foundation was also fitting considering he'd be resuming the work his graduate school classmate, Larry Bland, had completed as editor of the first five volumes and part of the sixth when he unexpectedly died in 2007. "It’s been a lot work, but incredibly gratifying, especially being able to carry on what my friend Larry had done so well for so many years,” Stoler says.

Vol. 6: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall: The Whole World Hangs in the Balance (John Hopkins University Press) was published in January 2013 and includes telegrams, letters, memorandums, speeches and testimony written during Marshall’s tenure as secretary of state in the late 1940s. During this time, considered among the most eventful in the history of American foreign policy, the U.S. and its Soviet ally split and the cold war began. This led to the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan) and other key foreign policy initiatives, such as the Truman Doctrine, the Containment policy, the creation of West Germany and the formation of NATO. Deeply involved in all of these, Marshall simultaneously had to deal during his two year tenure with such issues as the Chinese and Greek civil wars; the partition of and wars in Palestine and India, leading to the creation of Israel, India and Pakistan; the creation of such other states as Indonesia out of former European colonies; and a redefinition of U.S. relations with Latin America.

“The number and importance of issues with which Marshall had to deal as secretary of state was staggering,” says Stoler, who initially declined the editor’s job after retiring from UVM and accepting a visiting professorship at Williams College. He eventually agreed to complete volumes six and seven if he could work from Vermont, taking occasional trips to the foundation in Virginia. Volume seven is scheduled for 2015 and starts in 1949 during Marshall’s so-called "retirement" when he served as head of the Red Cross and also covers his appointment as Secretary of Defense a year later as well as the years from his 1951 retirement from that position to his death in 1959.

“Professor Stoler was the perfect person to take over the leadership of the Marshall Papers editorial team,” says Brian Shaw, president of the George C. Marshall Foundation. “His depth of knowledge of both military and diplomatic history uniquely qualified him to edit the last two volumes. His knowledge of our collection from his work here and his long friendship with the former editor, Larry Bland, made him ideally suited to lead the editorial team. We are deeply grateful for his willingness to step in and finish this project that is so critically important to the study of diplomatic and military history in the mid-Twentieth Century.”

Presenting volume six to Clinton

One of Marshall’s biggest fans is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During a visit in April 2012 to Virginia Military Institute to give a speech, Stoler and Shaw gave Clinton a tour of the museum and library. Clinton asked Shaw to recommend a biography of Marshall and he suggested Stoler's book. A staff member retrieved a copy from the museum gift shop and Stoler hurriedly wrote an inscription in it before Shaw presented it to Clinton. In her speech, Clinton talked about the importance of the three D’s: diplomacy, defense and development -- all hallmarks of Marshall’s tenure.

“No one lived by those words more than Marshall, and Clinton has clearly conducted foreign policy with those ideals in mind,” says Stoler, “I was deeply impressed with Secretary Clinton. She’s incredibly intelligent, intellectually curious and very knowledgeable.”

Shaw asked Clinton if the foundation could present her with volume six when completed, just as previous volumes had been given to Colin Powell and Ronald Reagan. Stoler, who was hoping to present the volume to Clinton before she left office and John Kerry took over, got his wish at a ceremony at the State Department on Jan. 28 -- four days before Clinton officially stepped down.

“I think a lot about George Marshall,” said Clinton in 2011 when receiving a Marshall Foundation award in Washington. “I have an extraordinary sense of the character and integrity, the commitment to service that led him to perform so admirably on behalf of our country during some of the most challenging times that we have ever faced. Leading our nation in war as a general, in peace as secretary of state, and later as defense secretary, he was, they say, the only man, according to President Truman, who could get along with Franklin Roosevelt, the Congress, Winston Churchill, the Navy, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he did so while never avoiding hard issues, while always sharing his best advice, speaking his mind.”

Ever the historian

In editing the work, Stoler was adamant about remaining true to the principles established by his predecessor. First and foremost was that only documents written, edited or spoken by Marshall could be used, which wasn't always easy to determine because Marshall didn’t initial everything. Trying to include authentic personal anecdotes about Marshall, an intensely private man who refused to run for office, vote or even to write his own memoirs (supposedly passing on a million-dollar offer), was also quite challenging. 

“Personal correspondence with family members and friends was also included, both to shed additional light on some of these issues and to show something of the personal life of this very private man,” writes Stoler. “He once told his first undersecretary of state, Dean Acheson, in this regard that he had ‘no feelings except those I reserve for Mrs. Marshall.’”

Ever the historian, Stoler had a hard time keeping himself from interpreting history as it related to certain actions taken by Marshall. “Throughout my work on volume six, Dan Holt (managing editor and project director) had to constantly remind me that as editor my task was not to provide scholarly interpretations or resolve thorny historical issues and historiographical disputes -- just to present the documents and facts for other historians to analyze. I tried to follow his advice, but nevertheless remain curious about some of the issues revealed in the papers,” wrote Stoler in the January newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Chief among his curiosities was the famous speech delivered by Marshall at Harvard in June of 1947, which led to the Marshall Plan, and for which Marshall would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Believed to have been written by State Department official Charles Bohlen, the 12-minute speech was more of a proposal than a plan and didn’t include many details about U.S. aid to promote European recovery and reconstruction. Marshall wrote in a letter, however, that he’d called upon Policy Planning staff head George F. Kennan as well as Bohlen, to prepare, independent of each other, a definite recommendation on the subject, but “grew restless and dictated one of my own, and that the end result was very much a combination of all three.’”

“In what probably ranks as the greatest understatement in the history of American foreign relations,” writes Stoler, Marshall had informed Harvard President James B. Conant on May 28, only a week beforehand, that he would indeed attend the university’s commencement ceremonies on June 5 to accept an honorary degree and that while he would not be making a formal address, he would "make a few remarks in appreciation of the honor and perhaps a little more."