The fifty-fourth annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on 28–30 December 1939, drew 1,072 registered participants, making it the second largest gathering of the association to that date. The session entitled “Land Power and Sea Power,” cosponsored by the American Historical Association and the six-year-old American Military Institute, was one of six concurrent panels held on the morning of 28 December. It would be among the best attended of the meeting’s forty-six sessions, luncheon conferences, and dinners. The panel’s junior sponsor reported that more than a thousand people were present at the session, which was convened in the hotel’s ballroom.
General George C. Marshall, who had been chief of staff of the Army since July (holding the position in an acting capacity until he assumed the title in September), joined Alfred Vagts of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and A. Whitney Griswold of Yale University in delivering papers at this session. In a talk entitled “National Organization for War,” Marshall told historians that they were not adequately informing the public about the military history of the United States and that this failure had adversely affected U.S. military preparedness. Marshall’s speech received considerable attention from the press, but its text did not appear in print until 1986 when Johns Hopkins University Press released the second volume of the Marshall papers edited by Larry I. Bland.
Marshall’s copanelists were noteworthy scholars. Vagts, who held a doctorate from the University of Hamburg, was a German refugee who had authored Deutschland und die Vereinigten Staaten in der Weltpolitik (New York: Macmillan, 1935) and A History of Militarism: Romance and Realities of a Profession (New York: W. W. Norton, 1937). He spoke of the imperialistic goals of German naval leaders in the early twentieth century and compared them with what he believed had been the more modest objectives of the Junkers who dominated the German Army’s senior leadership. Griswold, then a junior professor of government and international relations at Yale, was the author of The Far Eastern Policy of the United States (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938). He would serve as president of Yale University from 1950 to 1963. Griswold argued that, compared with the era studied by Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S. naval power was now better suited to the defense of North America and less prepared for the pursuit of overseas military objectives. The papers delivered by Vagts and Griswold were promptly published by the Journal of the American Military Institute. General Marshall’s presentation, however, was not... (read the full article)