general george marshall and the children of brazil -- 9/5/14

Today's selection -- from The Brazil Reader Robert M. Levine and John J. Crocitti, editors. In the years leading to World War II, there was a competition between the Allies and the Axis countries to ensure access to the support and rich resources of countries like Brazil. U.S. General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff (later Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State and author of the "Marshall Plan" for aid to Europe), won the hearts of Brazilians with a "tin of taffy":

"It did not take clairvoyance to know that war was imminent in 1939. Therefore, the United States sought to shore up diplomatic relations with Brazil, a country rich in strategic materials, but also home to German, Italian, and Japanese colonies. General George C. Marshall visited Brazil that year and, according to the account by Katherine Tupper Marshall, his wife, helped secure the country firmly within the Allied camp. Her story, however, relates more than a diplomatic episode. Schoolchildren parading in neat uniforms were an Estado Novo mainstay that reflected [Brazil President Getúlio] Vargas's desire to inculcate youth with a nationalist ideology. Moreover, by including even foundlings in Marshall's tour, Vargas added not only to the American's but also his own popularity. Many of those youths would reach adulthood by 1950 and, almost certainly, a good share voted for Vargas's return to the Presidential Palace in that year's democratic election.

"George had hardly reached Washington on his return from the West Coast when President Roosevelt sent for him to come to the White House. At this time, all those in authority were watching developments in South America with growing alarm. The Panama Canal was a decided danger spot -- George had gone before the Military Affairs Committee in January asking for better antiaircraft and plane protection, naming Panama as a crucial point. Brazil was a particular source of concern. Its population in some parts included many Germans of second and third generations, and its army had been largely equipped with German materiel. Also, the State Department had gotten wind of the fact that General Goes Monteiro, chief of staff of the Brazilian Army, had been invited by Field Marshal Hermann Goring, at the direction of Chancellor Hitler, to visit Germany. He would be received 'with open arms' and given the honor of leading a division of German troops in an impressive parade, to be staged in honor of the Brazilian Army.

"The situation was a delicate one. It was hardly an opportune time for a Brazilian soldier to place himself at the head of a column of German troops. So it was immediately announced by the president that General Marshall, the newly designated chief of staff, would make a goodwill trip to Brazil. The upshot was that Chancellor Hitler was informed that General Goes would not go to Germany at this time; instead, he was to stay at home to welcome a distinguished American soldier who was coming to Brazil.

"As to Hitler's reaction to this, nothing was known officially; but almost immediately, Mussolini announced that his daughter, Madam Ciano, would leave for Brazil on a goodwill visit. Madam Ciano's ability for intrigue and her political power were well known, but her charm seemed to be inadequate so far as Brazil was concerned, for in the goodwill competition she was decidedly the loser . . .

"At Curitiba [capital of Parana], the governor -- or interventor, as I believe he is called -- had arranged a parade of the schoolchildren for General Marshall. Some 5,000 participated. The uniform of the girls consisted of white middy blouses, blue pleated skirts, and sandals with bobby socks. The boys wore a more military-looking dress, and all presented an immaculate and persuasive picture. Each school was preceded by a small drum corps, and all the children marched with pride and precision.

"This feature of the trip appealed very strongly to General Marshall as he is as deeply interested in children, I believe, as he is in grown-ups.

"In the middle of the parade, there appeared about 200 little boys from six to twelve years old, dressed in blue overalls with pink piping, and carrying various farm tools. One little boy was pushing a hand cultivator in front of him. This group made quite an impression on my husband and, on inquiry, he discovered these children were members of a small agricultural school for foundlings, in which the governor was much interested. Consequently, after the parade, though it was very late and a formal dinner was about due, the governor took George a few miles outside the city to inspect this school. The pupils had just arrived in trucks from the parade and were filing in for their dinner. All the surroundings were neat and orderly, and the boys themselves seemed happy and very well cared for.

"That night at the dinner, which was an elaborate affair and lasted from eight until midnight, George was turning over in his mind what he might do to repay the bountiful hospitality he was receiving on every hand. Returning hospitality by giving dinners does not greatly appeal to him, yet that is the usually accepted method in diplomatic procedure. Thinking over the events of the afternoon, he decided that a small gift to the foundlings would be much more appreciated than an elaborate dinner to dignitaries. As he had to leave by plane at eleven o'clock, he directed a member of his staff to start out early in the morning, as soon as the shops opened, and purchase a box of candy for each of the little agricultural students, and to take the candy out and present it to them that morning. This was done, and it not only made a profound impression on the little boys, but as a result of press reports, it seemed to make an even greater impression all over Brazil. Consequently, children were turned out en masse everywhere General Marshall went, and as their parents of course turned out to see their children, unusually large crowds resulted. At several places, as many as 20,000 children marched or lined the streets to receive General Marshall. When he returned to Rio where his program was completed, he was urged to visit the schools in the city. This he did.

"In looking back on the reactions to his mission to Brazil, George felt that more good had resulted from the small presents to the children than from any other single factor. This story always amused Lord Halifax, and whenever we dined with him, he would press George to tell the other guests how he won out on his Brazilian mission with a 'tin of taffy.' "


Robert M. Levine and John J. Crocitti, editors


The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers)


Duke University Press


1999 Duke University Press


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment