The First Thing You Say

George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, walked into the War Department (shown in the photo) on December 7, 1941 and said this:

“We are now in the fog of war.” 

That was his chosen first statement to his immediate followers at the War Department after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Take a moment and let that 8-word statement sink in. Try to imagine sitting in a nondescript office with other people and hearing your leader enter the room and saying such a thing at such a time.

How does it strike you?

Is it the kind of statement you would have made as a leader in a situation like Marshall’s? What else might you have said instead?

It’s a crisis atmosphere, to be sure, and in a crisis atmosphere the chances are good that your first statement will stick with your followers for some time. Other things will emerge, of course, and will replace your first statement in the minds and hearts of your followers. But for a while, your first statement will hold fast.

So again, how does this statement of Marshall’s strike you?

Let’s do a quick check as to the content and implications of Marshall’s choice:

  • We don’t know much about what is going on; in fact, we may know very little.
  • This is a defined phase or stage of time; yes, weirdly, fog has a defined beginning and end; you know when it’s there and you know when it’s not there.
  • Your attitude in hearing my words will affect this phase or stage; what you do and how you conduct yourself will blend with the fog; therefore, will you help or hurt the situation?
  • As followers you can see that I can be relied on to communicate to you as a leader; the presence of fog doesn’t lessen my reliability and neither will anything else; count on it.
  • The presence of fog, of not knowing, does not relieve you of your duties and responsibilities; you still need to do your job; just do it in the awareness of the fog around you.

That’s a lot to glean from eight words, I admit. Nevertheless, I think Marshall’s short comment is worthy of remembrance on a day worthy of remembering.

If you’d like to talk about Marshall’s statement, feel free to email me at and we’ll arrange a time to chat over the phone. Thanks for reading. All the best, Dan