The Gettysburg Address it wasn’t.
Seventy-five years ago, on June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had been a five-star general in World War II, gave a commencement speech at Harvard University.
Rather than stirring, the speech was bland. Its long sentences were hard to follow. It was vague. And yet, in just under eleven minutes on a sunny afternoon, Marshall laid out a plan that would shape the modern world.
“The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products—principally from America—are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character,” he said. “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”
In his short speech, Marshall outlined the principles of what came to be known as the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in the wake of the devastation of World War II. The speech challenged European governments to work together to make a plan for recovery and suggested that the U.S. would provide the money. European countries did so, forming the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) in 1948. From 1948 to 1952, the U.S. would donate about $17 billion to European countries to rebuild, promote economic cooperation, and modernize economies. By the end of the four-year program, economic output in each of the countries participating in the Marshall Plan had increased by at least 35%.
This investment helped to avoid another depression like the one that had hit the world in the 1930s, enabling Europe to afford goods from the U.S. and keeping low the tariff walls that had helped to choke trade in the crisis years of the 1930s. Marshall later recalled that his primary motivation was economic recovery, that he had been shocked by the devastation he saw in Europe and felt that “[i]f Europe was to be salvaged, economic aid was essential.”
But there was more to the Marshall Plan than money.
The economic rubble after the war had sparked political chaos that fed the communist movement. No one wanted to go back to the prewar years of the depression, and in the wake of fascism, communism looked attractive to many Europeans.
“Marshall was acutely aware that this was a plan to stabilize Western Europe politically because the administration was worried about the impact of communism, especially on labor unions,” historian Charles Maier told Colleen Walsh of the Harvard Gazette in 2017. “In effect, it was a plan designed to keep Western Europe safely in the liberal Western camp.”
It worked. American investment in Europe helped to turn European nations away from communism as well as the nationalism that had fed World War II, creating a cooperative and stable Europe.
The Marshall Plan also helped Europe and the U.S. to articulate a powerful set of shared values. The U.S. invited not just Europe but also the Soviet Union to participate in the plan, but Soviet leaders refused, recognizing that accepting such aid would weaken the idea that communism was a superior form of government and give the U.S. influence. They blocked satellite countries from participating, as well. Forcing the USSR either to join Europe or to divide the allies of World War II put Soviet leaders in a difficult position and at a psychological disadvantage.
With a clear ideological line dividing the USSR and Europe, Europeans, Americans, and their allies coalesced around a concept of government based on equality before the law, secularism, civil rights, economic and political freedom, and a market economy: the tenets of liberal democracy. As Otto Zausmer, who had worked for the U.S. Office of War Information to swing Americans behind the war, put it in 1955: “America’s gift to the world is not money, but the Democratic idea, democracy.”
In the years after the Marshall Plan, European countries expanded their cooperative organizations. The OEEC became the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1961 and still operates with 37 member countries that account for three fifths of world trade. And the U.S. abandoned its prewar isolationism to engage with the rest of the world. The Marshall Plan helped to create a liberal international order, based on the rule of law, that lasted for decades.
In his commencement speech on June 5, 1947, Marshall apologized that “I’ve been forced by the necessities of the case to enter into rather technical discussions.” But on the ten-year anniversary of the speech, the Norwegian foreign minister had a longer perspective, saying: “this initiative taken by Marshall and by the American Government marked the beginning of a new epoch in western Europe, an epoch of wider, and above all more binding, cooperation between the countries than ever before.”
Not bad for an eleven-minute speech.
Carlyle Holt, “Do You Know What Marshall Plan Is?” Boston Globe, July 11, 1947, p. 1.
James Birchfield, “Why Plan Was Announced at Harvard,” Boston Globe, June 9, 1957, p. A12.
Otto Zausmer, “Santa Claus to the Whole World,” Boston Globe, December 25, 1955, p. 2A.
“Europeans Hail Marshall, Say Plan Saved Nations,” Boston Globe, June 6, 1957, p. 16.
From 1945 until 1989, post-war communism prevailed in the eastern bloc, until it imploded under its own weight 44 years later, as Europe flourished and the Soviet experiment stumbled and fell. In 1980 Reagan declared war on liberal democracy in America. The government didn't solve problems; it was the problem. Here we are, 42 years after the beginning of that movement, in the aftermath of a failed fascist coup to derail the peaceful transition in power in the world's most powerful liberal democracy. It turned out to be a tawdry, pitiful affair; a sort of comic opera, as we are now learning. It nearly worked, carried out by a band of would-be private militia members and assorted other radical adherents to a conspiratorial monologue repeated freely by, none other, the POTUS. The insurgents had already conquered the White House 4 years earlier, but failed to consolidate their power base non-violently by political means, leading to a last minute Keystone Cops sort of assault on Congress. Embarrassing, but true. Embarrassing, but dangerous nonetheless. Embarrassing by it's haphazard orchestration but even more embarrassing by how unprepared were the capital police and adjacent law enforcement agencies, embarrassing by how blissfully unaware was most of America at the possibility that something like that would occur in our capital city. Imagine what might have happened if a similar sized rally of opposing interests had been organized and staged between tfg's stage and the Congress, or even on the steps of the Capital. There would likely have been a riot, but perhaps no breach of the Capital itself. Were there counter-protesters? On the other hand, why should I wish that unarmed civilians might have been present to protect our house of government? Is a "free nation" doomed to such vulnerability? More important still, where were all of the potential whistle-blowers; Aides within the White House, numerous congressional offices, even more numerous state level agencies and the Republican Party apparatus who had to be aware of at least bits and pieces of the conversation and widespread interactions amongst individuals between November and January? Since when has political ideology become more influential than the legality of one's actions? My mind struggles to grasp the reality that the rising desperation amongst those seeking a pathway to reverse the election didn't trigger SOMEONE to blow the whistle on their evolving plans. Aside from the NSA or CIA perhaps, this kind of process could not have evolved in complete secrecy; in this world of cell phones, text messages, tweets and the like, as well as the profound lack of discipline of the POTUS himself, someone should have smelled the rat and leaked it to the press. Were we all so inured to the endless psycho-babble we had endured for 4 years that we simply didn't pay adequate attention? Did we collectively deny obvious clues, like Ukraine on the precipice of an invasion? Was no one willing to believe it could actually happen? Shame on us, I guess. Shame on all of us (or most of us, at least). The entire tawdry affair should have us carefully examining ourselves, even as we try to reconstruct all of the events and players that led to 1/6/2021. We can't view this stuff as some kind of grade B entertainment. It's real life, actually happening with potentially unimaginable consequences to our future and stability within our world. Serious business, deserving of sober, serious consequences.
More prayers please everyone. Russia has just dropped bombs on Kyiv… tonight…or early morning there…banner just now came across my phone as I was reading Ms Heather’s evening letter
We have so much work to do … go to our polls on Tuesday if your state votes that day as Calif does… VOTE please…and Talk w Everyone Peacefully about guns and children and bombs & PRAY please… for UKRAINE, for ALL OF US…everywhere …