REMEMBERING THE MAN AND HIS PLAN
JUNE 5, 1997
Fifty years ago this week, George Marshall delivered a commencement address at Harvard University which proved to be the spark that rebuilt Europe. Following a look at the life of the general, the NewsHour historians, joined by the the editor of Marshall's papers, discuss Marshall's life and legacy.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, George C. Marshall, General, Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, architect of the European recovery from World War II. Today is the 50th anniversary of the economic plan that bears his name. Our coverage begins with this backgrounder by Charles Krause.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
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A Marshall Plan page put together by the U. S. Information Agency.
The text of the address given by Gen. Marshall at Harvard in 1947 that detailed the Marshall Plan
A Marshall Plan 50th Anniversary site put together by the Marshall foundation.
A short biographyof George Marshall.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Fifty years ago much of Europe lay in ruins, the aftermath of World War II. There was little money for reconstruction, and even two years after the war ended, there was little hope. The winter of 1947 was especially harsh. Snow and bitter cold swept across Europe, and virtually everything was in short supply: food, fuel, clothing, housing, and jobs.
But then something unexpected happened that Winston Churchill would call the "most unsordid act in history." It began with a Harvard commencement speech on June 5, 1947. In a simple 1200-word address then Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a massive aid program to rebuild Europe.
SECRETARY OF STATE GEORGE MARSHALL: I need not tell you that the world situation is very serious. People in the cities are short of food and fuel and in some places approaching the starvation level. The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements 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.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Over the next five years, the United States sent $13 billion worth of food, raw materials, and technical assistance to 16 countries. Called the European Recovery Program, but better known as the Marshall Plan, the United States provided seed money for the reconstruction of Western Europe.
Fifty years ago today, few of those listening to Marshall's flat delivery in plain-spoken English at Harvard realized that he was charting a bold new course in American foreign policy. Instead, their applause was for Marshall, the soldier, who had raised and equipped the largest fighting force in U.S. history during World War II. The mention of Marshall's name today usually has little resonance. Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Patton are the generals Americans are most likely to remember from the Second World War. But Marshall was their superior, a revered figure of enormous strength and character who was at that time the Army's highest ranking general.
Born in 1880, he was commissioned to lieutenant the year after his graduation from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901. After serving in France during the First World War, Marshall became a logistics and training commander who modernized army doctrine and helped shape many of the officers who later became outstanding commanders during World War II. But the small size of the army between the wars prevented him from being promoted. He was 56 before he finally reached the rank of Brigadier General.
Then in 1939, Marshall became President Roosevelt's personal choice for army chief of staff and was promoted over several more senior generals. He was sworn in the day Hitler invaded Poland. Marshall's job was to mobilize the American military for a massive war effort. In 1939, when Marshall took command, there were fewer than 200,000 GI's. Four years later, Marshall had built a well-trained, well-equipped force of over 8 million deployed around the world. Both Churchill and Stalin, in rare agreement, called him the true organizer of victory--upright, reserved, and with iron self control.
Marshall's cool sense of command was legendary. "I have no feelings," he once said, "except those I reserve for Mrs. Marshall." President Truman called him "The Great One of the Age" and two years after the war ended appointed Marshall Secretary of State, rather than allow him to retire. And although it wasn't entirely clear at the time, Marshall assumed his new duties at the dawn of the Cold War. By early 1947, there was growing concern in Washington about Soviet intentions in Europe, especially Soviet support for guerrillas in Greece and Turkey. After meeting with an evasive Stalin in Moscow and amid growing concerns about an impending collapse in Europe, Marshall decided to act. Without hesitation, shortly after becoming Secretary of State, he lent his name and authority to the plan to rescue Europe.
GEORGE C. MARSHALL: I worked on that as hard as though I were running for the Senate or the Presidency. It wasn't the idea of the so-called "Marshall Plan." There's nothing so profound in the logic of the thing. But the execution of it, that's another matter. That's the thing I take pride in--putting the damn thing over.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Putting it over was, according to those who worked on it, the genius of the Marshall Plan. Instead of dictating the way the money would be spent, the United States forced the Europeans to handle their own recovery, to sit down together and come up with a coordinated plan for using the assistance. There was no bar to Soviet participation because Marshall believed the plan offered a last chance to unify Europe and hoped Stalin would join. But in June of 1947, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov met with his counterparts in Paris. At first, he was ambivalent. Then after a week of stalling, he walked out. The Czechs and Poles followed. Marshall was disappointed by the Soviet response. Others in the Truman administration were not. There was already growing congressional opposition to helping the Soviet Union, and Congress had yet to be persuaded to fund the overall recovery plan.
GEORGE C. MARSHALL: You know far better than I do the political difficulties involved in this program, but there's no doubt whatever in my mind that if we decided to do this thing, we can do it successfully, and there's also no doubt in my mind that the whole world hangs in the balance.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In the winter of 1948, Moscow installed a Communist government in Czechoslovakia. The Cold War had begun and Congress gave speedy approval to the Marshall Plan. In ill health, Marshall resigned as Secretary of State in 1949. But two years later, faced with disarray at the Pentagon as the Korean War began, Truman called Marshall out of retirement to become Secretary of Defense. Once again, it was Marshall who would rebuild America's armed forces in a time of crisis. But a year later, his health failing, he retired once again to his beloved home in Leesburg, Virginia. A humble man, respected for his lack of personal ambition, George C. Marshall died quietly in 1959.