The year is 1947 and the Europeans are still suffering from the biggest catastrophe ever to befall them. Entire infrastructures have been destroyed. Economies have collapsed and starvation is rampant. Most of the countries are occupied by forces from the Soviet Union or by the Allied forces of the United States, Great Britain, and France. Hope is quickly fading and democracy is under assault in Eastern Europe.
Marshall’s Speech at Harvard
On June 5, 1947 a tired old soldier makes a speech at Harvard University and changes the world for the next half century and beyond. That tired old soldier was George C. Marshall, former Army Chief of Staff. Upon the completion of World War II, President Truman had nominated Marshall for a fifth star. Congress overwhelmingly approved the promotion and Marshall became the first Five Star general in the history of the United States Army. Marshall retired and hoped to lead a quiet and sedate life.
Marshall Mediates Between Chinese Communists and Nationalists
Truman had other plans for Marshall and asked him to go to China to mediate between the communists and the nationalists. Two years of Marshall’s diplomatic efforts proved fruitless and he could not get the parties to agree on anything. During those two years Marshall came to despise Chiang Kai-shek and he even recommended to Truman that the United States cooperate with the Chinese Communists. However the climate in Washington was decidedly anti-communist and with little hope of resolving the conflict Marshall asked Truman to recall him back to the States.
Marshall Appointed Secretary of State
Truman rewarded Marshall for his efforts and past service by appointing him as Secretary of State. The Soviet Union was becoming more and more uncooperative with the allies and it looked for a while that Europe would descend into chaos and anarchy. A communist uprising was occurring in Greece and the Soviets were blocking all efforts at reconstruction. After a boisterous meeting of foreign ministers in 1947, Marshall concluded that Stalin did not want peace. The Soviets were exerting their influence in Eastern Europe and seemed more interested in reparations than in helping their former enemies.
The Marshall Plan
This climate of non-cooperation and ill-will led Marshall to propose the European recovery plan. In the speech at Harvard, Marshall outlined the reasons for the plan and the necessity for quick action. He proposed that Europe devise a plan for its own recovery and that the United States fund the recovery effort.
After the speech Congress approved 17 billion dollars for the recovery plan. The Soviets wanted nothing to do with the plan and forbade their client states from participating. The Marshall plan, as it came to be called, forged a common economic bond between the Western European countries and was a precursor to the European Union. Meanwhile the Eastern European countries languished in a corrupt Soviet system which eventually collapsed.
The effects of the Marshall plan have been far reaching. During the cold war, Western Europe was the backbone of the stand against communism and a staunch supporter of the United States and NATO. The present day strength of the European Union can be traced back to the tired old soldier and his speech at Harvard University.
Marshall Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
For his efforts in promoting the post-war recovery of Europe, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. Marshall’s acceptance speech gave insight into the motivation of his plan. The following is an excerpt of the speech: “Tyranny inevitably must retire before the tremendous moral strength of the gospel of freedom and self-respect of the individual, but we have to realize that these democratic principles do not flourish on an empty stomach and that people turn to false promises of dictators because they are hopeless and anything promises something better than the miserable existence that they endure. However, material assistance alone is not sufficient. The most important thing is that spiritual regeneration which would establish a feeling of good faith among men generally.”
The Old Soldier, Five Star General, Mediator, and Secretary of State, realized that throwing money and materials at a problem would not be sufficient. All of his experience in wars and diplomacy imbued Marshall with the wisdom to recognize that nothing could really be accomplished without “good faith among men.”
- Stoler, Mark. George C. Marshall Soldier-Statesman, Twayne Publishers, New York, N.Y. 1989
- George Marshall Foundation