America’s historic Marshall Plan marks 60th anniversary

March 30th, 2008 - 9:10 am ICT by admin  

By Frank Brandmaier
Washington, March 30 (DPA) Former US president Harry S. Truman had no doubt about the gravity of the document that lay before him one spring day in 1948, nor any doubt that what it proposed would be a success. “Few presidents have had the opportunity to sign legislation of such importance as the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948,” said Truman upon signing the law April 3 that year.

“This measure is America’s answer to the challenge facing the free world today. It is a measure for reconstruction, stability, and peace.”

The signing of the legislation, however, was preceded by delicate deliberations in the US Congress. Opponents of the multibillion-dollar assistance plan feared it could damage the US economy. But in the end, those who envisioned Soviet domination spreading across Europe prevailed.

The true hour of the plan’s birth came 10 months earlier June 5, 1947, and it took place with little pomp. US Secretary of State George C. Marshall sought out a select circle at Harvard University to whom he presented his idea on reviving war-torn Europe. His speech lasted only 12 minutes.

The plan, which would go down in history as the most successful US civilian reconstruction project of the 20th century, later bore his name. The political and military force behind it managed to shape the post-war period in Europe for decades.

Marshall, who later was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said at Harvard that his proposal was directed “against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos”. He based the plan on the self-initiative of European people and on their faith in the economic future of their countries and Europe as a whole.

The post-war approach taken by the US, whose infrastructure was mostly undamaged in the war and whose economy was prospering, was clear:

“It is logical that the US 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,” Marshall said.

By 1952 about $13.5 billion worth of goods and financial services - equal to about $100 billion today - flowed across the Atlantic. About $1.4 billion of the initial total was invested in rebuilding Germany from the rubble left by the war.

The offer of US help was made to all European countries. West Germany received the fourth-largest amount of aid behind Britain, France and Italy.

Moscow declined the aid, a “nyet” that prevented East European countries under its heel from being counted as beneficiaries of the programme and setting the tone for the coming Cold War.

No one doubts that the Marshall Plan contributed mightily to cementing the division of Europe and the world. Washington’s intentions were plain: only with prosperity could Western Europe become a bulwark against communism.

The billions of dollars spent on the plan helped make Europe’s hungry masses reliable partners for the US.

“The Marshall Plan served as the economic and political foundation for the Western alliance that waged the Cold War,” said Diane Kunz, a professor of history at Yale University.

Historians, however, disagree on how large a role the Marshall Plan money played in Europe’s economic recovery.

History Professor Michael Hogan of the University of Iowa has determined that local resources accounted for 80 to 90 percent of capital formation in the major European economies during the first two years of the recovery programme.

The US aid programme made possibly just a small contribution to the reconstruction of Europe, he said.

The ideals of the Marshall Plan have been invoked countless times by well-meaning people facing the tasks of rebuilding regions torn by crisis or failed states from Latin America to the Balkans and, now, Iraq.

But historians tend to wave aside calls for a new Marshall Plan, saying the structures and historical situation after World War II were unique. The Marshall Plan did not bear the burden of bringing trade and forging modern political structures in places that had no such experience.

Western Europe for centuries had known rule of law, democracy, the concepts of private property and self-initiative.

Larry Bland, director of the George Marshall Foundation, said the US was dealing with people who knew what to do and the importance of the middle class - the Americans didn’t have to start by teaching the Europeans what democracy and capitalism is.

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