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50 Years Ago: Marshall Unveils Plan for Europe

By David Ginsburgh
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 1997 – In the aftermath of World War II, Secretary of State George C. Marshall -- general of the Army who later became secretary of defense -- unveiled a plan at Harvard University June 5, 1947, that changed the course of world history.

"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 and political deterioration of very grave character," he said.

If anything, Marshall understated Europe's plight in 1947. A particularly severe winter worsened post-World War II problems that included poor food; inadequate housing; unemployment; and factories, transportation and economies in shambles. Although some stop-gap measures existed, no long-term reconstruction program was in effect.

Marshall's European recovery plan, in simple terms, offered economic and technical assistance to all countries of Europe except Spain, which was a dictatorship at the time. The offer extended to the Soviet Union and its satellites, but they refused, as did Finland. In the end, 16 nations took up the United States on its offer.

Although intended primarily to rebuild European economies, some early efforts -- out of necessity -- took the form of humanitarian relief. "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos," Marshall said.

Congress authorized an initial $5.3 billion for the plan in the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948. Between 1948 and 1952, the 16 participants received $13.5 billion, ranging from $3.1 billion for Great Britain to $32 million for Iceland. Food and clothing, new trains and new dikes, reconstituted mines and factories, economic reversal were just a few of the many benefits.

Winston Churchill called the plan "the most unsordid act in history." Historian Arnold Toynbee said "the solicitude of the world's most privileged people for its less privileged as vested in ... the Marshall Plan ... will be remembered as the signal achievement of our age."

For his efforts, soldier-statesman George C. Marshall received the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.

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