When you interact with Europeans, especially those in the older age range, some remember to thank you for the part that the United States played in rescuing their country from Nazism in World War II. What few Europeans thank Americans for is the economic rescue plan that resurrected their economies from the ashes, the famed Marshall Plan of 1948 has regained notice in the media as Europe again seeks to dig itself out of an economic hole.
That’s unfortunate, because The Marshall Plan of 1948 provided aid to rebuild Europe after World War II on a level that boggles the mind today. It’s a shame that it took crisis to remind us of the ambitious plan that funded Europe’s quick recovery from the destruction of World War II. It would be hard to find in the annals of history a case where a nation aided its former enemies so generously as when the U.S. pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the German economy in the years after 1944. Such benevolence is probably unprecedented in mankind’s story on planet Earth. On the other hand, it would have been difficult to turn a blind eye to the needs in Europe after World War II, no matter what part of the map one examined. Millions of people had been killed or wounded, industrial centers had been destroyed, transportation networks had been crippled and agricultural production was slowed to a halt, leaving the countries of England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium and others on the brink of a possible famine.
Photos from the time give a hint at the ruination of the cities, the heavy psychological blow that the destruction dealt to the people, the hopelessness that engulfed much of the continent as the smoke cleared and it was time to shovel debris and figure out what to do next.
Due to its physical distance from the primary battlegrounds of the war, the United States was uniquely preserved from most of the war’s destructive toll, making it the sole country able to help Europe get back on its feet. It did so through The Marshall Plan of 1948, named after its architect, a man that President Truman called “the greatest man of World War II,” adding, “He managed to get along with Roosevelt, the Congress, Churchill, the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Appointed in 1947, General George C. Marshall worked with colleagues in the State Department to formulate a program that would greatly bolster the United Nations’ humanitarian assistance in Europe. Titled the European Recovery Program at the time, The Marshall Plan was formulated on the belief that political stability in Europe would result when its economies were revived. One prominent motivation of The Marshall Plan of 1948 was to re-build Europe quickly enough to help those nations resist the overtures of Communism.
General George C. Marshall unveiled the outline of the plan during his commencement address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. In his description of the plan at that time and in other contexts, Marshall made a strong case for the linkage between America’s security and prosperity to Europe’s well-being.
Here are the details of the ambitious and historical Marshall Plan:
- It began in 1948, bestowing a total of $13.3 billion in aid to 16 countries in all
- Aid was offered to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union but was rejected by Moscow
- It started with shipments of food, fuel and machinery and evolved into investment in industry
- It focused on these countries in detail, with a region-by-region approach
- It ended at year’s end in 1951, having produced unprecedented growth in European economies as productivity skyrocketed and trade flourished
- It contained many self-help principles that enabled European countries to continue to prosper after the aid flow was greatly reduced
- This prosperity laid the groundwork for the NATO alliance and what is now the European Union
Given its overwhelming success at restoring Europe’s economic fortunes and keeping many countries out of Communism’s growing net, The Marshall Plan of 1948 is widely considered as one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives in U.S. history.