Borne from the mind of a wise and diplomatically skilled visionary, the Marshall
Plan was the phoenix on whose wings war ravaged Europe would begin its ascent from
the ashes of World War II. The Plan took root in the Economic Cooperation Administration
(ECA) created by Congress in April, 1948. Its official title was the European Recovery
Program. It is called the Marshall Plan, however, in honor of its creator – Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
Constituting one of our nation’s finest foreign policy moments, the Marshall Plan
signaled America’s unequivocal resolve to assist an economically struggling Europe,
and assume a position of leadership on the post-WWII stage. Observing the financial
crises which had forced Britain to pull out of Greece, the massive European capital
shortages, poor crop conditions, rising inflation, and the budding seeds of communist
parties in France and Italy, Secretary of State Marshall was determined not to repeat
the mistakes of World War I by simply standing by as bad times turned worse.
At the Harvard University commencement on June 5, 1947, Marshall announced that
European economic recovery was a major goal of American foreign policy: “Our policy
is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation,
and chaos… Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will
find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States government.”
Marshall’s words echoed around the globe and drew immediate support. Representatives
of Britain, France, Italy, and other European countries, including the Soviet Union
and its satellites, met in Paris to discuss “the Marshall Plan.” While the Communist
nations soon withdrew, the countries of western Europe plus Turkey and Greece remained
enthusiastic about the American offer of aid. By the following year, some seventeen
nations formed the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). The OEEC’s
aims were to increase production, control inflation, and promote European economic
cooperation by lowering trade barriers. To assure the success of Marshall’s efforts
to lead European countries toward a better life, the United States government sent
some $13 billion in food, machinery, and other products to a needy Europe.
While the flow of aid given under the Marshall Plan came to an end in 1951, its
mission was accomplished. The Marshall Plan revitalized the economies of the seventeen
countries whose membership formed the OEEC. Moreover, the plan is credited with
striking a great blow against western Europe’s newly emerging communist parties.
Today, the seeds of the Marshall Plan are still blooming through the Organization
of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the successor to the OEEC. Twenty
nations, including the United States and Canada, formed the OECD in 1961 to continue
Marshall’s dream of promoting the economic growth of member nations and to aid underdeveloped
Hogan, Michael J. The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of
Western Europe 1947-1952 (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
“Against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos,” George C. Marshall’s speech at
the Harvard University Commencement, June 5, 1947, reprinted in Foreign Affairs,
May-June 1997, vol.76, n.3, p.160.