After World War II, Europe had trouble reconstructing its destroyed towns. That is why George C. Marshall made the most of a speech delivered at Harvard to present his ideas about the aid the U.S. could give to its European counterparts.
June 5, 1947, the secretary of State, George C. Marshall, gave a speech at Harvard University to celebrate Commencement Day. Mr. Marshall took the opportunity to present his thoughts about the necessity of helping Europe, a continent ruined by the war. The bill behind it explained that this was “an act to promote world peace and the general welfare, national interest, and foreign policy of the United States through economic, financial and other measures necessary to the maintenance of conditions abroad in which free institutions may survive and consistent with the maintenance of the strength and stability of the United States”. The European states accepted it quickly after its approval by the U.S. Congress. This aid, officially called the “European Recovery Program”, is mostly know as the Marshall Plan. The United Kingdom and France were the two countries that benefited the most from this aid. That is why it is interesting to note that, to date, this anniversary is not even mentioned in most of the main media outlets.
An aid aimed at two main different objectives
The Marshall Plan was, of course, particularly necessary for the reconstruction of Europe. The countries suffered from World War II. Entire cities, towns and villages were destroyed. However, this is the “physical” part of the damages caused by the war. This assessment was accompanied by a ruined economy and a demoralisation of the economic players. The damages were more or less important according to the country or the region but no state was spared. That is why, in his speech, George C. Marshall noticed a less perceptible problem from the U.S. point of view: the trade between the cities and the countryside was more and more difficult. Urban people had to face food shortages while farmers could not obtain manufactured goods to help them producing more food. One of the major goal was then to modernise the European mean of production.
Marshall also took into account the general situation of international relations. In 1947, the Cold War was only at its beginning. The blocs were not totally shaped. Marshall and the U.S. administration feared that communism had spread to European western countries. The goal was to strengthen their ties with the U.S. The Marshall Plan was presented to all the European countries, even the ones who were drawn to communism. Its acceptance certainly rigidified the constitution of blocs. In Eastern Europe, the communist parties strengthened their domination over major parts of the societies and became satellites of the USSR.
An aid laying the foundation of the European unification
The Marshall Plan was original in that that it let Europeans determine their common priorities. This meant that Europeans, fighting in a war 2 years prior, would have to all get together to discuss these common economic priorities. The Marshall Plan also lead to the creation of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC). Its role was to distribute credits among the 18 members who accepted to be part of the European Recovery Program. In 1961, the OEEC became the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), an organization bringing together mostly developed countries.
This first step in co-operation with European countries also tol the foundation stone for co-operation with other fields. As Clinton said during the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan: “It planted the seeds of institutions that evolved to bind Western Europe together, for the OECD, the European Union and NATO. It paved the way for reconciliation of age-old differences”. The European Coal and Steel Community had not, for instance, been created because of the Marshall Plan. To eventually bring about the European Union that we know today, the will and the leadership of a minority of pro-Europeans were necessary. However, the Marshall Plan allowed Western Europe to keep its ties with the U.S., to remain in the “Free world” and so to enter into an integration in which the sovereignty of each state was respected.
Even if the 70th birthday of the Marshall Plan is not celebrated throughout Western European countries, it is necessary to remember that it was a major plan for our societies that helped us to get back on our feet. It would also be way to remember the ties and relations that unite the two sides of the Atlantic, especially before President Trump, who questioned the necessity of the NATO and the EU.
- George C. Marshall’s speech, available at: http://www.cvce.eu/obj/discours_de_george_marshall_harvard_5_juin_1947-fr-dc2f8c43-4269-48c8-ab58-2ef075080e6c.html.
- Postwar Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe marks 70th anniversary, available at: https://fr.usembassy.gov/postwar-marshall-plan-rebuilt-europe-marks-70th-anniversary/.
- Foreign assistance act of 1948, available at: http://marshallfoundation.org/library/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2014/06/Foreign_Assistance_Act_of_1948.pdf.
- Jean-Claude Casanova, « Le cinquantième anniversaire du plan Marshall », Commentaire, 1998/2 (Nr. 82), p. 469.
- Charles S. Maier, « Du plan à la pratique. Contexte et conséquences du Plan Marshall », Commentaire, 1998/2 (Nr. 82), pp. 471-474.