In June 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave a speech to the graduating class at Harvard University and issued a call for a comprehensive program to rebuild Europe. Europe had been devastated by years of conflict during World War II. Millions of people had been killed or wounded. Industrial and residential centers in England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe lay in ruins. Much of the region was on the brink of famine, as the war had disrupted agricultural production.
In this speech, Secretary Marshall offered U.S. assistance to a distressed Europe and laid the groundwork for a recovery plan for Europe which created bonds that have linked the continent with the United States ever since. He believed it was critical for Europe to recover as a stable democratic region to counter the expansionist communist ambitions and become an essential economic and trading partner for the United States.
Marshall enlisted popular and Congressional support for this idea, which resulted in the Economic Cooperation Act – informally known as the Marshall Plan – being passed by Congress in March 1948. This action approved funding that would eventually rise to nearly $13 billion for the rebuilding of Western Europe and was signed by President Truman on April 3, 1948.
Sixteen nations, including Germany, became part of the program and shaped the assistance they required, state by state, with administrative and technical assistance provided through the Economic Cooperation Administration of the United States. This aid initially resulted in shipments of food, staples, fuel, and machinery from the United States. It later generated a resurgence of European industrialization – including coal and steel – and brought extensive investment into the region. Countries recovered far more quickly than anticipated. It also served as a stimulant to the U.S. economy by establishing markets for American goods.
The Marshall Plan has been recognized as a great humanitarian effort. In 1953, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize for his promotion of the plan. The Marshall Plan also institutionalized and legitimized the concept of U.S. foreign aid programs, which have become an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. It remains one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives in U.S. history and a model of effective diplomacy. The ideas that Marshall’s plan embodied — of reconciliation, American responsibility and generosity, and the interconnected world economy — still resonate today, 70 years after the plan was signed into law.
To recognize the 70th anniversary of the April 3rd signing into law of the Marshall Plan, this week, the U.S. Diplomacy Center will host an event examining the history and legacy of the Marshall Plan. This event is a part of the center’s George C. Marshall Legacy Series that interprets General Marshall’s legacy through exhibitions, speakers and programs centered on key themes or episodes from his career.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.
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