Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thoughts on the Marshall Plan

I am not much of a historian. In fact I can barely remember what happened last week. But, we have been discussing the Marshall Plan in class. It is something I do not remember learning. I’ve heard about it. We hear about it often in the news and as a comparison to present day drastic measures. But, I wonder if we really know what we are talking about. Anyway, here is what I think thus far. Thoughts? Ideas? More info please?

There were at least two primary motives for the implementation of the Marshall Plan. After Germany surrendered unconditionally, two significant shocks to the global system remained. One, was the physical devastation left behind in Europe. Infrastructure was severely lacking and people were literally hungry. Two, was the oncoming rise of communism from the East. So, there was a practical and political motive to the Marshall Plan.

The practical application was to help Europe recover from the war. Truman saw a recovered Europe as in the best interest of all - America and Europe (Truman, 1972). In recognizing a need for Europe to quickly come back from such loss, Truman and his administration put a priority on helping them. In her book about her father, Truman's daughter Margaret, recalled a 1948 speech to Congress in which he said (1972), "the determination of the free countries of Europe to protect themselves will be matched by an equal determination on our part to help them protect themselves" (p. 405). Part of the Marshall Plan was to do just that - inject aid on a massive scale to help Europe help themselves.

The political piece of the plan, however, was most likely to set conditions for the oncoming struggle between communism and capitalism. David Reynolds points out in his Foreign Affairs piece that (1997), "The promise of American aid helped persuade the center-left in both of these countries to break with the communists and, in Frances case, with Soviet foreign policy" (p. 182). Reynolds also points out that Stalin himself drew a similar conclusion regarding the Marshall Plan (Reynolds, 1997). Given that Truman was not only a very practical person, he was a very skilled politician. I believe the Marshall Plan was very much a political calculation to strike against the East (Soviets) and extend American democratic influence.

Reynolds, D. (1997, May/June). The european response. Foreign Affairs , 76 (3), pp. 171-184.

Truman, M. (1972). Harry S. Truman. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc.

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Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.