The German Marshall Fund of the United States: A Brief History
On June 5, 1947, a beautiful day by all accounts, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall stood on the steps of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard and looked out to the assembled graduating class of Harvard University. Contrasting wartorn Europe with the august surroundings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he spoke of the distance between Americans and “the troubled areas of the earth,” saying that it was “hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reactions of the long-suffering peoples of Europe.”
It was just over two years since the end of World War II in Europe, and much of the continent remained devastated. While the United States prospered, food shortages were severe in Europe, and the previous winter had seen near famine conditions in many parts of that continent. And yet, Marshall said, “the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines, and railroads…was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of the European economy.”
What Europe needed above all was a program of economic aid that would put Europeans in the driver’s seat, letting them decide how best to use U.S. funds to rebuild their economies."
What Europe needed above all was a program of economic aid that would put Europeans in the driver’s seat, letting them decide how best to use U.S. funds to rebuild their economies. With an eye to anticipated Soviet objections to his proposal, Marshall said “our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.” His proposal — which became the European Recovery Program (ERP) or, more commonly, the Marshall Plan — would offer assistance to former allies and foes, alike. The speech, which lasted less than 15 minutes, marked a turning point in post-war history.
As German President Richard von Weizsäcker would later write, Marshall‘s plan was “unparalleled in the history of world powers in generosity, selflessness, and vision. It was the work of a farsighted, highly responsible American administration. Europe was called upon to regain its life and its political role, the decisive impetus being provided by America’s material assistance.” After receiving unanimous Congressional approval, the ERP went into effect in April 1948. Through the program overall, $13.3 billion in grants and loans in the form of food, raw materials, and technical assistance were distributed to 16 countries. While the Soviet Union prevented any countries east of the Iron Curtain from accepting Marshall Plan aid, in Western Europe, the program launched the fastest period of growth in European history. In the four years the program operated, industrial production increased in Western Europe by 35 percent, and agricultural production surpassed prewar levels.