If you need a break from the tawdry soap opera of American politics and the twists of national security policymaking these days, 2018 provides many milestones that recall actual American greatness, even instilling some hope for its renewal. Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the formal beginning of the Economy Recovery Plan, commonly known as the Marshall Plan. It was not only a financial infusion to jumpstart the struggling economies of Europe torn apart by World War II, but a demonstration of American planning and organization, as well as the role of visionary public and private sector leaders. It was an economic intervention that served a larger political purpose: to achieve postwar stability in Europe, whose peace and prosperity was key to America’s rise as a global power.
The commemorations of the Marshall Plan and its lasting legacy began last year, when institutions honoring George C. Marshall celebrated the 11-minute speech he gave at Harvard University in June 1947. That’s when Marshall, the World War II general-turned-secretary of state, outlined a new approach to helping restart economic activity across Europe’s ravaged landscape.
It’s worth remembering that the Marshall Plan, which ran for a mere four years at a cost of $13 billion—in 1948 dollars—was the second American attempt to help Europe rebuild. In the immediate aftermath of the war, in 1945 and 1946, the United States allocated a similar amount of aid, which provided short-term relief but failed to generate the badly needed reboot to its agriculture, industrial production and trade.