On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered a speech at Harvard University that would change the world.
As Army Chief of Staff during World War II and principal architect of the Allied strategy for winning the war, General Marshall had seen, and even overseen, the destruction of European friend and foe. In the immediate postwar years, Marshall knew the importance of rebuilding European allies and enemies, a lesson learned from the failure to do so after World War I. Marshall knew that economic stability would lead to political stability. He also knew that the United States had to be at the forefront of any rebuilding program, and that the effort would be intertwined with the emerging Cold War. More importantly, Marshall knew that a rebuilding Europe was in the best interests of the United States.
The harsh winter of 1946-47 and quickly moving geopolitical events with regard to the Soviet Union prompted Marshall to instruct his staff to devise a rebuilding plan. His speech at Harvard did not yet enunciate the European Recovery Program, or the Marshall Plan as it became commonly known, in detail. Rather, he spoke calmly yet forcefully during an uncertain time of uncertain peace. The 10-minute, 1500-word speech provided the framework for developing legislation that was passed by a Republican controlled Congress and signed by a Democratic President, in April 1948. Fostering the spirit of bipartisanship, Marshall, the non-political war hero, bridged the divide .
From 1948-1951, the European Recovery Program provided over $13 billion (over $125 billion in present day terms) to 17 countries. When it ended, similar aid programs provided continuity in the regeneration of Western Europe. The Marshall Plan served as an instrument of transformational diplomacy as well as a model for aid to other parts of the world and for the further institutionalization of aid agencies. Today, the Marshall Plan is a metaphor for magnanimity and the benefits of helping other countries rebuild themselves, while advancing global security and trade.
Contemporary issues frequently raise the idea of a “Marshall Plan” as a solution. The 70th Anniversary Symposium on the Marshall Plan Speech featured American and European diplomats and scholars who addressed the history and impact of the Marshall Plan as well as its relevance and applicability to 21st century geopolitics.
View a printed program of the event here.