In 1945, General George C. Marshall was released from duty as Army Chief of Staff and began his career as a statesman. Serving as a Special Presidential Envoy in China, where he experienced the intractable nature of Chinese politics. His mission was to negotiate a settlement between China’s two warring forces and keep the opportunistic Soviets from taking over–an assignment that was both frustrating and impossible. The extreme elements of the Communists and Nationalists were in charge and prevented a settlement, and Marshall eventually ended his efforts to unify China. The China mission was one of the few disappointments of Marshall’s career.
Marshall was sworn in as Secretary of State in 1947, and he found himself again focused on Europe, where conditions were deplorable. After World War II, Europe had experienced a bitter winter, and food was scarce in both victorious and defeated nations. People were dying in the streets from starvation, there was virtually no industry, crime rates were rising dramatically, and the threat of Soviet expansion was ever-increasing.
After a foreign ministers conference, Marshall was convinced that the Soviet Union was using the plight of the European countries, particularly Germany, to its advantage and that immediate action was needed. Marshall began an extensive, oft-criticized campaign to revive Europe. What ultimately become known as the Marshall Plan was, according to historian Randall B. Woods, the single most successful foreign aid program in modern history, and ensured stability and democracy in Europe.
During his years as a statesman, Marshall also served as President of the American Red Cross from 1949 to 1950, and Secretary of Defense from 1950 to 1951 during the Korean Conflict. In 1953, he headed the United States delegation to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and later that year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts and contributions to world peace and understanding.