Our colleague in Washington on the 75th anniversary of the Marshall Plan
The American military and politician George C. Marshall (l) in conversation with the President of Columbia University and future US President Dwight D. Eisenhower (r) in July 1950 in Washington D.C., © picture-alliance / dpa | New York Times
Washington, February 19, 2022
For a moment, please put yourself in the position of the USA in 1945. Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was recently elected president, you are one of the most influential and economically powerful countries on earth and you are intertwined with the rest of the world, particularly Europe, on many levels. The Second World War (1939-1945) is over. The horrors of war are also having an impact on your country and have taken a terrible toll on your European cooperation partners. The old world is in ruins and those who are not on the brink of ruin still have to mourn many deaths and severe economic losses. All remaining European forces were drawn together to devote themselves to the lengthy and laborious reconstruction. The days of flourishing transatlantic trade are over for the time being, the European population is suffering great hardship and the Soviet Union is already trying to expand its influence in the weakened countries and in occupied Germany. An important pillar of your own economic and political stability has been shaken by the war. What do you do?
The then US Secretary of State George C. Marshall provided the answer in 1947 (1880-1959). He pleaded with the US Congress that the US must provide assistance in rebuilding a war-torn Europe that was already brewing from the Cold War (1947-1989). On Marshall's initiative, the European Recovery Program (ERP), later commonly known as the Marshall Plan, was launched in April 1948.
This was a huge business development program designed to help the countries help themselves. With it, the economic recovery and the political stabilization of Europe should be promoted. In the period between 1948 and 1952, the USA gave generous loans and subsidies, regularly supplied food, fuel, fertilizer and medicines and paid out a total of 13.2 billion US dollars, which would correspond to a total of around 110 billion euros today. Among the 16 countries participating in the program were Great Britain, France and Italy and the part of Germany occupied by the Allies (the FRG), the country responsible for the catastrophe of the Second World War. Aid was also offered to Eastern European countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but these countries declined (some of them reluctantly) so as not to anger Moscow. The Kremlin had quickly realized that the Marshall Plan was also pursuing power-political goals. It was supposed to curb communist influence in Western Europe and bind the money recipients to the USA in the long term.
The Marshall Plan soon bore visible fruit. By 1952, all participating states, with the exception of the divided Germany, had returned to their respective pre-war industrial levels and were again able to engage in close trade with each other and with the United States. In 1949, they merged to form the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which in 1960 became the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which still exists today. It is noteworthy that Germany, respectively the Federal Republic of Germany was not excluded from aid despite the burden of war guilt. Although the issue was highly controversial in the US Congress, it was felt that peace could only be achieved and maintained through stability across Europe.
And now please try to imagine what the world would be like today if George C. Marshall had not advocated for large-scale support for Europe 75 years ago. Who knows how long it would have taken the European continent to recover from the damage of the war and how many decades of technical progress that would have cost. Who knows if the European Union would have ever been founded and if peace could have been preserved for so long.
We are grateful to say that without the Marshall Plan, Germany would not be what it is today - an economically successful, European-minded country that is firmly anchored in democratic values.
With this thought, we say goodbye and wish you a pleasant day!
Best regards from Washington