Many have been generous in their praise of the Marshall Plan. It became the largest foreign-aid program in America's history and the most successful peacetime American foreign policy of this century. It would later be thought of as a superior example of enlightened self-interest. The policy presented the United States and its citizens in the best possible light or, in W.H. Auden's words, as "a friend of the future."
The vision of the Marshall Plan created a new postwar order in Western Europe favorable to American interests. But America and Western Europe as a whole were partners in the task of reconstruction. It was this spirit of cooperation and tolerance, the emphasis on self-help and mutual aid, that accounted for the plan's success and enabled it to stand as an enduring lesson for later generations.
The integration of Western European economies was a great achievement and one in which the Marshall Plan played a significant part. This integrated economic order, with its central institutions, helped to channel the resurgent energy of the Federal Republic of Germany in constructive ways and provided a combined front to act as a bulwark to contain Soviet power to the east. It was to set Western Europe on a path that would lead it to the Common Market of the 1960s and the European Community of today.
To grasp its tremendous significance, consider how international leaders viewed the Marshall Plan at the time.
President Harry Truman observed: "I believe that in years to come we shall look back upon this undertaking as the dividing line between the old era of world affairs and the new-the dividing line between the old era of national suspicion, economic hostility and isolationism and the new era of mutual cooperation to increase the prosperity of people throughout the world."
British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin called it an act of "generosity . . . beyond belief" and "an idea which translates the problem from one of individual countries to one of a continent, and only a country that is a continent could look at another continent in that way . . . I felt it was the first chance we had ever been given since the end of the war to look at [the] European economy as a whole."
Ludwig Erhard, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1963-66), talked of the plan's selflessness. "This magnanimous support [the Marshall Plan] deserves above all to be assessed from the point of view of its moral effect. It gave the German people the feeling that they were no longer written off by the rest of the world but that they could again take part in the progress of the free world. Its economic and financial significance was, moreover, no less."
Dirk Stikker, foreign minister of the Netherlands (1948-52), noted that "Churchill's words won the war; Marshall's words won the peace."
Perhaps Winston Churchill himself summed it up most memorably when he called the Marshall Plan "the most unsordid act in history." GN