75 Years Later: Exploring the Marshall Plan’s Legacy

On June 5, 1947, while delivering the graduation address at Harvard University, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall made the case for massive American investment in the devastated economies of post-World War II Europe.

On Sunday, 75 years later, a crowd gathered on the lawn of his Leesburg home, Dodona Manor, to reflect on the legacy of the European Recovery Program, best known as the Marshall Plan and for which the retired Army General was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Speakers during the program, organized by the George C. Marshall International Center, highlighted the plan’s success at rebuilding Europe’s economy and creating a foundation of cooperation among the participating nations—including the establishment of strong economic ties to the U.S.—that continue today, while promoting American values of freedom and keeping Soviet expansion in check. 

British Ambassador to the U.S. Karen Pierce said foundation of Marshall’s principles can be seen in Europe today.

“George Marshall fundamentally understood the importance of a Europe that would be peaceful, that would be self-sustaining, and that would be a friend of the United States,” she said. “As we watch what Ukraine is going through today with the Russian illegal invasion and conflict, I think we can remember that spirit of George Marshall and we can remember what a better time in Europe can look like and one day we can get back to that Europe—whole and free, which he was visionary enough to believe in.”

Luxembourg’s Deputy Chief of Mission Gilles Bauer said that, although his small country did not receive a large investment from the ERP, the impact was significant, nevertheless. “It rebuilt the infrastructure and also it raised our neighbors, and we cannot thrive without our neighbors thriving in a cooperative way,” he said.

Björn Fagerberg, the counselor and head of political affairs at Sweden’s U.S. embassy, noted that it was a relatively small and poor American population that bore the cost of the $15 billion investment—about $1,000 per person at the time.

“There is something very inspiring to look back and see what was possible to do. I know it wasn’t easy and the American public balked at the sums involved and it wasn’t easy to get political support, but in the end it turned out to be possible,” he said.

Fagerberg also sees parallels to the European response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine today.

“Not making this investment into the reconstruction of Europe would have consequences and those consequences would have reverberated around the world. They would ultimately probably impact the U.S.,” he said. “That is very much the case today if Russia’s Vladimir Putin is successful in his imperialist attempts to subjugate Ukraine, a free and democratic country. This not only will nullify the achievements of generations in strengthening European security, it will also embolden autocrats worldwide to push forward territorial claims with force and it will make the world less safe for all of us.”

David Hien, a senior fellow at the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, suggested modernizing the descriptions typically applied to the Marshall Plan, such as priming the pump of Europe’s economy or providing an industrial lubricant.  

“The European Recovery plan was more dynamic and more organic than that. The Marshall Plan instead resembled a vaccine, or perhaps even better, an injection of carefully targeted stem cells,” he said. The wave of grants, loans, and technical advice “stimulated host bodies to generate their own natural powers of resistance—to resist especially the Soviet Union.”

He also characterized the program as “asymmetrical warfare.”

“The Marshall Plan was not primarily a humanitarian intervention; it was a weapon of war,” Hien said. “The United States countered the Soviet’s strengths, especially the Soviet military ground forces with its own strength, economic and technical assistance coupled with the important psychological weapons of freedom—free governments, free markets, free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. And all those had a tremendous effect.”

William Buckman said the ERP not only rebuilt Europe’s economic institutions, but also established the base of cooperation among the nations—starting with the treaty to control steel and coal. That investment and cooperation quickly resulted in industrial and agricultural production surpassing pre-war levels and continued to flourish. 

“The European Union of today was not created by the Marshall Plan, but the economic principles promoted by the Economic Cooperation Administration (which administered the ERP) as well as the assiduous work of the participating countries seeking new forms of cooperation and efficiency, notably including West Germany as an engine, certainly were catalysts for the process,” he said. 

Sunday’s program also included tours of Dodona Manor, which Fagerberg described as a hidden jewel in the region, where the George C. Marshall International Center provide guided tours on weekends and hosts a variety of programs focused on Marshall’s principles of ethical leadership.

Learn more at georgecmarshall.org.

2 thoughts on “75 Years Later: Exploring the Marshall Plan’s Legacy

  • 2022-06-07 at 3:53 pm
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    The Marshall Plan’s infusion of billions into war-torn Europe helped make the world safe for democracy. While I have mixed feelings about Harry Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb onto Hiroshima & Nagasaki, the Marshall Plan was the right thing to do. Loudoun can be very proud to claim George C. Marshall as one of its own. Happy World Caring Day Loudoun!

  • 2022-06-08 at 2:15 pm
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    My father-in-law was going to be in the initial assault wave Thank God Truman had the brains to drop both bombs!

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