June 5th, 1947: US Announcement of the Marshall Plan

History Today, June 1997 | Go to article overview

June 5th, 1947: US Announcement of the Marshall Plan


The Marshall Plan, so-called after its architect, US Secretary of State General George C. Marshall, confirmed the United States' new role as self-appointed guardian angel of the Western world, bringing the strongest and wealthiest nation to the economic rescue of a still war-ravaged Europe two years after the Allied defeat of Germany.

The Plan, offering billions of dollars of aid in the form of grants and loans, was an acknowledgment on the part of the US that it had underestimated the extent of wartime damage in Europe. But it also marked a crucial further development in post-war US foreign policy which had taken to heart the notion that Communism must be contained in the belief that Stalin had embarked on a dangerous crusade that put the whole world at risk from contamination by the Red peril -- a fear of Soviet expansionism that would dominate East/West relations for over three decades.

With Britain, France, Italy and Germany all diminished in the post-war international power stakes, the recovery and reshaping of Europe had rapidly deteriorated into an ideological battlefield on which the two new super powers sought to establish their spheres of influence. Both nations were highly suspicious of each others motives, putting paid to any earlier hopes that the wartime alliance might be carried through to post-war reconstruction.

Events in the Near East and Mediterranean -- anxieties over Russian intentions In Iran, in Turkey and, In the Greek civil war -- had brought a financially drained Britain to Washington on bended knees, no longer able to sustain its traditional assistance in these areas, to hand over the baton to the US State Department. In March 1947, in what became known as the Truman Doctrine, President Truman appealed to Congress for $400 million of aid to assist in the battle against the spread of Communism, using strong and frightening language to bring home -- literally speaking -- the Communist threat: `The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world -- and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation'.

Truman and his aides had a clear view of the type of post-war world they wanted to see established, outlined by his predecessor, Roosevelt, as early as 1941 in the Atlantic Charter (which the Russians had signed under a proviso) and later at Yalta (1945). Their vision was one in which lasting peace and stability would be achieved, via self-determination, liberal democracy and free trade, flourishing in an expanding world economy and watched over by a new United Nations organisation committed to the ideal of `collective security.' But suspicious of Western capitalism and wary of America's might, most recently brought home by their use of the atom bomb in Japan, Stalin made it increasingly clear that this was not an aspiration that could be striven for with equal enthusiasm by the USSR.

Above all, the Soviet Union made clear at the Moscow Conference of March 1947, held to discuss Germany's future, that it did not want to see its recently vanquished enemy, whose conquest had cost Russian lives so dear, helped by the West to regain its pre-war strength.

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June 5th, 1947: US Announcement of the Marshall Plan
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