A Brief History
On April 3, 1948, President Harry S Truman (there is no period after the “S” because it was just an initial, not standing for a name!) signed legislation authorizing $5 billion for the Marshall Plan, a foreign aid bill championed by former five star general George C. Marshall who was Secretary of State at the time.
Marshall was the first officer of five star rank promoted during World War II so that the US would have officers of a rank equal to or greater than Field Marshall. After the war he became Secretary of State at a time when tensions with the Soviet Union (USSR) were becoming rather apparent. The Plan was to build up countries in the Western sphere of influence devastated by the war so that they could recover, both for humanitarian reasons and to keep these rebuilding nations from falling into the Communist (Soviet) bloc.
This bi-partisan plan cost $12 billion over the 4 years it was in place, which is around $120 billion in today’s dollars. Today, despite the hyperbole surrounding the outrage over how much we spend on foreign aid, the actual amount we spend is only less than 1% of our budget, around $18 billion (plus another $10 billion or so on military aid). For some reason, Americans today seem to think the US spends a ludicrous amount of money on gifting aid to foreign (“underserving”) countries and that we can somehow balance our budget or redirect the spending on foreign aid to solve all our other problems. Sorry, this is not the case!
The Marshall Plan is generally regarded as a tremendous success, protecting Western Europe from falling under Soviet domination and revitalizing Europe as an engine of world economic and industrial vitality. At times the Marshall Plan is represented as a selfish, self-serving scheme by Americans solely for the benefit of the US, and at other times it is represented as the biggest humanitarian operation in Human History. Both of these characterizations are true in some ways.
Political scientists describe foreign aid and money spent on diplomacy as a wise investment that saves money that would otherwise be spent on the military and wars, an economical way of preserving peace. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you concur with this theory? What do you think of the Marshall Plan and of our current foreign aid practices? (You may want to look up what we give to which countries before you answer.) Please share your thoughts on the subject with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Behrman, Greg. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and How America Helped Rebuild Europe. Free Press, 2008.
Jones, Bruce D. and Strobe Talbott. The Marshall Plan and the Shaping of American Strategy. Brookings Institution Press, 2017.
Mee Jr., Charles L. Saving a Continent: The Untold Story of the Marshall Plan. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.