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The Exchange

The Marshall Plan: Dawn Of The Cold War

U.S. Embassy The Hague
George C. Marshall

A recent book by Benn Steil re-examines this massive effort to revive post-World War II Europe and thwart the influence of the Soviet Union, seen as the next ideological threat on the world stage.  The author explores how echoes of those struggles are heard in today's debates, including how best to handle Russia.


Benn Steil - Senior fellow and Director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also the author of The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order.

More on the Marshall Plan:

Read reviews of Steil's new book in The Wall Street Journal  and The New York Times.

Read an excerpt of The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War

Below text excerpted from the George C. Marshall Foundation

When Secretary of State Marshall accepted an invitation from Harvard University to receive an honorary degree during the first week in June 1947, the State Department informed the president of the Alumni Association that Marshall would make a speech for the afternoon meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association but that Marshall did not want it to be a major speech of the occasion. There were no discussions with representatives of other governments; there were no notifications of the American press that an important speech was to be delivered, and even Harvard President James B. Conant did not expect a major address from General Marshall.

The speech was drafted by Chip Bohlen, a Russia specialist and interpreter who used memoranda from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff George F. Kennan and from Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs William Clayton. Bohlen especially benefited from Clayton’s graphic oral descriptions of Europe’s situation. In the memorandum he wrote, “Millions of people in the cities are slowly starving,” if the standard of living continued to deteriorate, “there will be revolution.”

On the day of the speech the capacity crowd of 15,000 in Harvard Yard did not expect to see history made but simply to see one of the most admired public servants in America. However when Secretary Marshall began to read his speech there was a recognition that the carefully worded remarks on the political and economic crisis in Europe marked an important event. In that speech, Marshall outlined the need for an economic aid plan to help the devastated nations of Europe and their citizens to recover from the ravages of World War II. When Marshall said, “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace,” the Secretary of State committed the United States to consider a European recovery plan that would be developed by the Europeans and presented to the United States. Thus was launched The Marshall Plan for which George C. Marshall would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Listen to the speech that launched the Marshall Plan.