Marshall & a New World Order

A December 2014 Congressional Research Service Report (CRS) on the changing international security environment states that world events since late 2013 are creating a shift in the international environment is undergoing a shift from the familiar post-Cold War era of the last 20-25 years to a new and different strategic situation. The features of that environment are a renewed power competition and challenges to elements of the U.S.-led international order that has existed since World War II.

When George C. Marshall assumed the position of U.S. Secretary of State in 1947 he also faced the challenge of defining a new role for the United States in world affairs. He had to deal with a skeptical Congress and American public. The Great Depression had ended; the world war was over; Americans had done their duty and felt they had earned the right to turn their attention toward America and their own lives. As a historically isolationist people their thoughts were not towards leadership of the world.

Marshall Plan SpeechHowever General Marshall knew that a return to pre-war policies would not ensure peace and stability in the post-war world. In his most famous speech as U.S. Secretary of State, the Marshall Plan Speech at Harvard University, General Marshall stated, “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to assist in the return in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability or assured peace.” With his speech and the American public’s support Marshall signaled that America had taken on the responsibility for world peace and stability.

Once again in the new and different strategic situation foreseen in the CRS report, Americans face the tests of continuing to assert the country’s role in securing world peace. Americans can feel confident our nation has faced similar trials. However, Marshall would warn the public, as he did in a 1947 Washington’s Birthday address at Princeton University that we must not fall back into our “natural tendency to relax and to return to business as usual, politics as usual, and pleasure as usual.”

General Marshall would declare that this is a time for policymakers and the American public to act. Quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Princeton speech Marshall said, “Man is born to act. To act is to affirm the worth of an end, and to affirm the worth of an end is to create the ideal.”

Leave a Reply