6-133 Speech on the Situation in Europe, November 18, 1947

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 18, 1947

Subject: Postwar

November 18, 1947
Chicago, Illinois

The American people, I believe, have a sound understanding of the basic principles and objectives of our foreign policy. These have been expressed on many occasions by responsible officials of this Government beginning with the President. They are understandable, I believe, to you all because they have their origin in the American conscience and in the deeply rooted traditions of our people. No American, I am sure, questions the desirability of this country promoting wherever it can the right of people to govern themselves and the rule of impartial law as against the exercise of arbitrary power. These principles require no elaboration. But, true as they are, such generalities do not always serve to clarify for our people the current problems with which we are now faced. They do not in themselves answer the question, “What is it all about?” They do not in themselves provide an answer as to why at almost every turn we find ourselves in disagreement with another power with whom we were so recently allied in the common cause. I shall tonight confine myself to the problems relating to one area of the world which at the moment are occupying the attention of the administration and the Congress and with which in another aspect I will be dealing at the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers which opens in London, November 25. That is the related problem of the revival of the European community and the peace settlements with Germany and Austria. I shall try to avoid over-simplification on the one hand and bewildering detail on the other.

In my statement before the Committees of Congress on November 10, I laid great stress on the entity known as Europe and its importance to the world and to the United States in particular. So important to the understanding of our present problem is the meaning of the European community that at the expense of repetition I will restate it. Europe, or what through centuries has been known as Europe, is a community of nations which despite racial and religious differences, commercial rivalries, and sporadic internecine wars has developed governmental procedures and an advanced civilization. We are a part of that civilization. Our national traditions—the foundation on which our entire civilization rests—find their counterpart, if not their origin, in some part of this European community.

Europe is a natural grouping of states designed by geography and history to function as a community if it is to function well. Because of the character of its people, the nations comprising the European community function harmoniously and effectively only if they are permitted to operate of their own free will. The logic of history would appear to dictate the necessity of this community drawing closer together not only for its own survival, but for the stability, prosperity, and peace of the entire world.

Due to the Nazi attempt to subjugate the entire European community, Europe was plunged into a great war. The central question that arose at the end of this war was in effect what was to be the future of this European community. Was it to be restored to a position of stability so it could work out its own problem, or was it to be kept in a state of permanent dependency and eventual absorption into a system alien to its traditions and civilization?

It is generally recognized that the major responsibility for finally crushing Nazism devolved upon three powers, none of which can be strictly classed as a continental European state. The efforts of two of these powers have been consistently directed since the military victory toward the restoration of the European community to its former status. They have been so directed partly out of compassion but primarily, I think, because they recognized the historical fact that a revived, revitalized Europe is necessary to a peaceful and prosperous world order.

For centuries Europe occupied a preeminent position, and exercised a dominant influence in international affairs. Before the recent war it was one of the two highly industrialized areas on earth and enjoyed a correspondingly high standard of living. Today, Europe is devastated and dispirited, but once it regains strength and confidence it will draw on its store of resources, energies, skills and spiritual qualities and again make major contributions to world progress. This is the goal of those who are genuinely devoted to the cause of European recovery.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the third great power which contributed so much to the common victory evidently does not share that purpose. For reasons that are still obscure, it is endeavoring apparently to prolong the present unsatisfactory state of affairs indefinitely. If this purpose prevails, obviously the prosperous European community we knew before the war cannot be reestablished within the foreseeable future.

This brings me to an important conclusion. It is this divergence of purpose concerning the future of Europe which is the cause of many of the present differences between the United States and Soviet Russia. The divergence is not due to any direct clash between the national interests of these powers.

It is my belief that if Europe is restored as a solvent and vigorous community, this issue will have been decided and the disturbing conflict between ourselves and the Soviets, in so far as Europe is concerned, will lessen.

It seems evident that as regards European recovery, the enlightened self-interest of the United States coincides with the best interest of Europe itself and of all those who desire to see conflicts of whatever nature resolved, so that the world can devote its full attention and energy to the progressive improvement of the well-being of mankind. The place to begin that process is Europe.

I have referred to the fact that Europe formerly stood as a strong, and constructive element of the world’s economy and political order. Its trade, both among the European countries themselves and with other regions, was a major factor in the international exchange of commodities and services and was a direct stimulus to productivity throughout the world. The stabilizing influence which Europe as a concert of independent nations exercised on the remainder of the world was a basic factor in assuring the security of our own nation—a fact which we acknowledged by twice committing our total resources to the preservation of the integrity of the continental community, free of single-power domination.

The near collapse of Europe has left weakness where once there was strength, and has created in effect a political and economic vacuum. It is certainly not our purpose to exploit the situation by filling the vacuum with American power. The map of Europe today bears witness to our true intentions. West of the line where the Allied armies met, nations in their own way are grappling with their postwar problems, each in accordance with its distinctive institutions and traditions, free of external pressure. The proposal of the United States to assist in the recovery of the nations that responded to the suggestion of June 5 has no purpose other than to restore Europe as a self-supporting community of states and to terminate as speedily as possible dependence upon us for aid. It is unfortunate that only sixteen European states felt free to participate in the Paris conference on economic cooperation. This government is willing to cooperate with every nation that pledges a generous effort to the common cause of European recovery.

We are now intimately working to this end with governments of varied political complexions—some constitutional monarchies and some republics both with Socialist ministers, some controlled by conservative elements, and some constituted of coalitions. This is a fact that everyone can see, and it should dispel completely the propagandistic assertions that we seek to impose the American pattern on others.

Much has been said about the various freedoms, about democracy, about the right of people and of nations to determine for themselves without restraint the forms of government they desire. Much has also been said regarding the desire of the United States Government to influence other nations to follow what we believe we follow with constantly increasing success—that is a philosophy of government dedicated to the freedom and welfare of the individual. That is our earnest desire. It is certainly not imperialistic and it does not indicate a passion for war.

We realize that we cannot expect the same conceptions to be held by all countries. Different races, different traditions, different histories and rates of development lead to different results, but on fundamentals I think we find a general agreement among peoples the world around.

If the United States entertained any idea of extending American influence or domination over Europe, our policy would not be directed toward ending European dependency upon this country, but toward perpetuating that relationship. The clarity of the record and of our intentions, however, has not prevented Soviet officials and communist groups elsewhere from waging with increasing venom a calculated campaign of vilification and distortion of American motives in foreign affairs. These opponents of recovery charge the United States with imperialist design, aggressive purposes, and finally with a desire to provoke a third world war.

I wish to state emphatically that there is no truth whatsoever in these charges, and I add that those who make them are fully aware of this fact.

What is the record? We have annexed no territory. We have not used the greatest military power and military resources ever assembled to acquire for the United States a special privileged position, either political or economic. Furthermore, since the close of hostilities the United States and Great Britain have voluntarily reduced the area of their sovereignty in the world. Colonial areas and dependent people have been assisted to achieve full independence. New countries have emerged from under the U.S. and British flags to take their place as members of the United Nations.

While the western democracies have been reducing the area of their sovereignty, one country has taken the opposite road. The Soviet Union has in effect considerably expanded her frontiers. Since 1939 she has de facto annexed territory comprising an area of more than 280,000 square miles, with a population of some twenty-two million people.

The American proposal for assistance to Europe is directed toward production, construction and recovery. It is a genuinely cooperative undertaking, which is being worked out in an atmosphere of mutual trust and with careful regard for the sovereignty of nations. Indeed, this joint endeavor by the United States and sixteen European states is a clear and convincing demonstration of cooperation freely given, to achieve the common good. As such, it perfectly reflects one of the basic precepts of democracy.

This government recognizes that elements of uncertainty are involved in so vast and complex an undertaking. But we believe that the promise of success more than justifies the risks. We are completely convinced that the risks of not attempting to restore Europe are far greater than those involved in taking positive action as now proposed. We recognize that our people will be called upon to share their goods still in short supply and will have to forego filling a portion of their own requirements until the greater needs of Europe have been met. This is a direct contradiction of the allegation that we are seeking to dump surplus goods in Europe in order to avoid the depressing effects of over-supply. This particular charge of “dumping” must have a strange sound to those Europeans now desperately seeking the very essentials of life. And it must sound equally odd to Americans who are standing with money in hand impatient to buy goods which we are sending to Europe to meet a more urgent need. But such is the breath of propaganda.

I should like in this connection to make a few comments regarding propaganda in general and particularly with regard to the debates and procedure of the United Nations Assembly. It seems desirable to analyze the situation somewhat and clear up some of the issues prior to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers in London.

During the meeting of the United Nations Assembly there was a great deal said, with considerable vituperation, regarding the attitude of the government and people of the United States toward the Soviet Union, along with the direct accusation that a war spirit was being fomented by our press and by distinguished citizens who were named. A portion of this, the major portion I assume, was intended for pure propaganda purposes. But I also assume that there may have been some genuine feeling that the purposes of this government and the attitude of most of the American press were definitely hostile to the Soviet Union. As a responsible official of the United States government I would like to see more restraint than is sometimes exhibited in discussions of international issues.

But as regards the critical attitude recently manifested in this country toward the Soviet Union, I should like to distinguish between this effect and its cause. To determine that cause it is necessary to go back at least as far as the summer of 1945 immediately following the German surrender. At that time I think it was a fact that the people of the United States had as high a regard, or I might better put it, appreciation, for the Soviet people and their sacrifices, and for the Soviet Army and its leaders, as they held for any other people in the world. But today, only two years later, we are charged with a definite hostility toward the Soviet Union and its people, which constitutes a complete change in our attitude since the summer of 1945.

I recognize this effect. I would not characterize it as hostile. But the important question is, what produced this tremendous change in our national feeling and attitude? The truth as I see it is that from the termination of hostilities down to the present time the Soviet government has consistently followed a course which was bound to arouse the resentment of our people.

Just what the purpose of this remarkable procedure has been, particularly during 1946, I have been at a loss to determine. So many of the actions of that government were provocative without any other evident purpose. I have endeavored to find at least a partial explanation in the historical characteristics of the Russian government and its officials through a long period of years and not solely related to the present regime. While some light can thus be cast on the problem it does not, even in a small way, explain why a government should proceed with apparent deliberation to destroy the invaluable asset of high regard and good will which it possessed in the attitude of the American people and why it should deliberately provoke such animosities as are evident at this time.

The people of this country are God-fearing people. They have been very patient in their attitude towards misrepresentation of their actions and motives when their only purpose has been to help the other fellow. Today our people have been virtually driven into a state of active resentment and, having been goaded to this point, they are accused of having lighted and stoked this great fire of public resentment. This last is propaganda, yes, of the most brazen and contemptuous character. But since it affects the very stability of the world, it is time to call a halt to such inflammatory practices.

I am not pessimistic regarding the progress made by the United Nations during the recent Assembly meeting. The fact that the world has a forum for free debate is in itself a hopeful portent for the future. The fact that debates have sometimes included more of vituperation or diatribe than of logic or adherence to the facts was unfortunate but in the long run, I think, merely incidental, and an always present possibility in any democratic debate. The organization did pass through a serious struggle but I think it emerged without loss of potential strength. The question now is, where do we go from here, which leads me to the coming Conference of Foreign Ministers in London.

The problem of restoring the European community inevitably raises in acute form the problem of Germany. The restoration of Europe involves the restoration of Germany. Without a revival of German production there can be no revival of Europe’s economy. But we must be very careful to see that a revived Germany could not again threaten the European community.

I am not speaking of the revival of Germany in a military sense. There can be no question of the absolute necessity of keeping Germany disarmed and demilitarized. Today, Germany is completely disarmed. Measures have been proposed by the U.S. and supported by the U.K. and France to ensure the continued demilitarization of Germany for 40 years. Thus far the Soviet Union has, in effect, rejected that proposal, by wholesale amendments of its purpose; but the offer still stands.

The revival of German militarism, however, is not the only important factor involved in the relationship of Germany to a restored Europe. There is an imperative necessity for safeguards to insure that the economic power of Germany shall not be used by a future German government as a weapon for the furtherance of exclusively German policies. This poses admittedly a complicated and difficult problem. An attempt artificially to limit German peacetime economy could easily prevent the essential revival of German production to an extent that would render impossible the economic revival of Europe.

The answer to the problem would appear to relate primarily to the future role and functioning of the great industrial complex in the Ruhr. The U.S. believes that safeguards must be set up to insure that the resources and industrial potential of the Ruhr, particularly in respect of coal and steel, should not be left under the exclusive control of any future German government but should be used for the benefit of the European community as a whole.

The charge has frequently been made that the U.S. in its policy has sought to give priority or intends to give priority to restoration of Germany ahead of those of the other countries of Europe. The truth is that far from having been accorded a preference over any Allied country, German recovery has lagged so far behind that of the other countries of Europe as to retard the whole effort for European recovery. At the present time industrial production in Western Germany is less than one-half that of pre-war. The food supplies are seriously below the minimum requirement for health and efficiency and German foreign trade is only a small fraction of its former dimension. In fairness to the American taxpayer who has been contributing hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support the people in the American zone, Germany must be made self-supporting as quickly as possible. With safeguards against any revival of German militarism and with measures to assure the utilization of the basic products of the Ruhr for the good of the European community as a whole, I believe that Europe and the world will be adequately protected against the danger of future German domination. In these circumstances it should be possible to proceed to the establishment of a provisional central authority in a federated German state, and to the final framing of a peace settlement. We shall earnestly endeavor at the Conference in London to make progress along these lines.

Now I have tried to give you a picture of certain of our major international problems. These are not the only problems with which we are dealing. There are other areas of the world in which we face situations of immense complexity and gravity. But what I have told you this evening may give you a better idea of the character of our international problems as a whole and of our approach to them.

We are aware of the seriousness and extent of the campaign which is being directed against us as one of the bulwarks of western civilization. We are not blind to any of the forms which this attack assumes. And we do not propose to stand by and watch the disintegration of the international community to which we belong.

But at the same time we are aware of our strength, and of the fact that there is great need in many countries for our help and our friendship, we can afford to discount the alarms and excursions intended to distract us, and to proceed with calm determination along the path which our traditions have defined.

I will approach this Conference in London with an open mind and will seek only for a sound basis for agreement. I will seek to avoid statements for mere popular or propaganda effect, no matter what the provocation. It is my purpose to concentrate solely on finding an acceptable basis of agreement to terminate the present tragic stalemate and to speed the advent of a new era of peace and hope for Europe and the world.

GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers (Secretary of State, Speeches)

1. Marshall spoke at a dinner sponsored jointly by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Chicago Chamber of Commerce in the Palmer House at 9:30 p.m. local time. His remarks were carried nationally by the Columbia and the Mutual broadcasting systems. Adlai E. Stevenson II, a member of the US delegation to the United Nations and a politically important member of the Democratic Party in Illinois, had been instrumental in arranging the visit.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Mark A. Stoler, Sharon Ritenour Stevens and Daniel D. Holt (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 2013- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947-September 30, 1949 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), pp. 259-266.