6-184 Remarks to the National Farm Institute Annual Meeting, February 13, 1948

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 13, 1948

Subject: Postwar

February 13, 1948
Knoxville, Tennessee

Eight-Minute Radio Address2

The people in the United States face the greatest decision in our history. It will have a profound and farreaching effect on the whole world. Like all momentous decisions once made it cannot be altered. There will be no opportunity for a second guess. The vital decision we are now called upon to make with respect to our foreign policy is being made in the American way. But the danger in this procedure is that we become so preoccupied with the details that we lose sight of the great objectives of the European Recovery Program.

So much has been said and printed during the past two months regarding the Program that there is confusion in the minds of many people about it. During the hearings before Congressional Committees every aspect and detail of the program have been subjected to analysis. Views not only of the members of the Administration, but also a great many private individuals from every walk of life—business, agriculture, and labor—have been heard.

It is necessary that Congress should require justification in complete detail for the amount asked to carry out the program. The discussions have related to work sheets which are the product of months of study by a highly selected group of people in and out of government—industrialists, bankers, economists, and businessmen, as well as the Harriman, Krug and Nourse Committees. But the European Recovery Program is far more than a mere economic transaction. It represents a tremendous effort for constructive leadership. If adopted, it will rank, I think, as one of the great historic undertakings in the annals of world civilization.

Therefore, I shall not discuss the details of the financial, administrative, or economic factors of the program. What I wish to make clear as crystal is the great objective of the program and its relationship to the future of the world and this country of ours. Make no mistake, the consequences of its success or failure will determine the survival of the kind of a world in which democracy, individual liberty, economic stability and peace can be maintained.

The United States and the western democracies have been seeking to bring the post-war crisis to an end as quickly as possible. The Soviet Union and their Communist allies have been seeking to exploit the crisis so as to gain a controlling influence over all of Europe.
As I stated on my return from London, I felt that there must be a decided change in the situation before we would have a basis for a genuine settlement with the Soviet Union.3 I meant that if a stable and healthy Western Europe can be realized the Soviet leaders being supreme realists would be much more inclined to reach a settlement on the terms for a peace treaty.

We in this country still have the priceless freedom of a choice in our foreign relations. We can still decide for ourselves what we should do and not have it decided for us by the march of events or by the dictation of others. But, in my opinion, we are quite literally at the crossroads. The decision we must now make will set the course of history for a long time to come and our own destiny for a distant future.

There are two roads the United States can take at this juncture. We can decide that the difficulties and the risks of this program are too great and therefore to do nothing. We can attempt to meet the situation grudgingly by halfhearted and inadequate assistance. This in effect would be the equivalent of doing nothing in so far as the result is concerned, but at great expense. But even more tragic than the material effect would be the psychological impact of a default in American leadership. If we take such a decision, I think we must expect to see this very vital area of the world—Western Europe, its industrial potential, its skills and its energy—pass under the same control which is now exercised over the satellite nations of Eastern Europe. The process would not be the same in each country. It would be faster in some and slower in others, but the pattern and the end result, I believe, would be the same. Under such conditions free institutions would not long survive on the European continent.

Even if this process halted at the shores of the Atlantic, its impact would be deplorable upon the areas surrounding the European continent. Geography alone would mean that the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean area would be directly and similarly affected. The position of the British Isles and the whole structure of the British Commonwealth which has exerted a profound influence on the stability of the world and world trade, would be critically affected. The continent of Europe with its vast aggregation of resources, manpower and industrial potential would eventually pass under the control of a system which is plainly antagonistic to our way of government and of life.

After the complete failure of the Moscow Conference, and the developments of the succeeding months, I recognized that this Government was faced with but two choices. It could stand aloof, as I have just explained, from the rapidly approaching debacle in Western Europe. Or, this Government in its commanding position of acknowledged leadership in the world could take some positive action to save the situation. The negative procedure of the past which had led us into two terrible wars was no longer tolerable.

But it was clearly apparent that our Government would lack an effective basis for its action unless the countries concerned on their own initiative should pledge themselves to a coordinated, outstanding effort to rebuild their economic situation. Therefore, my suggestion on June 5 last and the quick response of the 16 European nations which were willing to take the necessary concerted action.

Every nation in Europe was included in the suggestion. I need not go into the reason why a certain group held aloof. But I must emphasize the fact that the communist leaders of this same group declare an intent to wreck the proposed recovery program. I will not take your time to describe the evident method and purpose of that wrecking process.

When we consider the difficulties ordinarily found in composing interstate matters, where all speak the same language, all are ardent Americans, and all operate under the same great Constitution, I believe thoughtful people must concede that the action of the 16 nations in formally coordinating themselves for unity of action, in pledging themselves to waive strong national considerations and traditions in favor of the whole group was a historical step of first importance towards the making of a peaceful world.

And now there is in progress a further development of this concert of free nations and one of great importance to the future of Europe. On the recent proposal of the British Foreign Minister, Mr. Bevin, they have passed beyond their agreements for economic coordination to the consideration of a Western European union. This development has been our great hope.

So I ask that you keep in the forefront of your mind during this welter of debate and discussion over details the great purpose of the European Recovery Program; that you carefully consider what the alternatives are, and weigh those against the tremendous purpose and importance of this program. In considering the contributions we must make to guarantee the success of this program—national expenditures, some shortages or delays in obtaining all the machinery, fertilizers, etc., that you may want, I beg of you to weigh these domestic factors against the importance of stabilizing the world situation, restoring a normal development of world trade, terminating the chaos which threatens the peace of the world.

I know all of you are proud to be Americans. I am sure most of you think this country of ours is the greatest, the most powerful in the world, that we lead the way to better things for the working people, the common people, all the people. Now, if that is so we have a great responsibility, for you cannot be a leader without leading, and the more distressing or dangerous the situation, the more necessary it is for the leader to take action. That is what I am asking of this country today.

Off-the-Record Comments 4

As you will all understand, I am sure, it is necessary for me in my position to be very careful in making public statements, particularly when broadcasting over the radio. A single sentence, may offer possibilities of distortion or misunderstanding that could be seriously harmful abroad or in this country, especially during the present discussions in Congress and in the political campaign now actively in progress. Therefore, I have felt compelled to read a carefully prepared statement which greatly limits my freedom of discussion and explanation.

Now, I would like to talk for a few minutes intimately and directly to this audience and not for the countryside. I wish to speak confidentially, as it were, and I ask that the press please put aside their pencils and give me the opportunity to talk with considerable frankness.

In the first place, I wish to say that I think it was an excellent thing for a group of Iowa farmers to go abroad and see things for themselves.5 It gives them a sound basis for forming conclusions as to what action this country should take, or what inaction is justified or is advisable.

It is very difficult for our people to understand the situation in Europe, and even more difficult for them to realize the dangers of the situation. And, the further one is from the sea coast the more remote one feels from any likelihood of those dangers affecting his own life, his family, his prosperity or happiness.

A few days ago a group of seven little cub scouts came to see me in the State Department. They had started a Junior Marshall Plan and were engaged in raising funds to take care of some little children in Europe. They made a great impression on me by their alert appearance, their active, practical interest in doing something for children thousands of miles away. I thought of my boyhood, what I knew and felt about the world when I was nine years old, and it moved me to make some comments on the great changes which had taken place in this country during my lifetime.

When I was their age, etc. etc. (see attached copy of remarks) 6

all of which means that the world is now a very small place. We cannot live apart and aloof from what is taking place across the seas. The future for a family in Iowa is not limited to conditions in the Mississippi valley, however far that may be from the sea coast, or from Berlin or Cairo, New Delhi or Nanking. I acknowledge that it is a good rule to mind your own business, but that should not be taken to mean that we should ignore starvation in the next block, or the actions and evident intentions of a group of people which will inevitably hurt us, or at the very least will upset the life and freedom of action of our community, or turn all our neighbors against us, or ruin our business. There is another aspect of this matter: When one is rich, and has the great good fortune to live peaceably in pleasant surroundings; when one does not stumble each day over the ruins of his home or his town or city, or does not carry the memory of the terrible fate of his family, his mother or father, maybe his brothers and sisters; then he is not morally free, I think, to retire into the enjoyment of all the favors life has given him and, in effect, mind his own business, ignoring a suffering and dangerous world across the seas.

And it is a dangerous world. That is proven to me afresh every morning by the confidential reports and appeals that reach me from abroad. We cannot sit still while the temperature rises, or long delay in arguments over details until the situation deteriorates or freezes to our great disadvantage.

Please have this in mind when considering the question of the European Recovery Program,—we are 140 million people more or less. At least 100 million of us listen to the radio news and read and think. Probably 25 million form quite firm opinions on important matters. Being American, all have definite ideas on how to do whatever we may decide to do. Our democratic process of free debate and discussion gives practically every American citizen a chance, one way or another, to be heard. It may be around the old barrel stove in the village gathering place, or at the public meeting, or in a letter to his representative in Congress, or by speeches to audiences large or small. No one can stop him.

Threats would not be tolerated. He is a free man and not a poor devil in a satellite state afraid, at the hazard of his liberty or life or that of his family, to say what he thinks. Therein, my friends, lies the kernel of what we are struggling for and against.
But obviously we cannot deal with a plan that includes in its precise terms thousands of different ideas of just how it should be carried out. Every one cannot have his own way in the matter. There must be general agreement on a single plan.

I do not think ever before in our history has such intensive work been done and so many people of recognized talent and experience been consulted or employed as in the preparation of the European Recovery Program. I know that never before have various departments of the government so closely coordinated their efforts to a single end. Even so, of course, it is not perfect. Nothing ever is perfect, particularly when it must be exposed to all the political tugs and pulls of a Presidential campaign. But I think in its general framework and conception it will stand the strains and justify the forethought and wisdom of those who gave so much time and thought to its preparation.

There is another aspect of the matter I would like to emphasize. If we decide to go ahead with the European Recovery Program we must recognize that in one sense we are engaged in a tremendous struggle. The procedure will be under attack, unrelenting attack, from the start. Attack, direct and indirect, by fomented strikes and calculated sabotage, by insidious propaganda and gross misrepresentation. Our most unselfish and generous motives will be assailed. Our purpose will be completely misrepresented as imperialistic, for example, or shrewd and selfish, or highly dangerous.

That is to be expected. Just as we had to anticipate every destructive action possible on the part of the enemy armies during the war.
Now if that be so, I ask you, is it the part of wisdom to weaken, to scale down, your forces as you enter into the struggle? No one would have dared to council such a procedure as our young men went off to the front. The problem today is quite similar in many respects. We must go out to succeed in our purpose. A failure would be a world tragedy, certainly a national tragedy for our prestige and influence. We must make sure of success and not whittle down our chances. Decisions to limit our efforts of aid and support should come later when the situation has developed under the impact of our purpose. I hope the opposite course will not be taken now, to endanger all we are trying to do, because a partial success would mean a general failure. I am told tonight that a good beginning has been made by the unanimous report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsing the Recovery Program.

There is another thought I wish to leave with you. We are dealing with sovereign people, people who speak different languages, have different traditions of which they are very jealous—as we are especially so—people who are sensitive, just as we are. And on all sides will be skilled members of the Communist party to twist and pervert what is said, to fan the flames of national indignation over some fancied insult or deprecatory statement. We are dealing with tired people, people who have suffered much and for a long, long time, people who still lack much that we casually take for granted. Therefore, what we do, if we decide to do anything, should be done in a manner which will dignify our purpose and not arouse the resentment of the recipient. Think of the distressed family or community in the next block. You know how keenly sensitive they can be in their state of want and weakness. The finer, the prouder they are, the more sensitive they will be. Your assistance is resented if you are super critical and exacting in your deed of gift. There is little difference among nations except that they are more proud and sensitive.

I regret very much that I cannot see you as I talk to you. It would be much easier to give expression to my thoughts. I am not a farmer except on a two acre basis, but at least I do my own work there so I have a little of the feel of the soil and the miracle of growth.
In my duties and responsibilities as Chief of Staff of the Army during the war I had an almost daily active interest in what was being done on the farms of America and I was fully aware of the fact that the American farmer performed a miracle of production that virtually saved the allied world. Since the war he, or she, has done as much or more.

I know something of your problems, your lack of fertilizers and machinery, etc. Almost daily I hear your affairs discussed by my close friend the Secretary of Agriculture.7 In these days agriculture and foreign relations, national economics and overseas problems are all inextricably involved in my affairs.

I repeat again that I regret very much that I could not talk to you in person at your gathering tonight, but I am very appreciative of the radio arrangements which, in spite of the unfavorable circumstances, have given me this opportunity to bridge the gap between us. Goodnight and thank you.

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

1. Regarding Marshall’s problems in getting to the Iowa meeting and his being required to broadcast his remarks via radiotelephone from Knoxville, Tennessee, see the following letter to his sister.

2. Marshall was scheduled to deliver an eight-minute address at 9:00 p.m. local time in Des Moines, Iowa. He had sent a draft of his prepared remarks for comment to Robert M. La Follette Jr., formerly a senator from Wisconsin (1925–47) until defeated in the Republican party primary by Joseph R. McCarthy in 1946. La Follette was then serving as a foreign aid adviser to the Truman administration. He later thanked La Follette for his “very helpful suggestions. . . . I bought them lock, stock and barrel; made a few minor changes in the latter pages, and took it with me on the plane.” (Marshall to La Follette, February 16, 1948, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Secretary of State, General].)

3. See the “Summary” portion of Marshall’s Radio Address of April 28, 1947, pp. 120-22.

4. Following his allotted eight minutes of radio broadcast time, Marshall made the following extemporaneous off-the-record remarks. He probably dictated “what I believe I said” upon his return to Washington. (Marshall to La Follette, February 16, 1948, ibid.) Writing to Kirk Fox, editor of Successful Farming, Marshall observed: “Broadcasting to a large assembly is a dubious business so far as favorable reaction is concerned and I am relieved to have you tell me there have been favorable comments. I felt greatly limited by the fact that I could not judge the responses of the audience and govern my remarks accordingly.” (Marshall to Fox, February 25, 1948, ibid.)

5. In September, twenty-two members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation spent a month, at their own expense, visiting England, Scotland, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland to study the need for the Marshall Plan and Europe’s chief food needs. (New York Times, September 3, 1947, p. 50.)

6. See the Marshall quoted portions of Report of a Meeting with Cub Scouts, February 10, 1948, pp. 354-56. This instruction, to “see attached copy of remarks,” was handwritten on the original document.

7. Clinton P. Anderson resigned as secretary of agriculture on May 10, 1948, and was elected that autumn to the US Senate, where he served from January 3, 1949 to January 3, 1973, the remainder of his public service career, as a Democrat from New Mexico.

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. 357-363.