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A Usable Marshall Plan: Chapter 6 – Monograph Collection

   
Publisher: George C Marshall Foundation



If governmental agencies, Keynesian methods of demand management,
trade surpluses, and reliance on the public sector are now out-
dated and obsolete—or suffer from a fatal loss of confidence—and
unregulated global markets rule, then it might seem that the time for
another Marshall Plan is assuredly past. If so, the Marshall Plan can remind
us in such altered domestic and international contexts still not to forget
what once informed its formulation and implementation, namely, that eco-
nomics, politics, and psychology are inseparable in building support at
home and in rebuilding other nations abroad.
What also needs to be learned from the Marshall Plan, a lesson that
belongs to the category of the “avoidable past,” is its failure to heed Sun Tzu,
the ancient Chinese military strategist and philosopher, to take full measure
of the Communist threat. As a former military man, Secretary of State Mar-
shall understood the difference between Stalin’s strategy and tactics, recogniz-
ing that the Soviet leader masked his revolutionary purposes with short-term,
reformist, “front” governments in West Europe. The general knew
maskirovka. The moderation of Communists in the West was classic “cover
and deception” for the ultimate goal of domination by Moscow. For his clear-
eyed reading of Stalin’s conduct, Marshall deserves high marks. Yet, surpris-
ingly, the ECA’s analysis of the roots of indigenous communism that Stalin
manipulated in West Europe lacked sophistication. Marshall Planners adopted
the “myth of belly communism” and settled for half-truths. They recognized
a mass murderer’s disguise, yet were disinclined to learn as much as they
could about the enemy. Theirs was a mistake which shapers of antiterrorism
strategy today need to study, lest they commit their own variant.
Know Well Thy Enemy (and Thy Self)
The myth purported that poverty, hunger, unemployment, and misery
were responsible for Communist popularity. Its cognate notion was that
chaos and despair bred and fed totalitarianism. But did bad economic and
social conditions necessarily constitute fertile ground for the spread of com-
munism? The answer is that the causes and sources of its appeal were mis-
understood in the late 1940s and, hence, its strength both conceived too nar-
rowly as well as overrated. Some further telling Gallic evidence must suffice.
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From November 1947 until 1949, the French Minister of Interior, reviled
by French Communists as the “Assassin,” was Jules Moch. Those were years,
of course, when France heaved with violent strikes, revolutionary rhetoric,
and widespread civil unrest. In a good position to pass judgment, Moch felt
that the Americans blew up the Communist threat into something much big-
ger than it actually was. His assessment, later shared with an interviewer
from the Truman Library, was that “the danger was not so great” and “always
overestimated in America.” To illustrate his point he cited the richest village
in a wine-growing department in southern France where Communists com-
manded 100% of the vote. Even landowners with very prosperous vineyards
supported the party of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. Moch explained such commu-
nal solidarity and Leftist politics as a local tradition that went back a century
or more. “Ideologically,” he insisted, “they were nothing.” In fact, the former
Interior Minister calculated that a large percentage of his countrymen who
voted Communist in the late 1940s did not know its ideology.1
Oversimplifications nonetheless underwrote fear of Communist expan-
sion and the zeal with which many Marshall Planners discharged their
duties. They exaggerated what they truly had control over, giving too great
an emphasis to materialistic explanations of Communist motivation and
falling short of Sun Tzu’s standard. They did not know their enemy very
well. As a secular religion, like nazism, communism was as much about peo-
ple’s “souls” and spiritual needs as their material wants. A faith with its own
catechism and dogmas, its appeal went beyond the proletariat. Moreover,
the global ideological battle between democracy and totalitarianism turned
on many axes: one rotated in the Kremlin, where Stalin’s penchant for dis-
crediting Communist movements through misjudgments and misadventures
played itself out (and where in 1956 his successors preserved his blundering
ways by invading Hungary). Stalin’s behavior, in fact, validated key assump-
tions on which George F. Kennan erected America’s containment policy.
Kennan knew the Soviet enemy well enough. His grand strategy worked,
forcing Moscow to regularly expose its immorality.
Since the proper prescription for western Europe’s political woes presup-
posed the proper diagnosis of the problem, the Marshall Plan’s remedy was
deficient. American-sponsored economic renewal was insufficient to under-
mine the lure of communism in France, Italy, and Greece. Such a shortcom-
ing serves as a caveat to contemporary policymakers responsible for postwar
reconstruction in the larger and very likely context of another totalitarian
threat to Western values. Their programs must not be structured on over-
simplifications of the root causes of Islamic fundamentalism, a more tradi-
tional religion than communism. Neither the educated, middle-class intel-
lectuals and merchants in France and Italy who threw in their lots with Mau-
rice Thorez and Palmiro Togliatti, nor Mohammed Atta who accepted a fate-
ful suicide mission for al-Qaeda, had blue collars or empty bellies.
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A Usable Marshall Plan
The Relevant Past
To help contemporary policymakers answer the call for informed plan-
ning for postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan provides ample additional
guidance that is usable. What worked once in a bygone era should not be for-
gotten. While luck was their companion, Marshall Planners did not triumph
because they were luckier than other practitioners of American policy over
the last sixty years. And success surely was not the offspring of Stalin’s blun-
ders. Neither randomness nor destiny had much to do with the ERP’s final
outcome. What mattered decisively was that George C. Marshall’s followers
put their breaks to wise use. Benefiting from “accidents of history,” they also
created optimum conditions for attaining their goals. Superbly equipped to
profit from their good fortune, they conceived a strategy based on sound
principles of statecraft and leadership. Their script had structural integrity,
and they improvised brilliantly when circumstances required.
Though an old conception, the Marshall Plan’s distilled essence yields
fundamental lessons that override the historical contingencies and context
of 1947–51 and still pertain in changed circumstances. Elements of strength
that existed in the original have application today. Indeed, the higher the
resolution of the historian’s photograph of the Marshall Plan, the greater the
pertinence of those elements. At the head of any list of general requirements
for success as revealed in ECA operations are four prerequisites: national
selflessness, the self-help of beneficiaries, a multilateral approach to prob-
lem solving, and an understanding of leadership. All were wisely prescribed
by the Plan’s architects who shared a healthy respect for their own past as a
valuable teacher.
The Marshall Plan’s soul, never out-of-date, was the same personal sense
of public purpose and sacrifice summoned earlier by the New Deal and
World War II. Over a span of forty-five months a generous nation transferred
1.2% of its GNP (2% in 1948) and 6–9% of the federal budget into Europe’s
recovery, reconstruction, and reform. To put such a substantial shift of
resources into perspective, $13,000,000,000 equates to $100,000,000,000
in today’s dollars, or less than 1% of today’s GNP and 4% of the 2005 federal
budget. The percentages of 1948–52 now translate into $144,000,000,000 of
GNP and a $180,000,000,000 slice of the federal budget. Although the scale
of American help was extraordinary, without the self-help of recipient
nations billions of dollars in assistance were fated to descend down Con-
gressman Howard Buffett’s “rathole.” “We believed with the Marshall Plan’s
leaders,” remembered Henry Reuss, “that our role was not to direct the
Europeans but to help them to help themselves.”
In all countries bent on self-renewal, but most prominently in the Nether-
lands and West Germany, the Marshall Plan showcased the superiority of
human and social capital over physical assets. Industrious, educated Euro-
peans, determined to rebuild and better themselves, surpassed in importance
the wherewithal made available to them by Americans. Not confusing aid with
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charity constituted a critical insight with perpetual utilization, as did an insis-
tence on self-investment which took most obvious shape in the counterpart
fund, at least partly an emblem of national self-help.2
By refusing to be seduced after World War II by their own preponderance
of economic and military power into fashioning a unilateral solution to West
Europe’s predicament, George C. Marshall and his advisers comprehended
the dangers of national arrogance, as well as the value of a cooperative effort
with friends and allies. They understood well what the editor of Die Zeit
recently reemphasized: “multilateralsim is not muddleheaded idealism, but
part of realpolitik.”3 They rejected unilateralism as a dead-end, backing
instead an arrangement which fostered habits of cooperation that matured
into even greater achievements, like NATO. As a virtue, humility eventually
fell from grace in American culture but surely warrants retrieval. It once
informed Secretary Marshall’s expectation that good works in the national
interest did not necessitate gratitude and should not be expected. He advised
Congress accordingly. He preferred West Europe’s consent over America’s
popularity and its confidence over its affection. His forewarning eventually
cushioned Italian resistance, along with Greek and Turkish resentments.
Unappreciated by isolationists, fortifying America’s friends meant
strengthening America’s security, which Republican Senator Henry Cabot
Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts liked to point out. Likewise, ignoring the nation’s
European allies, as was also the case with unilateral action, courted disaster.
Winston Churchill’s quip—that the only thing worse than fighting a war with
allies was fighting one without them—has always been a valuable piece of
advice. Realists like Secretary Marshall, who grasped the limits of American
influence, knew what, on their own, they were equipped and unequipped to
solve beyond the nation’s borders. They entertained no illusions of omnis-
cience or omnipotence.
Helping others save themselves in the short run while saving oneself in
the long run defines enlightened self-interest in foreign policy, another aspect
of the Marshall Plan having universal relevance. Henry Reuss has described
such statecraft differently, as “a happy amalgam” of softheartedness and
hardheadedness. With Clio, the Muse of History, whispering in their ears and
with broad vision, his fellow Marshall Planners prodded Europeans to help
one another while promoting stronger European interconnections as the best
deterrent to the twentieth century’s third continental war. They insisted on
treating western Europe as a unit, fully expecting that it would “behave as a
unit.” The Plan marked perhaps the finest hour, in peacetime, of an Atlantic
civilization, with America’s and western Europe’s best combining in a synergy
that bequethed a benchmark for future policymakers. Despite a subsequent
outbreak of amnesia in the 1960s, when the Alliance for Progress drew up its
development plans on a national basis and sans a Latin American OEEC, the
principle of regionalizing markets through coordinated multinational effort
ought to continue to inspire policymakers today. A collective regional
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A Usable Marshall Plan
approach that targeted West Germany, the region’s natural economic power-
house, for inclusion and integration certainly accelerated postwar recovery,
leaving in Thomas Schelling’s view a model of “successful multinational coop-
eration to achieve a common goal” as a lasting legacy.4
Probably the most helpful tutelage the Marshall Plan can provide is about
how most decisively to approach policymaking itself. For an expensive, inno-
vative foreign aid program to fulfill its promise, the American people and
their congressional representatives had to understand the reasons for its exis-
tence. In first mastering the machinery of domestic politics as well as the arts
of persuasion in order to undertake grand strategy, formulators of the Mar-
shall Plan achieved a near-perfect score. They obtained bipartisan backing
and great popularity. With a publicity and public relations blitz that lasted
nearly six months, they patiently provided the public, press, and Congress
with a wealth of facts, figures, and arguments that assured its creation and
retention. Thus, Secretary Marshall and his cohorts built a consensus and
committed their nation prior to committing its resources and manpower.
As the Founding Fathers imagined, the American people started on a his-
torical departure with eyes wide open. Next, Marshall Planners assiduously cul-
tivated domestic, public, and congressional opinion to guarantee support
throughout its four-year life. “In one year,” Paul Hoffman’s biographer has
revealed, ECA’s Administrator “personally made about 150 speeches,” one
nearly every two days, extolling the Marshall Plan’s value for America’s security
and prosperity.5 In western Europe the planners skillfully exploited a range of
media in a vast, innovative propaganda war with the Cominform. Their cam-
paign was directed by high-caliber professionals from the working media with
the most advanced celluloid weapons a big part of their arsenal. Their results
were consistently high approval ratings for the ERP at home and abroad. Mar-
shall Planners authored, in other words, the classic text on the proper mechan-
ics of making policy, particularly on the centrality of communication and the
effective dissemination of information. It deserves, therefore, the closest read-
ing by contemporary shapers of America’s foreign relations.
Even if the Marshall Plan’s specific design and engineering cannot be
replicated precisely or approximately, America’s human and intellectual
capital—in Clark Clifford’s words, those full of “professionalism, daring,
inventiveness and sacrifice”—which the Plan drew down on with great profit
for nearly four years, can certainly be reconstituted and reinvested. Recruit-
ing the right people means, quite simply, duplicating what the Marshall Plan
once prized and frowned upon in its hiring practices. Its stringent regula-
tions resulted in exceptionally low turnover in personnel, with two years a
standard tour of service which probably constituted a minimum commit-
ment for success. (See Appendix C.) The resulting continuity of personnel,
with Greece’s chief of mission one glaring exception to the rule, assured
deeper personal relations with foreign counterparts and increased effective-
ness in problem solving.
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In a highly selective process ECA’s leadership preferred, identified, and
enlisted a battalion of Phi Beta Kappas, ex-valedictorians, Ph.D.s, former
Rhodes Scholars, budding Nobel Laureates and college presidents, future
heads of professional associations, masters of business administration, and
one-time law review editors to staff its projects. (See Appendix B.) With their
objective a meritocracy, credentials absolutely mattered. Qualifications
overruled all other considerations. Smart, educated people were essential to
success abroad, as were cosmopolites. Those worldly bilingual and multilin-
gual folk who understood Europe well, providing great strength to the ECA’s
Information Divisions, also taught other valuable lessons: their adopted
nation’s multiculturalism can be an incomparable asset, America’s diversity
has always constituted a potent force to be capitalized upon in a foreign cri-
sis, and mastery of foreign languages can neutralize local interpreters while
enriching cultural interactions.
Organizers of the Marshall Plan opted for a blend of dedicated civil ser-
vants, corporate executives, and public-spirited professionals from the pri-
vate sector. They proved to be an ideal mix. By also placing a premium on
transferable experience, for instance, prior employment in a government
mobilization agency, recruiters merged theoretical and practical knowledge
into a winning team. Moreover, they administered no political or ideological
tests for employment while imposing a nonnegotiable ban on relatives,
cronies, amateurs, dilettantes, and political appointees. Political loyalists
and administration favorites received no special consideration whatsoever.
The stakes were too high then and certainly even more so today in the war
on terrorism for a partisan pickup team with White House connections to be
in charge of postwar reconstruction.
In their collective memoirs, Marshall Planners suggested that the ways
they elaborated their assignments should remain highly instructive. In fact,
they remind advocates of future initiatives in large-scale foreign assistance of
how interwoven the original experiment actually was. Besides being an
approach to foreign policymaking, the Plan’s layers included a decision-
making process, a problem-solving method, and a management style. Each
presupposed consensus, a continual synergy between donor and recipients,
and a constant wariness of “purist dogmatism” in pursuit of the coveted new
European order. Knowledge of one’s own deficits in knowledge was critical.
Alan Valentine’s Dutch experience taught him three lessons with contempo-
rary applications. First, it was “a mistake to be doctrinaire about economics”;
second, “different postwar conditions [in Europe] called for different treat-
ments” rather than “rigid uniformity”; and, third, Dutch experts “understood
the economy of the Netherlands better than the American specialists under-
stood it.”
Whether greater productivity, less protectionism, currency convertibil-
ity, or increased intra-European trade was the specific, limited goal, Marshall
Planners accepted other nations as not necessarily seeing matters as they
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A Usable Marshall Plan
did. Because they constructed a framework within which those committed
to a “new Europe” could debate those willing to be rebuilt or reformed, the
critical hinge was always a recipient’s readiness to change. The essence of
their process, method, and style was, however grudging at times, mutual
trust and understanding. In the Marshall Planners’ exercise of American
power, national and political differences were almost always respected. In
the case of Greece, where that rule and a few others went to pieces, consid-
erable frustration and disappointment awaited them. There, promotion of
public works succeeded while furtherance of American-style democracy ran
aground. An official with more than two years of service in the six-man Civil
Government Division in Athens later pinpointed ECA’s mistake. According
to C. William Kontos, its “total approach [in Greece] was much too bold.”
Openness was another telltale ECA trait, and more productive than bold-
ness. Tolerance for variety helped to advance an anti-Communist agenda:
Socialists, Catholics, and Muslims enlisted as crucial allies in battling Com-
munist influence and stemming its growth. Likewise, it furthered negotia-
tions with Europeans. Since most nations, including the United States, regard
themselves as superior, the Marshall Plan method simply amounted to con-
versations among officials who styled their nations to be exceptional. No
overbearing American sense of exceptionalism suffocated their exchanges.
The typical Marshall Planner’s mindset embraced long-term thinking, prag-
matism, transparency, compromise, and coaxing. It eschewed short-term as
well as black-and-white thinking, secrecy, self-righteousness, and bullying.
Unquestionably, ECA preferred certain courses of action and on occa-
sion sermonized. At no time, however, did it imitate Stalin’s coercion in East
Europe. Marshall Planners grasped the crux of leadership. They knew how
to forge a bond between a leader and followers. Their means were mutual
respect and collaboration. For Paul Hoffman, “the essence of genuine lead-
ership” was “to share power with people rather than display power over peo-
ple.” In dealings with both Americans and Europeans, he practiced what he
preached. Alan Valentine has noted in his autobiography that “Hoffman’s
policy was to pick men he thought had good ability and judgment and turn
them lose.” According to a knowledgeable Dutch official, Americans so
entrusted provided assistance “without in any way imposing their will.” To
him “this was the key to the way that it could work so well.” The CEEC’s
English chairman, Sir Oliver Franks, paid the Marshall Plan an identical
compliment. The Frenchman Robert Marjolin echoed their sentiments,
lauding the unwillingness of his American collaborators to attempt “to make
the Europeans behave in a manner contrary to their fundamental interests.”
The genius of the Marshall Plan method, another yardstick for future meas-
urement, was its balance of economic might with political restraint.6
A union of American largesse with Washington’s respect for the recipi-
ents of that generosity bonded seventeen European nations to America’s
leadership. Such “bonding,” in Josef Joffe’s estimation, necessitated “an eye
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Barry Machado
for the common interest and a commitment to cooperation” and a willing-
ness to construct “an order that . . . advance[d] American interests by serv-
ing those of others.” The outcome, in West German Chancellor Konrad Ade-
nauer’s opinion, was that in the late 1940s “the Americans are the best Euro-
peans.” Much like a gifted and devoted impresario, Marshall Planners con-
ducted, in effect, the first-ever West European Philharmonic in which seven-
teen former soloists followed a single, American-made baton. Only the con-
ductor’s dedication to the well-being of the orchestra earned such accept-
ance, trust, and collective achievement. Occasional discord was therefore
expected.7
Tempered by politics, applied economics turned out to be more art than
science in the European Recovery Program. Economic theories were at
times either inappropriate or ineffectual, as witnessed in Italy’s Mezzogiorno
especially. Indeed, the task in developing regions like Greece, Turkey, and
southern Italy, in contrast to merely recovering regions like West Germany
and northern Italy, was a far greater challenge. Neither “pure market forces”
nor Keynesian doctrines always operated as forecast. The ECA’s work vali-
dated practical experience, flexibility, and—after considerable American
reluctance—deference to local knowledge and priorities, particularly in the
diverse management of seventeen counterpart funds. Indeed, if one voice
can be heard throughout the ECA’s flexible elaboration of its structured pro-
grams, it is George Kennan’s upstaging in effect Woodrow Wilson’s: West
Europe must be made safe for diversity, totalitarians excluded of course. A
greater American readiness to accept Europe’s variety than to proselytize on
behalf of America’s real, imagined, or exaggerated distinctiveness prevailed,
notwithstanding the counterclaims of some prominent historians. Fre-
quently, in fact, Europeans treated Washington’s preferences as irrelevant.
The Marshall Plan’s rejection of a “one-size-fits-all approach to recovery pro-
grams” offers wise and useful counsel to present-day specialists in postwar
reconstruction in other parts of the world.
As proof of their characteristic adjustability, which contrasted with the
rigidity of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans for the East, Marshall Planners cooperated
with governments of the Center as well as the Far Right in Greece, the Cen-
ter-Right in Italy and West Germany, and the Left in Great Britain, Norway,
and elsewhere. Some have forgotten that Belgium’s Paul-Henri Spaak, chair-
man of the OEEC Council, was himself a Socialist who believed that “the
only answer to Communism is Socialism.” Others overlook Averell Harri-
man’s admiration for the “Socialist government in England” because of its
ability “to distribute funds received from the Marshall Plan on a more just
basis—giving the workers a greater cut—than had been the case in France
and Germany.” Americans even dealt with secular authoritarianism in
Turkey.
Though many latter-day New Dealers were in their ranks, with their
American-style liberal ideas about proper relations between capital and
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labor, Marshall Planners still partnered with Christian Democrats and royal-
ists, along with Socialists and Labourites. In West Germany, avowed Keyne-
sians allied with supply-siders committed to competitive, unregulated mar-
kets. In Great Britain, France, and Norway they made common cause with
Socialists pledged to nationalize industries. In fact, after World War II British
and French governments nationalized big chunks of their private sector—
banks, mines, and utilities—with France putting 20% of its industry under
state control by mid-1946. As Marshall Planners arrived at their missions in
1948, recipient governments throughout West Europe were enlarging their
welfare systems, including national health care. Thus, an estimable trait of
those who answered George Marshall’s summons was that they seldom pre-
ferred, above all else, to be right, a double entendre to be sure. In Italy, West
Germany, and Turkey a collision of economic creeds invariably took place,
yet American egotism never amounted to an insurmountable hurdle. Today’s
architects of policy should take note of the zigzagging required for arriving at
the ultimate destination.8
Some critically important virtues of the Marshall Plan can provide other
guidelines worthy of re-creation. In light of the pathologies that of late beset
many foreign aid programs, especially the serious problem faced by the
World Bank, adopting ECA’s principles might prevent a subculture of corrup-
tion and scandal. Of the “four great lessons” Paul Hoffman drew from his
oversight of the Marshall Plan, two pertained to eliminating waste. The first
was that “We Must Use Guided Dollars” that joined a “detailed program of
needs” by recipients with “end-use checks” by the donor. The second was
that “A Hardheaded Administration of Aid is Necessary” with a premium on
“tightfistedness.” Wherever ECA operated, accountability was demanded
and received. Its anticorruption mentality meant rigorous accounting con-
trols and a disbursement system that minimized, through PAs primarily, the
flow of dollars out of the United States and across the Atlantic. Disincentives
to skimming and embezzlement of funds extended to a veto wielded over the
use of counterpart locally as well as ECA’s retention in American banks of its
contributions to the European Payments Union. A $13,000,000,000 foreign
aid program virtually free of scandal qualifies as the touchstone for all future
reconstruction efforts.9
In hindsight, the Marshall Plan’s structure serviced its strategies
extremely well. Its decentralized theater command, for instance, advanced
its purposes and was yet another source of organizational strength. Few fea-
tures, however, exceeded in overall value the manner in which ECA itself
was set up. A small, independent, elite, and well-run government agency,
burdened with as little bureaucracy as possible, to handle future initiatives
in postwar reconstruction has its compelling historical precedent in the Eco-
nomic Cooperation Administration. Selecting the “Ad Hoc Option,” rather
than elevating either the State or Defense Department to the role of lead
agency in such an eventuality, is a lesson embedded in the past. Avoidance
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of officialism, with its excessive rules, regulations, and red tape, assured
ECA’s effectiveness. A human scale and autonomy were crucial to more than
just the morale and esprit of Marshall Planners; they also fostered innova-
tion while keeping the albatross of careerism flying far away.
How can the State Department with thirty thousand employees, or even
the World Bank with more than ten tnousand employees worldwide, achieve
the same rapid response, creativity, and efficiencies that ECA once did?
There is, of course, nothing magical about improvisation. After all, what is
one to make of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, or CPA, which
undertook postwar reconstruction in a single Middle Eastern country with a
cumbersome force of fifteen hundred employees at its peak continually
rotating in and out of Baghdad’s Green Zone? The answer: probably no one
in authority cared much about extracting history’s lessons beforehand.
With considerable congressional nudging, Marshall Planners also incor-
porated a psychology of human nature into their programs. Their insights
contributed critically to realizing their objectives. First, they guaranteed
West European recipients assistance for the duration of four years rather
than for either a year or as an open-ended commitment. They predicated
their sunset provision and specific timetable on the assumption that lasting
recovery required time, yet too much time was counterproductive to achiev-
ing that goal. Second, they made all aid conditional and conditionality
mandatory. They clearly understood that incentives to compliance, particu-
larly concerning pledges of financial and budgetary reforms, were crucial.
Failure to uphold provisions in bilateral contracts could mean sanctions or
loss of funding. Realistically, the donor attached strings, or quid pro quos,
and then spelled them out in formal treaties. In light of its good effect, this
portion of the ECA contract ought not to be tampered with or discarded by
the next organization of postwar region builders.
A Final Rumination
Twenty years ago that indispensable European, Robert Marjolin, called
the Marshall Plan “the most dazzling political and economic success in the
history of the western world since 1914.”10 Since then, not every economic
historian or economist has espoused his view. Chiefly in European academic
circles where multivariate regression analysis, counterfactual simulations,
and input-output methods rate highly, Marjolin’s superlative has encoun-
tered dissent and skepticism. To being a Marjolinite I confess, though I also
admit doubts as to whether a reproduction of that “dazzling success” can
grace the twenty-first century. In order to weigh the odds for that actually
happening, some day, the consequence of one factor, relative to other deter-
minants, needs highlighting—lest history reproach this author unmercifully.
That quintessential American, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once avowed, “char-
acter is higher than intellect.” Too infrequently quoted since the passing of
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George Catlett Marshall and his generation, Emerson’s aphorism penetrates
to the heart of the Marshall Plan. Compared to the dominant role of charac-
ter in the self-image of ECA’s leaders and staffers, everything else wanes in
significance. In at least one vital way, Marshall Planners are reminiscent of
the nation’s Founding Fathers. They were avatars in that, like Washington,
Jefferson, and Madison, they clung to a conviction: power and influence
derived from personal merit. Despite flaws in their nature, they nonetheless
rechanneled their energies, talents, reputations, and personal ambitions into
the “service of benevolence.” They believed that curtailing special interests
and doing the public good were, in fact, instruments for achieving individual
greatness.11
The character possessed by most Marshall Planners, surely inspired by
George C. Marshall’s life of selfless service, lends itself poorly to quantifica-
tion. When General Marshall served as Army Chief of Staff, he was, in his own
words, “always on the lookout for the real performers who are self-effacing.”12
Somehow, Paul Hoffman and Averell Harriman managed to find those Amer-
ican hybrids in abundance. Today, character seems in much shorter supply
than in the late 1940s. But if force of character were reinvigorated in Amer-
ican culture, and Emerson’s truth widely reembraced, another Marshall Plan
would become more feasible. Americans of character and intelligence, free
of hubris, mindful of history’s warnings, equipped with realistic objectives,
proven methods, and proper procedures, might then be equal to the uncer-
tainties, mysteries, and imponderables implicit in a “new” or “second” or
“present day” Marshall Plan. When they are committed to Marshall’s pre-
scription of trading “sacrifices today” for “security and peace tomorrow,”
the outlook brightens even further.13 When America’s best once again see
themselves as national servants, in the image of George C. Marshall, the time
will have arrived to entertain that prospect seriously.
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