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An Unusable Marshall Plan: Chapter 5 – Monograph Collection

Publisher: George C Marshall Foundation

Ithe Marshall Plan, designed and engineered primarily for western
Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, still a realistic, useful
model for postwar reconstruction and stabilization today and in
the future? Can George Marshall’s successful experiment serve as forerun-
ner of other favorable outcomes for policymakers, an inspiration to other
experiments tailored to new conditions? Are the principles, values, meth-
ods, and practices around which the Marshall Plan was once constructed
still relevant? How might they benefit the process of contemporary decision
making? In search for history’s utility, the place to start is with an aware-
ness of the siren song often composed by the past, a place where false or
facile analogies, wrong lessons, and valuable insights coexist. And where the
unusable does proliferate in abundance.
As original and creative statesmanship, George C. Marshall’s inspiration
relied on three factors for its attainments: good fortune, conducive condi-
tions, and purposeful planning. Luck was definitely a Marshall Plan hall-
mark, teaching an important lesson about history’s texture as well as about
how acutely, on occasion, outside or external events influence achievement
of public policy goals. Historical actors cannot receive all the credit for a
favorable result. While the Marshall Plan itself is best understood as either
the necessary or sufficient variable in the successful reconstruction of west-
ern Europe, chance’s contribution to that happy outcome demands recogni-
tion. The importance of good timing, unplanned occurrences, and unintend-
ed consequences in the fortunes of the Marshall Plan should not be under-
rated. The most thoughtful preparations, without uncontrollable circum-
stances playing into the hands of the planners, might not have had the same
impact. In the lingo of poker, Marshall Planners caught some breaks. A sum-
mary of the most significant historical contingencies effecting the approval,
implementation, and outcome of their masterpiece numbers, of course,
Historical Contingency
The Czech coup in February 1948 elevated popular fears of communism,
disarmed the ERP’s lingering opponents, and clinched its passage by

Barry Machado
American lawmakers. By December, a flood of over ten thousand Czechs
pouring out of their country served as a constant reminder of totalitarian-
ism’s westward movement.1 While perhaps not the single biggest reason for
the favorable result, Stalin’s open break with Tito and the latter’s expulsion
from the Cominform in late June 1948 did assure a Communist insurgency’s
defeat in Greece by sundering the KKE leadership and denying sanctuary
and support in Yugoslavia for Greek rebels. So, too, did the blunder by Greek
Communist leaders in calling for an independent nation of Macedonia, put-
ting themselves on the wrong side of Greek nationalism and dissipating pop-
ular sympathies. Both simplified considerably the military problems faced
by the American-backed Greek National Army, no matter what General Van
Fleet and Field Marshal Papagos argued to the contrary.
An unprecedented call-to-arms in 1948 by the Vatican, which endorsed
Christian Democrats and mobilized at the grass roots an electorate, conve-
niently 99% Catholic, to save its soul by turning its back on Communist
politicians, altered the course of postwar politics in Italy. The Catholic
Church’s organizational might—parish priests and the militant lay organiza-
tion Catholic Action especially—determined the defeat of the Communists
at a time when more than 70% of Italians regularly attended Sunday mass.
Without Pius XII’s decisive intervention, the valuable work of the ECA mis-
sion in Rome would have been impossible.2 A Soviet attempt in the summer
of 1948 to intimidate the people of West Germany, especially 2,250,000
West Berliners, backfired as a Cold War tactic into a public relations coup
for the West. The dramatic Berlin Airlift and a resulting surge in pro-
American sentiment among Germans proved a godsend as well. Paul
Hoffman and others, quite correctly, called it a “moral defeat” for the Soviet
Union. As Dean Acheson once summarized the postwar years, “We were for-
tunate in our opponents.”3 Yet another miscalculation by Stalin, the Korean
War, after an initial inflationary shock to western Europe’s economies, stim-
ulated the region’s economic growth in ways that helped to usher in the con-
tinent’s “economic miracle” of the 1950s. A dramatic jump in demand for
western European goods and raw materials provided an unplanned, potent
The seventh and last contingency is perhaps least appreciated because
European contributions to the Marshall Plan’s effective administration have
long lingered in the historical shadows in American accounts, even though
ultimate success depended as much on the attributes of Europe’s leadership
as on America’s role. As such, the selection of Robert Marjolin, a respected
French economist, as OEEC’s Secretary General may have been the most
fortunate of all fortuitous events between 1948 and 1952. The Belgian
Chairman of the OEEC Council during its first two years, Baron Jean-
Charles Snoy, has remarked that “the situation of the West in 1948 was so
grave that everybody in every country sent his best people to OEEC and to
ECA.” Marjolin may have been the cadre’s very finest. The head of the

An Unusable Marshall Plan?
Robert Marjolin (left) en route to the United States with British representatives at
the OEEC. To his left are Edmund Hall-Patch, Harry Lintott, and Eric Roll.
Swedish Mission to the OEEC felt he was “as good as anybody you could
find” and a “genuine international civil servant.” His European colleagues
referred to him as “The Brain.”5
Because Averell Harriman wanted an honored elder statesman, preferably
an aristocrat like himself, to run OEEC day-to-day and provide the critical
coordination, he actually opposed Marjolin’s nomination. Regarding him as
“capable” yet not of the “highest caliber,” Harriman was initially disgruntled
over his selection. Young, by Harriman’s standards, at thirty-seven, boyish-
looking, and without a senior statesman’s prestige, the upholsterer’s son pos-
sessed nonetheless a special blend of character, determination, experience,
skill, and empathy that few Europeans could have brought to his position.6
Much as it troubled some American colleagues, the demon of World War
I’s failed peace haunted Marjolin. Bad memories supplied him with a power-

Barry Machado
Unloading Marshall Plan–funded coal in the Netherlands.
ful compulsion to learn from the past. The Frenchman also knew well and
respected both Americans and Englishmen, being “as much at home in
Britain and America as he was in his own country.” Indeed, a Dutch friend
regarded him as “one of the very few Frenchmen who had an open eye for
the Anglo-Saxon world.”7 There were good reasons. In 1940, he had joined
Charles de Gaulle’s Free French movement, spending the early part of World
War II in London. In 1943, though, de Gaulle dispatched him to the United
States to assist Jean Monnet, who was heading France’s Purchasing Mission.
For two years, he worked and lived in Washington; there he also married an
American. This was his second extended stay in the States. Back in 1932
and 1933, he pursued graduate studies at Yale University thanks to a
Rockefeller Foundation grant. After the war, Marjolin returned to his home-
land as the pro-American Monnet’s protégé, serving as his deputy on the so-

An Unusable Marshall Plan?
called Monnet Plan, an ambitious government program for “Modernization
and Equipment” that preceded the Marshall Plan. Marjolin’s executive lead-
ership on the CEEC staff also recommended him to the OEEC’s members,
who “universally accepted [him] as objective and fair,” in the estimation of
Sir Eric Roll, a British delegate. Being bilingual and speaking fluently the
only languages permitted in the organization’s official business—French and
English—were added bonuses.
Marjolin’s sympathy for Americans, as well as old ties born of years
studying and living in the United States and working with Monnet, plus his
distaste for the French Left, made him ECA’s ideal European liaison, as
Harriman finally realized. No one worked harder at Anglo-French-American
cooperation and harmony than did Marjolin. His personal leadership, and
the unity for which it was responsible, were essential for a satisfactory res-
olution of the difficult “German Problem” that OEEC faced. With Marjolin
officiating, a European marriage of sorts took place without need of a shot-
gun. Every month, overcoming limited formal powers as Secretary General,
he met secretly with fellow Yalie Richard Bissell and two high- ranking
Englishmen, Roll and Edmund Hall-Patch, at a Paris restaurant. There, they
coordinated policy and ironed out differences. Their friendships obliterated
cultural preconceptions and stereotypes. Moreover, as Lincoln Gordon has
stressed, another of Marjolin’s many assets was “empathy with both south-
ern and northern European cultures.” Knowing how to deal with diverse
peoples was his special gift. His personality and skills lubricated Marshall
Plan wheels, allowing them to run more smoothly than expected.8
The Seven Contingencies illustrate the limitations of the purposeful
planning poured into the Marshall Plan. They refresh our memory of how
appeals to historical authority can be deceptive. There might be, moreover,
an even greater disadvantage to the Plan. It has to do with conducive condi-
tions. The near-universal sentiment of those who were once directly con-
nected with its conception and/or execution, as well as scholars, like Stanley
Hoffmann and Charles Maier, who have studied carefully its historical
record, is that chances for a remake are unpromising. Walt Rostow, Richard
Bissell, Ted Geiger, Jacob Kaplan, and Jacques Reinstein all agree with
Helmut Schmidt that the conditions that prevailed in western Europe from
1948 until 1952 are unlikely ever to recur elsewhere. The Marshall Plan was
arguably a workable arrangement only in western Europe, and only because
American and western European interests coincided. In all probability, they
imply, its seeds would fall on barren ground in the contemporary developing
worlds of Russia, Africa, and the Middle East. The devil, it turns out, may be
in the setting, not the details. The Marshall Plan’s environment perhaps
equaled or exceeded in importance its personnel and methods. If so, then
replicating that context is rather improbable.
Institutional preconditions crucial for success were many and possibly
uniquely interrelated. Besides a working legal system, a respect for private

Barry Machado
property rights, and good, democratic governance, the mandatory prerequi-
sites for a second Marshall Plan should include, first, a modern market-based
economy with a “long-standing entrepreneurial heritage”; second, skilled,
motivated, and educated managers and workers; and, third, technical know-
how, especially engineering capabilities. It would also require an education-
al infrastructure in place and functioning, guided by principles of academic
freedom. In short, presupposing an Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution
when extending large-scale aid to non-Western countries could very well
guarantee disillusionment.9
What western Europe had before the first Marshall Plan cargo ship or
country mission arrived were, in Richard Bissell’s concise version, “skills,
habits, motivations, customs, and procedures required for the operation of a
modern economy.” When they were lacking or deficient in another region or
country, attempting a second Marshall Plan made no sense whatsoever to
him.10 Maybe another worthwhile way to think about all considered claims as
to the Marshall Plan’s contemporary irrelevance is a comparison with Mikhail
Gorbachev’s failed policy of “perestroika,” introduced in the Soviet Union in
the mid-1980s. By means of a batch of economic and governmental reforms,
Gorbachev similarly attempted to restructure a vast, failing economy. In
effect, ECA anticipated Gorbachev, trying forty years before to revitalize
western European capitalism while changing internal behaviors. Yes, the
Marshall Plan was a successful precursor of “perestroika,” but principally
because western European institutions were compatible with major reforms.
The West’s democratic and legal traditions, in particular, were strong enough
to accommodate pressures for basic economic change. The Soviet Union’s
collapse seems to prove that the politics of good intentions is never enough.
The Disservice of the Marshall Plan
At least three Marshall Plan veterans have issued identical caveats about
its subsequent misuses by American foreign and domestic policymakers.
Walt Rostow, Richard Bissell, and C. Tyler Wood have lamented the “false
hopes” the Plan aroused in Third World countries, inner cities, and post-
Communist East Europe that quick and dramatic successes could be
achieved outside of West Europe with a mass infusion of capital. All eventu-
ally affirmed what a principal formulator of the Marshall Plan wrote in July
1947. At its very inception, George Kennan had warned that “there was no
reason to believe that the approaches here applied to Europe will find any
wide application elsewhere.” One of the masterminds of the Marshall Plan’s
inspired programming, Bissell regretted its “unfortunate heritage” and “dis-
service” in propagating various myths: of rapid results, of the power of
enthusiasm combined with huge resources, and that “economic and politi-
cal problems could somehow be separated.”

A British auto—manufactured with copper for wiring, nickel for steel, and zinc for
die-casting supplied by the ECA—is loaded for export at a London dock. Helped by
credit and raw materials from the U.S., the U.K. increased car production 36%
between 1947 and 1950.

Barry Machado
Wood, who served ECA as Assistant Deputy Administrator for Oper-
ations prior to a long government career in foreign aid, learned the hard way
that “if you stir up a traditional society and give people all sorts of expecta-
tions of a better life,” the results are “tension, problems and dissatisfaction.”
For Wood, a mass infusion of capital was “absolutely essential” in western
Europe, yet it turned out to be a mistake in underdeveloped areas. American
policymakers, in Wood’s emphatic judgment, “rushed to the conclusion that
you can do the same thing with a backward country, and you just can’t do
it.” Probably with the wayward Alliance for Progress in his thoughts, the old
Marshall Planner offered his own memorial: “our success in the Marshall
Plan led a lot of people astray.”11
Economists Speak
Some economists also deny that any repetition of the Marshall Plan can
happen because the American government has lost its former preeminence
in financial markets. They stress the remarkable role-reversal experienced by
the United States ever since those Marshall Plan days. The “universal empo-
rium” with huge trade surpluses everywhere in the world now struggles with
enormous trade deficits. Other economists, Barry Eichengreen in particular,
regard another Marshall Plan as “inconceivable today” because flush private
capital markets render a redux as “superfluous” and the “response developed
by Marshall and his colleagues” as “no longer appropriate.” International cap-
ital markets, currently full and flourishing, have changed profoundly the con-
text of the late 1940s. To Eichengreen, private streams of capital have sup-
planted public flows. Individual and corporate investors and lenders world-
wide can be expected to meet the needs of countries or regions invoking, mis-
guidedly in his estimation, the hallowed name of George C. Marshall.12
An implication of Eichengreen’s analysis is that, in the face of economic
crises and human misery comparable to western Europe’s after World War
II, private banks and companies will serve in the foreseeable future as reli-
able instruments of public policy. Profit-driven investments will substitute
for the Marshall Plan’s governmental grants, counterpart funds, and
Keynesian management. Being up to a liquidity challenge is a quite different
matter, however, than being a faithful implementer of the national interest.
Will private capital really move into sub-Saharan Africa on its own? Is bor-
rowing in the private sector the long-term equivalent of national grants?
When China finances America’s deficits and holds dollar reserves—thanks
to its giant trade differential with the United States—fast approaching
$1,000,000,000,000, just how private are those vaunted capital flows?
Eichengreen also chooses to overlook the historical clash, especially in the
1920s, between public policy and private power that, for the most part, was
suspended during the Marshall Plan. In fact, another of the Plan’s legacies is
its implicit warning about the danger of confusing and equating private and

An Unusable Marshall Plan?
public goals, something to which Hoffman, Harriman, and Bissell were espe-
cially attuned.
The Marshall Plan never had the unanimous backing of American busi-
nessmen. In the run-up to passage of the Foreign Assistance Act, corporate
executives expressed opposing views about what their government’s
embrace of internationalism ought to mean. What appeared consensual in
April 1948, the result of a general attitude of watchful waiting, turned con-
tentious by 1950. An initial split widened, separating on one side business
liberals who had joined the Committee for Economic Development or
National Planning Association and, on the other side, business conservatives
and protectionists more at home in the National Association of
Manufacturers or the National Foreign Trade Council. While liberals like
Philip Reed, head of General Electric, remained steadfast in their support,
conservatives grew more unsympathetic towards and critical of the ECA.
They wanted the Marshall Plan to expand their sales overseas rather than
enlarge European consumer markets and intra-European trade. They pre-
ferred that Washington create more opportunities abroad for them.
Instead, the Marshall Plan in operation actually undercut America’s
exports to Europe. Because ECA provided French, Dutch, and Belgian busi-
nessmen with tutelage in the latest American production methods and tech-
nology, many conservatives regarded their future profits at risk. Technology
transfers especially worried them. Increasingly, they found themselves “at
odds with federal agencies over policies that revived [former] competitors
overseas . . . and limited market development worldwide.” They came to
resent Marshall Planners who supposedly sacrificed short-term business self-
interest to a grand government theory. Blowing on embers from the Yalta
Conference, their congressional allies even accused the ECA of “selling out”
their interests in Europe.13
Nearly always, in appropriation battles waged annually inside Congress,
Marshall Planners prevented special interests from transforming a foreign
aid program with strategic objectives into governmental favoritism and pro-
visions for private businesses with powerful lobbies and an oversupply of
products. There were, to be sure, some accommodations and a few notable
exceptions. All added unnecessarily to taxpayers’ expense. For example, in
the shape of a 50% rule tied to strategic arguments, preferential treatment
was afforded to the shipping industry and organized labor for transporting
ECA commodities. Flour millers obtained, for a time, a favorable quota for
wheat shipments, and tobacco growers were permitted to export 40,000 tons
of a crop that Europe did not want.14
But as a rule political meddling was rebuked and political enemies accu-
mulated. With his European perspective, Robert Marjolin found decisions
made by ECA’s leaders prior to the Korean War to be driven exclusively by
calculations of the long-term public good. That they almost never ran inter-
ference for American businessmen impressed him greatly. Indeed, he

Barry Machado
marveled that “their interest was not American trade, American exports or
things of that sort.” A Norwegian Marshall Plan official, Knut Getz Wold,
remembered that “the object was to discriminate to the maximum extent
possible against the exports of United States products. That this was . . . pos-
itively encouraged by the U.S. authorities . . . is really a measure of the
degree to which the immediate self-interests were subordinated to the inter-
ests of European economic recovery.”15
Marjolin and Getz Wold almost got it right. While Hoffman and Harriman
refused to curry favor with powerful Senators, hiring none of their relatives to
positions in the Marshall Plan, and while they adamantly opposed subsidies to
ailing lumbermen and other businessmen by steering European buyers their
way, they did compromise their own principles when it came to oil. Years
before Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson, equated
America’s national interest with General Motors’ corporate interest, Marshall
Planners treated the interests of the country and the oil industry interchange-
ably. ECA’s relationship with America’s oil companies provides, in one sense,
a cautionary tale about entrusting the private sector to do what is best for the
nation as a whole. Put simply, the private objectives of oilmen could not be
reconciled with the ECA’s announced national goal of self-sustainable western
European recovery and growth in four years. Their public relationship was
marked, accordingly, by a lack of cooperation along with a serious falling out
over crude oil prices. But, in private, matters were quite different.
Walter Levy, an OSS oil analyst during World War II and Chief of ECA’s
Petroleum Branch in 1948 and 1949, eventually concluded that “the mere dol-
lar saving approach is too narrow in the case of oil.” The United States could
not, in his expert opinion, sacrifice a “vital national interest” in order to com-
ply with guidelines for aiding western Europe. What was perfectly appropriate
for lumber and aluminum was inappropriate for oil. As the premature absorp-
tion of ECA by MSA indicated most forcefully, the strategic argument over-
powered all others. Levy’s superiors in Washington agreed that oil deserved to
be in the forefront of strategic calculations. Although Levy did have the pric-
ing convention used for twenty years by the multinationals modified, in the
end ECA advanced Big Oil’s interests at the expense of European recovery by
deliberately restricting the European oil industry’s economic growth. The act
qualified as the unselfish Marshall Plan’s most selfish.16
After World War II, western Europe’s massive dollar shortage had a vari-
ety of causes. A large contributor to that shortfall was oil imported from
American companies operating overseas, primarily in the Middle East.
Europe paid for half its consumption in dollars to American suppliers. While
coal still met around 90% of the continent’s energy needs (down to 75% by
1950), cars, trucks, tractors, and planes could not move without gasoline.
Moreover, King Coal was in the process of being dethroned. In 1949, ECA
spent $600,000,000 for petroleum products, while estimates for the follow-
ing year of $800–900,000,000 amounted to 20% of total expenditures.

An Unusable Marshall Plan?
Overall, in excess of 10% of ECA commodity assistance went for purchasing
oil, more than on any other commodity.
Before long, Marshall Planners realized that if western Europe reduced its
oil imports, they could shrink the dollar gap appreciably, especially since the
price of crude more than doubled—from $1.05 to $2.22 per barrel—between
war’s end and the spring of 1948. Aggravating the situation was the fact that
for a time America’s oil giants, acting in collusion, overcharged ECA for deliv-
eries to western Europe. Their prices reflected production costs in the United
States rather than the Middle East. Eventually rolled back, the price illegally
charged ECA still exceeded the price American customers paid. The differen-
tial was, in fact, sizable—$0.32 per barrel. Squabbling eventually led to liti-
gation. In 1952, the oil companies were taken to federal court.
ECA understood well that another way to save dollars in western Europe,
besides curtailing the influx of petroleum, involved expansion of Europe’s
refinery capacity, particularly since refined products were more expensive
than crude oil. This was the alternative, however, that Walter Levy and ECA
Washington rejected because it would simultaneously hurt the overseas busi-
ness of American oil companies and American strategic aims. ECA opted to
finance refinery improvements and expansion only to replace imports of
some dollar-denominated products. According to business historian David
Painter, Marshall Planners “would not finance projects that threatened to
compete with US companies.” So, they ended up funding “very few refinery
projects.” In all, the $24,000,000 the Plan invested in refineries contrasted
with $1,200,000,000 in oil purchases from American firms.17
Oilmen’s special needs, like those of shippers, took priority over the gen-
eral interest of lasting European recovery. Guided by their own agenda of
costs and profits, private oil companies served as poor instruments of a spe-
cific public policy, even as detriments to its timely achievement. Perhaps on
all counts they merited preferential treatment, given the subsequently vital
role which cheap, unlimited oil played in western Europe’s unprecedented
economic growth in the 1950s along with oil’s strategic importance in the
Cold War. Yet the Marshall Plan’s oil tangle does draw into sharp relief the
overriding question of primacy: whenever incompatible, should long-term
public planning or short-term private interests determine America’s
approach to postwar reconstruction? Though not unequivocally, the
Marshall Plan came down on the side of the former. The two prominent
exceptions of the shipping and oil industries aside, governmental interests
and business interests were, to Marshall Planners, distinguishable and divis-
ible. Their separation qualifies, in fact, as one of many keys to the ERP’s suc-
cess bearing directly on the challenges of postwar reconstruction today. All
validate the Marshall Plan as a prime example of a usable past.

Hamburg, Germany: Mönckebergstrasse in the business district, 1945 vs. 1950