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Selling the Marshall Plan: Chapter 2 – Monograph Collection

   
Publisher: George C Marshall Foundation




Warren Buffett’s father, Howard, represented Nebraska’s Second Con-
gressional District in 1948. Like many Midwesterners whose civic
Wbible was the ChicagoTribune’s editorial page, the Republican con-
gressman embraced and preached a hard-shell gospel of isolationism. His was
the sensibility of an older America. In Howard Buffett’s faith neither
America’s prosperity nor its security depended on what transpired in Europe.
A strident foe of the Marshall Plan, he belittled it as “Operation Rathole,”
condemning as well the “barrage of propaganda . . . drench[ing] this country”
and assailing the “tricks of political terrorism” supposedly being employed to
gain its passage.1
About one of his criticisms Congressman Buffett was correct. The
Republican 80th Congress and the public were in fact targets of a prodigious
outpouring of propaganda, the purpose of which was to guarantee that the
uninformed, along with the isolationists and pro-Communists, did not defeat
Marshall Plan legislation. Another angry opponent of the Marshall Plan,
Representative Fred Busby of Illinois, agreed with Buffett. “Never,” he com-
plained, “has Congress been so bombarded with propaganda.” Since the
conservative Class of 1946 had campaigned successfully on shrinking big
government, slashing federal spending, cutting taxes, and rolling back the
New Deal, a Democratic administration faced a daunting task in winning
approval for its unexampled foreign aid program.
Marked by a proliferation of committees and lobbies, both public and pri-
vate, the ensuing campaigns of education and manipulation constituted the
second of America’s two containment policies in the late 1940s. The first,
dating from George Kennan’s pseudoanonymous article signed “X” in the July
1947 issue of Foreign Affairs and embodied in the Truman Doctrine, was
directed at containment of communism abroad. The second, less known, was
aimed at political isolationists, like Buffett and his brethren, at home. Before
the Marshall Plan could mold a “New Europe,” a “New America” had to be
promoted. Voices of an “Old America,” loudest in the heartland, had to be
marginalized. At the kickoff of the campaign the power of the isolationist
opposition was considerable and the public’s apathy not inconsequential.2
After World War II, with the exception of the eastern seaboard, America’s
sense of world responsibility still suffered from stunted development.
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Barry Machado
Witness the popular philosophy of Robert R. McCormick, then owner and
publisher of the Chicago Tribune, herald of the country’s most isolationist
region. McCormick comingled national aloofness with illusions of invulner-
ability and omnipotence. “We can work out our own [national] salvation,”
he declared, “independently of what happens elsewhere in the world.” The
Truman administration and friends of the Marshall Plan could not have dis-
agreed more. But to implement and sustain their grand foreign policy,
Truman and Marshall first had to master common domestic politics. In one
of America’s most unusual feats of leadership, they made the latter servant
to the former. Harmonizing means and ends proved as crucial as it was rare.
By summer of 1947, they were organizing coast-to-coast efforts to convince
the people and their elected representatives about the feasibility and right-
ness of their cause, and to accept, instead of a promised federal tax cut, the
likelihood of higher taxes. Mobilizing favorable public opinion and biparti-
san support thus began and ended in Washington.3
The Government Campaign
Overseen by Under Secretary Robert Lovett, a Republican, the State
Department went to work independently, and in concert with various inter-
departmental working committees in the Executive Branch, collecting eco-
nomic and financial information. A European recovery program acceptable
to a Congress full of isolationists and fiscal conservatives presupposed an
immense amount of knowledge, as well as a sound basis on which to make
cost projections. A Herculean effort of research, documentation, and analy-
sis, led by Charles Kindleberger, Paul Nitze, and others, produced the leg-
endary “Brown Books.” Deciding to err on the side of too many rather than
too few statistics, government officials simply overwhelmed skeptical
Congressmen with detailed country studies on commodities, balance of pay-
ments, and trade that measured three inches in thickness. The scale and
thoroughness of the State Department’s homework and preparations helped
to overcome some of its unpopularity on Capitol Hill, “amazing,” in partic-
ular, Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, a former isolation-
ist whose support was indispensable.
After Secretary Marshall’s Harvard speech, President Truman also
appointed three bipartisan governmental advisory groups to examine the
feasibility of massive foreign aid to Europe. He asked Julius Krug, Secretary
of the Interior, to chair a committee to assess its impact on America’s natu-
ral and national resources. He nominated Edwin Nourse, head of the
President’s Council of Economic Advisers, to investigate its consequences
for the health of the domestic economy. The third set of advisers he called
into existence was put together from a list of prominent Americans compiled
by Dean Acheson and chaired by the Secretary of Commerce, Averell
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Selling the Marshall Plan
Harriman. Their charge was to review the CEEC proposal and determine the
limits and appropriate shape of Marshall’s ideas. How much, for example,
could the United States spend without bankrupting itself?
In terms of laying the groundwork and influencing Congress and the
press, contemporaries regarded the Krug and Nourse committees as minor
players. The third committee, however, the “President’s Committee on
Foreign Aid,” better known as the “Harriman Committee,” complemented
Foggy Bottom’s marketing and was by far “of very great importance.”
Working from late August 1947 until publication of its results in early
November, it cooperated behind the scenes with State Department working
groups and utilized their expertise. Its essential findings that European self-
help was mandatory, the expense was not prohibitive, and a “new” Europe
“with a common economic market and strong political ties” had to replace
“the old, compartmentalized pre-war Europe” were greeted by widespread
applause and accolades in the press. More than any other government doc-
ument, the final report of the Harriman Committee converted the press to
the cause of the true believers.4
The Harriman Committee consisted of around twenty members.
Representing business, labor, and academia, its personnel “inspired confi-
dence” in a Congress that largely lacked confidence in the State Depart-
ment.5 According to the MIT economist who, as the committee’s executive
secretary, directed its research and deliberations, and collaborated in draft-
ing its final report, the group was “rather conservative” and, in at least one
crucial way, well prepared for its task. The attitudes of many members had
already been molded by “experience in governmental policy” in World War
II. Their service in wartime agencies with limited purposes and life spans left
two fortunate legacies: inoculation against simplistic, clichéd thinking and
sloganeering about the federal government often heard in the private sector
and a good understanding about how a government adhocracy functioned.6
Not only did the committee’s bipartisan makeup and recommendations
impress journalists and legislators alike, but two of its leading participants,
Averell Harriman and Paul Hoffman, went on their own personal crusades to
win acceptance of the Marshall Plan in the business community. Although
he was a poor public speaker, appearing to some as inarticulate, no one was
more zealous in promoting the objectives of the Marshall Plan, or more com-
mitted to its congressional passage, than Harriman. After his committee’s
report was finished, he flew all over the Midwest and West drumming up sup-
port in the months leading up to the vote in Congress. Flying great distances
in an unpressurized DC-3, he adhered to what one of his companions con-
sidered a superhuman speaking schedule. Every day for several weeks he
made three stops—in unglamorous cities like Fargo, Boise, and Walla Walla,
bastions of isolationism.7
Also delivering scores of speeches to audiences in need of conversion
was Paul Hoffman, head of the Studebaker automobile company and one of
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Barry Machado
the founders in 1942 of the Committee for Economic Development (CED),
an organization of liberal businessmen. Six years later, his connections with
the CED turned highly beneficial. According to an associate, a determined
and tactful Hoffman “kept the business community behind the Plan . . . in
the beginning,” using “liberal businessmen as the cutting edge to get united
support.”8 Public relations was Hoffman’s great gift. Some who knew him
well deemed him “little short of a genius” in its employment. To Dean
Acheson, he was an “evangelist” spreading the gospel.9
In the Truman administration’s self-appointed mission to awaken the
American public from its isolationist slumber, World War II’s organizer of vic-
tory, General Marshall, led by example. In October 1947 he broke with prece-
dent and, in search of organized labor’s backing, he addressed the annual
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) convention. From January until
May 1948 he campaigned as virtually a one-man talkathon. An impeccable
reputation as a nonpartisan aided his arguments immensely. Marshall’s whirl-
wind swing around the country took him to a chamber of commerce here and
a church group there, as well as to business councils, university faculties and
student bodies, farmers’ associations, and women’s clubs. Besides testifying
regularly on the Hill, he carried the State Department’s message coast-to-
coast: from New York, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta, to Chicago and Des Moines,
and on to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland.10
There were businessmen and congressmen, like Everett Dirksen of
Illinois, who were persuaded neither by the torrent of speeches nor by
George Marshall’s prestige. Rather, they underwent self-conversion, switching
from an isolationist to an internationalist faith by the baptism of first-hand
experiences. In the late summer and fall of 1947 not a few Representatives
and Senators, particularly members of the fact-finding House Herter
Committee, traveled to Europe to take the measure of the continent’s misery.
What Dirksen and others observed of life among the ruins moved them pro-
foundly. Unmediated observations abroad exceeded in power any abstrac-
tions that Harriman or Hoffman or even Marshall might discuss at home.
The Quasi-Private Offensive
The spearhead to reeducate the nation on the grand scale was the ad hoc
“Citizens’ Committee for the Marshall Plan to Aid European Recovery”
(CCMP). Established in late October 1947 by prominent liberal Eastern
internationalists and members of the Council on Foreign Relations, the
CCMP had its headquarters in New York City, a busy office in Washington,
and regional and local chapters in places like Baltimore and Philadelphia.
From there it ran a massive, well-organized assault on unfavorable domestic
sentiments towards the Marshall Plan. Top-heavy with corporate and labor
leaders in provisional alliance with one-time government officials—Robert
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Selling the Marshall Plan
Secretary Marshall and Under Secretary Lovett testify in favor
of the emergency aid bill—$597,000,000 for France, Italy, and
Austria—November 10, 1947.
Patterson and Dean Acheson, for instance—CCMP epitomized bipartisan-
ship. While more than half of its general membership were businessmen, in
contrast to only 6% labor union officials, its National Council was divided
evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Though ostensibly a nongovernmental organization, and though
bankrolled by big donors like John D. Rockefeller as well as by small private
contributions, in many ways the distinguished private citizens who led the
organization actually fronted for a State Department legally barred from
engaging in propaganda. To sway public opinion, the CCMP ran ads, press
releases, and editorials in both big city and country newspapers, paid for
radio broadcasts, and hired its own news and speakers bureaus. Publicity
entailed sending spokesmen to women’s clubs, church councils, and public
affairs groups. Dean Acheson followed in the footsteps of Harriman and
Hoffman, undertaking his own speaking tour of the Midwest and West. He
addressed audiences in Palo Alto, Portland, Spokane, Minneapolis, and
Duluth. Will Clayton stumped parts of the country as well. In January and
February 1948 a CCMP field staff visited additional areas of the Midwest to
19


Barry Machado
mobilize local support. Winning the hearts and minds of fellow Americans
also meant circulating more than a million pieces of pro–Marshall Plan pub-
lications—booklets, leaflets, reprints, and fact sheets. The primary focus was
frequently on elite opinion, but the grassroots were cultivated, too.
The preliminary bout on the legislative fight card was an Interim Aid bill.
After the warm-up, congressional debate and committee hearings on the
Marshall Plan began in earnest in January 1948. The main attraction lasted
for six months, until June. Thanks to the fair-minded leadership of
Vandenberg in the Senate and the elderly Representative Charles Eaton in
the House, neither steamroller nor filibuster occurred. Early on, however,
reluctant members of Congress made it clear that their vote for passage
depended on the ultimate shape of the program. Finding the Harriman
Committee report particularly handy, the CCMP assembled and briefed a
cross-section of private organizations as witnesses. In all, twenty-six mem-
bers of the CCMP testified before congressional committees, representing
organized labor, farmers’ associations, industry, and religious groups.11
Clearly, President Truman, Secretary Marshall, and their advisers wisely
decided to commit the citizenry to an ambitious, unprecedented public pol-
icy before committing the nation to sacrifice money and manpower on its
behalf. Selling the Marshall Plan at home required compelling arguments as
clinchers. Those used by the administration’s front, the CCMP, appealed,
sometimes indiscriminately, to America’s idealism, self-interest, and ideolo-
gy. Humanitarian and economic reasons predominated, while an ideological
consideration surfaced much less often, at least until troubling events took
place in Czechoslovakia in late February. Before then, the notion that the
Marshall Plan might serve as a “bulwark against Communism” was men-
tioned but not dramatized.12
Interestingly, in its press releases and talking points the CCMP did not
play heavily on an anti-Communist theme; indeed, it forsook the shrill, hard
sell. Allen Dulles, among the organization’s founders and most active mem-
bers and a future head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), suggested
in coaching his congressional witnesses that the Marshall Plan could in fact
speed up the decline of communism already underway in western Europe,
adding to some recent setbacks. To Dulles, the mere prospect of the Marshall
Plan had inflicted “a body blow” on the Communist parties in France and
Italy “from which it is staggering.” As cause for optimism, he pointed to the
failed Communist-led strikes in France and Italy in December 1947, espe-
cially the fact that French Communists called off their strikes, opening frac-
tures in the French labor movement. Dulles eschewed scare tactics, recom-
mending instead ample forethought and proper planning. “We should not
embark on a Marshall Plan program,” he cautioned, “until we have counted
the effort, the cost, and the sacrifice that we are disposed to put into it.”13
After February 25, when a coup in Czechoslovakia put Communists in
power, fear supplanted prudence—and emotion suppressed reason—in public
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Selling the Marshall Plan
discussions of the Marshall Plan. A war scare swept the country for a while.
Prague was perceived as another Munich. With resounding thuds, Josef
Stalin had a knack throughout the early Cold War years for regularly slam-
ming down the wrong card on the table. Once proponents of the Marshall
Plan picked up the first “Uncle Joe” card, they held a winning hand. In the
Soviet dictator the CCMP, along with the State Department, had found per-
haps its most effective salesman. Over the duration of the Plan Stalin repeat-
edly misplayed his hand in Yugoslavia, Germany, and Korea, on each occa-
sion with maximum beneficial effect on Washington’s goals abroad.
The shrinking percentage of Americans who had not heard of the
Marshall Plan clearly reflected the impact of the CCMP’s first-rate public
relations and publicity blitz. Between July and December 1947, as measured
by Gallup Polls, the number of Americans unaware of the Plan fell from 51
to 36% nationwide. Suggestive of the combined effect of CCMP activities
along with the release of the Harriman Committee report in November, the
percentage of Americans who favored it jumped from 47 to 56% between
November 1947 and February 1948. Then, before Stalin lent his helping
hand, only 29% of Americans still had not heard of the Marshall Plan. By the
time of the first congressional vote in late March, one major pollster deter-
mined that three-fourths of the public with an opinion preferred the Plan,
which was only slightly higher than among business executives. Farm organ-
izations backed it strongly while the press, both editors and reporters, pro-
vided powerful support as well. Dissenters in the fourth estate made for
strange bedfellows, with the Daily Worker joining the McCormick, Hearst,
and Knight newspaper chains as the most notable opponents.14
An intensive five-month campaign of discussion, debate, and persuasion
won for the Marshall Plan broad public endorsements. The exertions of good
salesmen with good selling points sold their product. Of course, the Truman
administration’s willingness to concede a great deal to the concerns and
biases of Congress in jointly crafting the final, compromise version of the
ERP bill secured additional votes. Congress was always actively engaged in
the process of revision, and the enabling legislation bore numerous congres-
sional fingerprints: the program would not be run out of the State Depart-
ment, its director would be a respected businessman from the private
sector, appropriations would be for one year only with annual reviews of how
money was spent, guidelines and safeguards for disbursing funds would be
imposed, aid would be denied to governments which went Communist,
counterpart funds would be required, and American shipping would be
employed. When the House and Senate approved the Foreign Assistance
Act, 329–74 and 69–17 respectively, Marshall Plan supporters stretched
across occupational and political spectrums. Powerful interest groups closed
ranks around it. An unusual feat had been achieved: the American Bar
Association in common cause with the United Auto Workers, farmers organ-
izations united with Americans for Democratic Action, and the hands of the
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Barry Machado
American Legion joined with those of the National Planning Association.
Even an unenthusiastic National Association of Manufacturers went along
with the shift in opinion. “The CCMP’s work,” Michael Wala has written, was
“crucial in passing the Marshall Plan.”15
When time finally arrived to implement the Plan, the ideal in America’s for-
eign affairs had been realized: a genuine consensus with the people, the press,
the Congress, and the administration unified and committed to the same poli-
cy. Because of lengthy, open debate and tough congressional questioning, the
nation undertook the Marshall Plan with eyes wide open. In the history of the
republic, it was a rare moment. As some illustrious public servants have main-
tained, the propaganda campaign that took the issues straight to the rank-and-
file as well as to elites perhaps best explains “the broad and deep interest” that
Americans invested in foreign affairs during the early Cold War era, in sharp
contrast to both earlier and later periods in the nation’s history.16
As the final congressional votes approached, with passage a certainty,
Congressman from Vermont Charles Plumley offered his own assessment of
why isolationism was a spent force and the curtain was falling on an older,
inward-looking, provincial America. Echoing his Republican colleagues,
Howard Buffett and Fred Busby, Plumley felt he was living in unexampled
times. “There was never,” he groused to fellow members of the House, “such
propaganda in the whole history of the nation as there has been for the
Marshall Plan.” Unbeknownst to Representative Plumley, a novel sales cam-
paign all across the United States was just a rehearsal, a warm-up, for an even
bigger sales campaign that attended the implementation of the Marshall Plan
in western Europe. In the idiom of vaudeville, the distinguished gentlemen
from Vermont, Nebraska, and Illinois hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.17
Abroad
A most knowledgeable European historian has called the Marshall Plan
“the largest international propaganda operation ever seen in peacetime.”18
While credible, a question his claim does raise is whether its author has ever
had access to Cominform records in Moscow. The Marshall Plan may not
deserve its first-place standing. After all, to the Plan’s American architects
and implementers, the Information Divisions that attached themselves to
every country mission were simultaneously involved in a sales campaign and
a counteroffensive. The latter originated in the October 1947 announcement
by Stalin’s favorite henchman, Andrei Zhdanov, that the Comintern had been
resurrected. Renamed the Cominform—Communist Information Bureau—
the heir to the agency for exporting Communist revolution soon functioned
as a conduit for Soviet funds and the latest party line to Moscow-directed
Communist parties in western Europe. No longer could Georges Bidault
insist, as he did in a conversation four months earlier with the chief foreign
correspondent of the New York Times, that “neither [Maurice] Thorez nor
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Selling the Marshall Plan
the French Communist Party
worked on direct orders from
Moscow.” ECA headquarters in
Washington considered Zhdan-
ov’s public pledge to destroy the
Marshall Plan with propaganda
the first shot fired in the propa-
ganda wars. The need to coun-
teract Soviet distortion of
American actions justified the
magnitude and cost of the
counterattack.19
With its own wire service
linked to a network of hundreds
of Communist daily newspapers
and magazines, the Cominform
was directing an empire of mis-
information and disinformation
long before the Office of the
Special Representative (OSR)
“Sixteen in a Circle”—Pravda satirizes restric- opened for business in Paris.
tions on the amount of Marshall Plan aid the Integral to the Cominform’s
U.S. was willing to extend to CEEC nations in enormous effort to defeat
mid-1947.
American objectives were
attacks on American motives,
tactics that proved effective, particularly among receptive French workers and
peasants, Parisian intellectuals, and students at the Sorbonne. With political
and cultural animosities combining, the ERP, in Tony Judt’s view, “faced the
greatest popular criticism” in France. Shortly after the Cominform launched its
anti-American offensive, the National Security Council in Washington adopted
the view that a revived Comintern had selected Italy rather than France as its
highest priority in a strategy of spreading communism westward.20
The head of the ECA’s Information Division in Rome appraised the
Cominform’s investment in Italy as a “stupendous effort” with its goal to
“undermine the Marshall Plan by distorting our objectives and proce-
dures.”21 ECA Washington actually believed that, in the propaganda contest
in western Europe, the Cominform’s budget exceeded its own. What lends
plausibility to the notion that the Soviets outspent the Americans on the
propaganda front are recent revelations by a former Central Intelligence
Agency official that in the months prior to the April 1948 elections in Italy,
the Soviet compound in Rome transferred $8 –10,000,000 per month to
Palmiro Togliatti’s Communist Party, the PCI. The Cominform’s “black bags”
are alleged to have been even bulkier than the ones the CIA delivered to four
anti-Communist parties.22
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Barry Machado
Whether Marshall Planners merit first or second place in the annals of
peacetime propaganda is at least arguable. What should not be is that their
own undeniably stupendous effort was part of the dynamic that drove much
of the Cold War, an escalating cycle of rhetoric and response, and of action
and reaction. Subversives begat countersubversives, while disinformation
necessitated information. Largely on the defensive at first, they eventually
constructed a vast counterpropaganda machine, perhaps the envy of the
Cominform. The information branch grew steadily until it ranked as one of
the two largest staffs at OSR, Paris. By 1951, out of 600 Americans employed
by OSR 180, or 30%, were in propaganda. To advance Washington’s purpos-
es, and to thwart Moscow’s, they enlarged the battlefield in countries which
were picked for psychological struggle, particularly Italy. They assembled a
bigger arsenal, with more and better weapons.23
And they brought greater ingenuity to bear. One combatant in the war of
words and images recalled the American campaign as “rather free-wheeling”
and his cohorts as “in the main, [with] very little bureaucratic experience.”
Supposedly “greenhorns” in the field of foreign propaganda, with little to
unlearn, they developed “fresh, invigorating, and oftentimes wonderfully
effective techniques.” In fact, Thomas Flanagan and Lawrence Hall, who ran
the Information Division in Ankara, regarded the “ECA propaganda
machine” as “far superior to anything previously developed by the US gov-
ernment.” The non-civil service personnel involved, especially the large
number of professionals from the working press, explained why.24
The leaders of America’s information campaign were, in most respects,
anything but novices in the dissemination of news and ideas. With its value
recently demonstrated on the homefront, the importance of winning hearts
and minds in Europe was recognized almost immediately. Only accom-
plished professionals were hired for leadership positions. The men put in
charge in Washington and Paris, as well as those selected as heads of the
Information Divisions in the country missions, possessed outstanding quali-
fications. Paul Hoffman later boasted that “we recruited talent from the top
American newspapers, magazines, radio networks and movie concerns.”
Credentials in courting public opinion overseas were difficult to come by, so
trained and experienced print and broadcast journalists, along with success-
ful advertising executives, filled the ranks.25
At age thirty-six, in mid-1948, Alfred Friendly was appointed initial
Director of Information at OSR, Paris, with Wally Nielsen as his Deputy. After
a year, Friendly was replaced by Roscoe Drummond, a respected columnist for
the Christian Science Monitor, who retained Nielsen as his own Deputy. During
the ECA’s final year an experienced Nielsen ran the Office of Information. A
brief look at the first of the three commanding officers should capture the
assets and advantages the American side brought to the battlefield.
Beginning his thirty-five-year newspaper career as a cub reporter with the
Washington Daily News in 1936, Friendly switched to the Washington Post
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Selling the Marshall Plan
President Truman, Secretary of State Marshall, ECA Administrator Paul Hoffman,
and W. Averell Harriman, ECA’s Special Representative in Europe, confer on the
Marshall Plan in the White House Oval Office, November 29, 1948.
three years later. In the late 1930s his reputation grew as he covered exten-
sively America’s preparedness and mobilization for World War II, an event that
drew him into probably the most secret and select of all wartime operations,
ULTRA. Formally attached to the Army Air Forces, the Amherst graduate spent
most of the war at Bletchley Park in England, “involved in the breaking of
sophisticated German military codes” encrypted by the Enigma machine.
After V-E Day, with his brilliance certified, he returned to the Post, where his
erudition, investigative skills, and lucid writing caught the publisher’s atten-
tion. Alfred Friendly is best remembered, however, for his association with the
Post after his one year of active service in the Marshall Plan. In 1952 he
became Assistant Managing Editor. Three years later, he rose to Managing
Editor, a position he held until 1965. A Pulitzer Prize for international report-
ing awaited him in 1967. Since his death in 1983, ten fellowships per year for
print journalists in the developing world have been named in his honor.
So when Friendly arrived in Paris, his career was on its rapid, upward
trajectory—yet he was still without any managerial or administrative train-
ing. What he brought to the workplace amounted to the newsroom atmos-
phere of the Post wedded to the informality and semichaos of a Bletchley
Park hut. The loose structure turned out to be an ideal incubator of ideas.
About the content of his craft the Director knew a great deal. The arts of
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Barry Machado
spreading, leaking, and concealing information he had already mastered. He
could grasp and convey the big picture. Keeping secrets was another of his
specialties. And he spoke German well and French passably. Until he
resigned in mid-1949, Friendly did double duty. One responsibility was to
win the battle in Europe by keeping Europe’s public sufficiently informed
and in receipt of enough favorable publicity to assure their cooperation and
conversion. The second was to keep the homefront apprised in order to sus-
tain congressional and political support—with ample funding—for the con-
tinuation of American generosity abroad.26
During the Plan’s crucial first year, Friendly’s British connections from
wartime served him well. His Anglophilia may not have. In his later recollec-
tion, and in disregard of the terms of the bilateral treaties that all recipients
signed, “Britain alone was willing to do a reasonable information program
about the Marshall Plan.” Having lived in Paris throughout the Marshall Plan
years, Theodore White corroborated Friendly’s version of events. “What the
Plan was, and what it was doing,” White lamented, “was scarcely ever
reported factually in the Paris press.” Not until 1950 did the French govern-
ment “embark on any extensive publicity campaign” on the Marshall Plan’s
behalf. The rest of the ECA countries basically reneged on their legal
requirement, leaving the Americans to carry the brunt of the propaganda
load for the first two years. It all struck Friendly as a “damn shame.” There
was, however, another way of looking at the situation that bothered Friendly.
Since all ECA expenses involved in the information campaign were defrayed
out of the 5% set aside by law from counterpart funds for administrative
expenses—5% of $8,600,000,000, or approximately $430,000,000—the
other fifteen countries might have simply regarded their obligations as sat-
isfied in full and their promises invalidated.27
High-caliber recruits also filled up the staffs of the Public Information
Division. Press, radio, and documentary film sections were generally
thought to have done superb jobs. Quality individuals provided a quality
product. The press section effectively cultivated relations with and planted
news stories in the local press. It targeted American readers, too. While serv-
ing as second head of OSR’s Information Division, Roscoe Drummond wrote
a weekly column, entitled “State of Europe,” that appeared every Saturday
in the Christian Science Monitor. The radio section put on popular weekly
radio programs and occasionally special programs broadcast in the vernac-
ular by local stations in sixteen countries. They attracted a regular European
listening audience in the millions. Its challenge also entailed satisfying the
demands of ECA Washington, which never lost sight of the need to retain
public support for the Marshall Plan at home.
The radio section consequently produced programming in English—
updates on ECA progress on the continent—for consumption via transmis-
sions from Paris to NBC and CBS hook-ups for rebroadcasts back in the
States. The Mutual Broadcasting System ran another weekly radio program
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Selling the Marshall Plan
Marshall Plan publicity—a parade in the Netherlands.
which was recorded in France and aired there first. Robert Mullen, ECA’s
Information Director in Washington from 1949 to 1952, quickly adjusted to
the new technology of television by arranging with ABC to televise for two
years a series on the Marshall Plan. Supplying information to junketing
Congressmen could also be a fulltime job for mission chiefs. In 1949,
between June and December, 166 Senators and Representatives visited
London with questions about ECA operations. All received personal brief-
ings from John Kenney, head of mission. Such continuous, vigilant attention
to domestic opinion had its desired results. Between 1949 and 1951 popular
approval of the Marshall Plan ranged from 61% to 79% in the United States.28
The propaganda war’s true hero was the documentary film section which
was run, in succession, by Lothar Wolff, Stuart Schulberg, Nils Nilson, and
Albert Hemsing. Its productivity, personnel, policies, and practices placed it
on the front line of the conflict and made the visual medium the most effec-
tive. The foremost authority on Marshall Plan films has put their output at
over three hundred. A few fiction and technical information films were com-
missioned, while two monthly newsreel series, “ERP in Action” and “Marshall
Plan at Work,” were produced in 1950 and a third, “Changing Face of
Europe,” the following year. But the great majority of the celluloid weapons
used in battle with the Cominform were documentaries on specific ECA
projects. In keeping with the injunction that only Europeans could save
27


Barry Machado
Europe, most were made under contract by Europeans, with guidelines and
supervision provided by American superintendents and their staffs.
Certainly, the defining feature of Marshall Plan films was that they were made
by and for Europeans. This decision ranks among the shrewdest in the life of
the Marshall Plan, for the local directors, cameramen, and producers who
were hired tended to be either Europe’s finest documentarians or else gifted
stars on the rise. Victor Vicas, the expatriate Hungarian John Halas, Holland’s
John Ferno, Vittorio Gallo and the Vitrotti brothers of Italy, Peter Baylis
(head of Associated British Pathé) and Cliff Hornby of England are but a small
sample of the deep well of cinematic talent that was drawn upon.
Some creations were country specific. Others were “trans-European.” Most
were reminders that the Marshall Plan was making a difference. About half of
the films played in countries other than the subject country. Not only was dis-
tribution widespread, reaching tens of millions, but exceptional technical
artistry added to the allure of Europe’s most popular postwar art form. It can
still be appreciated in The Shoemaker and the Hatter, a prize-winning animat-
ed cartoon that pitched free trade and mass production and was distributed in
1950 in eleven languages to movie houses throughout western Europe; or in
The Story of Koula, about a Greek boy and his American mule, another favorite
that circulated in nine languages. The Island of Faith, about reconstructing the
dike system in the Netherlands, played to audiences in nine nations and was
dubbed in eight languages. A moving French production, The House We Love,
was viewed in eight countries. Typically eleven to fifteen minutes in length,
almost all played as shorts alongside features, usually American-made, in local
cinemas, a format that maximized their viewers as well as their intended
impact. The generally favorable impression of daily life in the United States
conveyed by Hollywood directors reinforced the ECA’s message.
One source of the films’ popularity, their artistic qualities, derived from
two inspirations: the creativity of the European filmmakers and the sophisti-
cation of their American supervisors. If one’s political aim in the pretelevision
age of the late 1940s were to mold the consciousness of millions and to sway
mass opinion, then imaginative techniques like special effects, animation,
original musical scores, and Technicolor made for receptive moviegoers. So,
too, did the subtlety of the essential messages. The genius of the Americans
in charge was their eye for talent in very different nations and cultures, while
their true good sense was in their realization that subtlety can be best
achieved from within those diverse cultures. Americans established the agen-
da—the themes of self-help, solidarity, and cooperation; of a consumer ethos
of “more, bigger, better” and greater prosperity; of optimistic and can-do atti-
tudes; of improving conditions and rising expectations. Homegrown directors
had to figure out how, through European symbols, images, and accents, as
well as the pace of the film itself, to enter regional psyches and thereby
overcome varieties of resistance in Rotterdam, Florence, and Cherbourg to
the producers’ messages. Sometimes, as in Italian director Jacopo Erbi’s
28


Selling the Marshall Plan
neorealist Aquila, a new film aesthetic solved the problem.29
Surely to the chagrin of numerous Congressmen who expected their
constituents’ generosity to have the highest profile, Americans in Paris
instructed their European partners in the keys to maximum effectiveness:
understate and underplay the ECA’s role, render the ECA a subtle presence,
put a premium on good taste, and do not push their underlying purposes too
often or too hard. “An unwritten ECA law,” Stuart Schulberg later acknowl-
edged, “stipulate[d] that the Marshall Plan . . . will not be mentioned more
than twice in a one-reeler and three times in a two-reeler.” America’s pen-
chant for hype was in fact curbed. How, prior to sallying forth in their cul-
ture war, did those American supervisors acquire such valuable insights?30
An answer can be located in their distinctive backgrounds. None of them
were plucked out of Zanesville, Ohio, and dropped into Paris. Neither Babbitts
nor philistines who arrived across the Atlantic wide-eyed and innocent from
small-town America, they had instead a European outlook and sensibility,
much like the Marshall Plan’s inspirators—Harriman, Acheson, Lovett, and
Kennan. In the manner of Evan Thomas and Walter Isaacson’s Wise Men,
Wolff, Schulberg, Nilson, and Hemsing were Euro-Americans, or Europhiles, or
cosmopolitans, a word unfortunately debased by both Hitlerism and Stalinism.
They all spoke several Continental languages, had lived in Europe for years,
and understood the tones, textures, and taboos of its cultures. The patriarch
of the motion picture branch, Lothar Wolff, was born in Germany and immi-
grated to the United States in 1936 after working as an editor and publicist in
Germany and France. A Jewish émigré in flight from nazism, Wolff was soon
hired as chief film editor of the monthly “March of Time” newsreel series. The
genre he came to know most personally in the late 1930s, the fifteen-minute
short, later became the Marshall Plan’s signature film. And it demonstrated
that Wolff “understood how to address European audiences.”
Wolff’s successors and protégés were all in their late twenties or early
thirties with promising futures when employed by the ECA. His deputy and
replacement, Stuart Schulberg, though a native Californian, was schooled in
Switzerland where he acquired fluency in French and German. After World
War II, he worked in Berlin for the Office of Military Government, U.S.
(OMGUS), running for several years their film unit and producing two first-
rate documentaries, Nuremberg on the war crimes trials and Me and Mr.
Marshall. From Berlin he went to Paris to assist Wolff. Schulberg’s own
deputy, Nils Nilson, also worked for OMGUS after the war in its Information
Office. He too personified America’s rich diversity and multiculturalism and
the ways they can be exploited in foreign crises. The melting pot had its
extra hidden benefits. With a Swedish father and German mother, three
points of view coexisted in Nilson’s makeup. When Nilson succeeded
Schulberg, he elevated Albert Hemsing to his second-in-command. Like
Wolff, Hemsing was born in Germany. Like Nilson, his parents and their her-
itages—a French mother and a German father—broadened his perspective
29


Barry Machado
after the family immigrated to the United States when he was a child. During
wartime Hemsing had worked in the Motion Picture Branch of the Office of
War Information (OWI). Afterwards, he was an independent filmmaker and
professor at City College of New York’s Film Institute. Under the collective
aegis of the four directors of ECA’s Documentary Film Section in Paris,
America’s propaganda offensive made its greatest advances.31
Only around the ECA’s pioneer program of Labor Information did contro-
versy swirl. Setting itself clearly apart from the State Department, which
lacked a “labor information” officer abroad, Marshall Planners had actually
“invented the title.”32 Some labor historians, Anthony Carew among them,
regard its activities as having had a profound long-term impact on the self-
image of Europe’s organized labor movement.33 Critics, however, have been
strident. Indeed, nobody has expressed greater disappointment, and admin-
istered lower marks, in response to its allegedly poor performance than did
Alfred Friendly. According to its overseer, the Labor Information branch did
not carry its weight in the campaign for European acceptance of facets of The
American Way. Friendly’s unfriendly verdict was: “a shameful boondoggle
and waste of time and money,” for while “they may have had entrée to . . . I
doubt that they had any influence on European labor thought.”34
Whatever Labor Information’s proper grade might be, an ECA-sponsored
opinion poll in mid-1950 revealed that 75% of those polled “approved” of the
Marshall Plan. In all, two thousand Europeans residing in six countries—
France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Austria, and Italy—were interviewed.
The results suggested that ECA propagandists had bested their competitors
in the Cominform. The striking exception was France, where interviewees
registered widespread disapproval and 40% of Parisians opposed the Marshall
Plan. A reasonable inference to draw from such figures, notwithstanding
their skimpiness, is that the sequel to the prodigious American campaign to
sell the Marshall Plan at home also succeeded abroad.
Closer inspection of the results, however, raises reservations, for among
workers and peasants, the primary targets of Cominform propaganda, the
Marshall Plan garnered its least support. The consensus fashioned in large part
by the domestic offensive did not fully materialize in its foreign redux. In one
sense, the 1950 poll validated an earlier impression shared with his colleagues
in the General Counsel’s office at OSR headquarters by Henry Reuss, Harvard
Law School graduate and future fourteen-term congressman from Wisconsin.
“The European worker listens listlessly,” Reuss observed, “while we tell him
we are saving Europe, unconvinced that it is his Europe we are saving.”35 Did
Marshall Plan propaganda fail to erode the support of workers for commu-
nism? Might the polling data have been otherwise? What more could have
been done in publicity and public relations campaigns? At the very least, the
Marshall Plan’s impressive but qualified success in a very costly struggle with
the Cominform for western Europe’s hearts and minds invites analyses of the
Plan’s overall strengths and weaknesses.
30