World War II had left Europe devastated. A staggering 40 million people were killed in World War II. German cities had been levelled by the Allied strategic bombing. Fighting on the Eastern Front had also destroyed cities in Russia and Eastern Europe. The economies were prostrate. Jobs did not exist and capital was scarce to revitalise the economies. The performance of the Communists in the Resistance had increased their prestige. The desperate economic conditions also increased support for the Communists. After the War, the Communists were one of the largest political parties throughout Western Europe, especially in France and Italy. Only in Germany where people feared the Russians did the Communists not build an electoral threat. In an effort to promote economic recovery, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan. (It was not called the Truman Plan because that would have doomed it in the Republican controlled American Congress.) The Plan was proposed by American Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1947. Eventually over $12 billion (in 1948 dollars) was provided. This assistance is generally credited with helping to launch the European economic recovery. Some authors down play the importance of the Marshall Plan, maintaining that the recovery was already well underway. Marshall Plan assistance was offered to Russia and the Eastern European satellites. Stalin, suspicious of American intentions, rejected the offer and speeded the establishment of Stalinist regimes throughout Eastern Europe.
World War II was the defining moment of the 20th century. The War enveloped virtually every part of the world during the years 1939-45. The principal belligerents were the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allies (France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, China). The Soviet Union, while not a member of the Axis, was until the German invasion in June 1941, a virtual ally of the Germans-seizing territory from neigboring states and occupying the Baltic states. To most observers it looked like German had essentually won the War in 1940 and 41, seizing most of SWestern Europe and North Africa. Then in 6-months the direction of the War was fundamentally altered when in Hitler attacked the Soviet Union bringing that enormous country into the War on the Allied side (in effect switching sides) and Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor bringing America into the War. World War II was the central event of the 20th century. It not only was the largest most destructive war in human history, but it also fundamentally changed social, economicm and political trends in Europe, North America and Asia. While the focus of most studies of the War are primarily on the titantic military campaigns, weapons, and leaders, children also played a role in the War. They in many ways the people most affected by the War. Millions were killed as a result of military action and the genocidal policies of Germany and Japan. The Germans in particular targeted Jewish children in the Holocaust. Children denied food and housing and in many cases orphaned died in large numbers in occupied countries. Germans kidnapped large numbers of blond children which they regarded as stolen genetic property. Many children were involved in the fighting. The Germans at the end of the War were using young teenagers, but all sides used large numbers of older teenagers. World War II had left Europe devastated. A staggering 40 million people were killed in World War II. German cities had been levelled by the Allied strategic bombing. Fighting on the Eastern Front had also destroyed cities in Russia and Eastern Europe. The economies were prostrate. Jobs did not exist and capital was scarce to revitalise the economies. The industrial countries of Western Europe before the War imported agricultural products and raw materials and exported finished industrial products. With their factories destroyed or damaged, European countries had nothing to export and thus no source of hard currency need to import.
The terrible economic situation was made worse by one of the worst winters on record.
Stalin priceeeded to establish Communis police states in Eastern Europe even though the Communists were a minority political party. The Communists were posed to win power democratically in some Wetern European countries. The performance of the Communists in the Resistance had increased their prestige. The desperate economic conditions also increased support for the Communists. After the War, the Communists were one of the largest political parties throughout Western Europe, especially in France and Italy. Only in West Germany where people feared the Russians did the Communists not build an electoral threat.
The Western European countries liberated by the Allies generally elected democratic socialist governments . The sane occurred in Britain where the Labour Party was elected with plans to nationalize basic industry and initiate expensive social reforms (such as national health expanded public education). These Governments were more interested in equitable distribution than in promoting investment and private industry. And such policies probably would have been unpopular, increasing the Communist vote. .
The United States in an effort to promote European economic recovery offered the Marshall Plan to prostrate European nations. (It was not called the Truman Plan because that would have doomed it in the Republican-controlled American Congress. Secretary of State George C. Marshall on the other hand as the mastermind of the American World War II effort had tremendous respect on both isles.) The European Recovery Plan (ERP) was proposed by Secretary Marshall (1947). Marshall spoke at Harvard University and outlined his concept for a plan to rescue Europe economically (June 5, 1947).
The United States offered up to $20 billion to the European nations for both relief and to revitalize their economies. There was one basic requirement. The United States required the participating countries to draw up a rational European plan on how to use the assistance offered. This meant that Europe for the first time would have to act as a single economic unit. The different European countries would have to cooperate with each other. Thus the Marshall Plan was the first step in European intgration which eventually led to the modern European Union.
Marshall Plan aid was offered to all of Europe. Only 16 countries chose to participate, essentislly all of Western Europe. Marshall Plan aid was offered to Russia and the Eastern European satellites. Stalin, suspicious of American intentions, rejected the offer and called it a trick. And in gact it would have required the Soviets to stop the butal suppresion of democracy in Eastern Europe. As a result, Stalin intensified NKVD brutality, included purges of Communist Parties. He speeded the establishment of Stalinist regimes throughout Eastern Europe. [Hitchcock] Not only did Stalin refuse the offer of American assistance for the Soviet Union, but he refused to allow the Eastern European sattelites to participate as well. The Czechs in particular wereveager to participate.
The Marshall Plan should not be considered a compleletely altruistic act. It was in part altruism as large numbers of Europeans were close to starvation in 1947 and the American relief supplies were critical in feeding Europe after the War. The United Sttes also benefitted. The Marshall Plan funds were used to buy American commodities and products. And they had to be shipped on American merchant ships. The Marshall Plan was in effect a combination of the two basic strands in American foreign policy. There was an element of h idealism and altruism as well as an element of realpolitik, including both economic and political benefits.
The Marshall Plan was one of the greatest diplomatic successes in American history. The United States by 1953 had delivered some $14 billion in economic assistance to the devestated European countries. Europe in only a few years emerged from the rubble and carnage of the War to an economic dynamo. During the 1950s, Western Europe not only has achieved pre-War production and income levels, but greatly exceeded them. Varying growth rates were in part affectedby the degree to which goverments impaired free market capitalist economics. Some governments like the Labour Government in England were more interested in implementing a comprehensive social reform and socialist policies like nationalizing industries than in stimulating free economic market growth.
The Marshall Plan assistance is generally credited with helping to launch the European economic recovery.
The Marshall Plan helped feed a destitute European population. It help European ecomomies recover. And in doing so the United States played a major role in preventing the spread of Communism beyond the Eastern European countries occupied by the Red Army. It is imprtant to note that not one European country chose Communism in a democratic election. Some authors down play the importance of the Marshall Plan, maintaining that the recovery was already well underway. [Hitchcock] It is undobtedly true that the reason for the European Economic Miracle following the War was the competence and determination of the European people. Europe not only had a well, educated hard working population, but there was a degree of state competence as well. Corruption was not a major problem as is the case in the Third World. Here the resiliancy and potential of capitalism should not be overstated. The Marshall Plan itself should not, however, be underestimated. Marshall Plan assistance fed an essentially starving population during severe winters following the War. American aid also helped prime the economic pump. It at the very least speed economic revoery and may have even made it possible. Speed is a very important factor. Had economic recovery faltered or been delayed, it is very possible thzt Communists may have achieved power in countries like France, Greece, and Italy and possibly other countries as well.
One of the often forgotten results of the Marshall Plan was the fact that it was the first step in European integration. The Marshall Plan led directly to the Schuman Plan. What follwed was a number of small steps, including Euratom, the Coal and Iron Community and the Common Market. The end result was the beginning of the political and economic integration of Europe. This is a process that is still unfolding, but the Europeans throuh the European Union have made enormous progress.
A German reader writes, "The article here about the Marshall Plan is very important. The help and support for Europe and also for the former enemy Germany (West) was enormous. The present German Anti-Americanism totally forgets what the Americans have provided to rebuild Europe. Many thanks to all the Americans who initialized, contributed and financially supported this effort."
Gimbel, John. The Origins of the Marshall Plan (1976).
Hogan, Michael. The Marshall Plan (1987).
Hitchcock, William I. The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent (Doubleday), 513p. This is a thought provoking, well researched book. He has gained access to never before used Soviet archives. We do not agree with all of his conclusions. The author in many instances, for example, tends to explain Soviet actions as response to American policies rather than the inherent nature of a brutal regime.
Wexler, Imanuel. The Marshall Plan Revisited (1983).
Navigate the HBC Cold War Section:
[Return to Main Cold War first phase page]
[Return to Main Cold War page]
[Return to Main Communism page]
[Assessment] [Biogrphies] [Countries] [Communism] [Culture] [Decolonization] [Economics] [Famines] [Fashion] [Freedom] [Hot wars] [Human rights] [Inteligence]
[Mass killing] [Military] [Pacifism] [Phases] [Science] [Totalitarianism]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Cold war Home page]
[Return to the 20th century wars and crises]