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How the Marshall Plan Emerged From Failure

The Real Roots of a Foreign Policy Success

George C. Marshall, 1940. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

One of the United States’ greatest foreign policy achievements started with an 11-minute commencement day address 70 years ago this week. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, at Harvard to receive an honorary degree, called on Americans to “face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country.” World War II, he explained, had left Europe in ruins, and broken economies and starving populations invited unrest (which would, among other things, allow Soviet domination). So it was up to the United States to help Europe recover. “Our policy,” he declared that day, “is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

The Marshall Plan, as it became known, would be the largest foreign-assistance effort in history, totaling $13 billion over four years. (As a percentage of GDP, that would be about $900 billion now.) To this day, politicians and policymakers invoke

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