Marshall Plan Commemorative Section: An Extraordinary Partnership: Marshall and Acheson

Courtesy Reuters

George Catlett Marshall had worn the uniform of the U.S. Army for almost his entire adult life when President Truman named him secretary of state. The day he took the oath, Marshall walked unannounced into the office of the incumbent "number two" in the State Department hierarchy, Under Secretary Dean Acheson. "I will keep you only a minute," Marshall said with his unfailing courtesy and customary directness. "I want you to stay. Will you?"

Acheson, who had served out World War II as an assistant secretary of state, had no interest in remaining in office; he was eager to return to his lucrative law practice. Faced, however, with a formal request from arguably the most respected man in the land, he could only reply, "Certainly." In a matter of a few moments, they agreed to a transitional partnership of six months or so at the helm of the State Department.

Those six months from January to July 1947 marked the apex of American power and purpose in the Cold War. Under the stewardship of this brief, extraordinary partnership came the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, defining moments of American diplomacy whose effects endured for more than four decades and changed the course of history. Disparate in background and personal style, Marshall and Acheson recognized in each other a keen sense of public duty and an impatience with indecision.

Marshall was born in 1880 to the manager of a coal mine in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Commissioned an army lieutenant the year after his graduation from the Virginia Military Institute in 1901, he served two tours of duty in the Philippines. Then, in World War I, he caught the attention of General John J. Pershing for his efficiency and logistical wizardry. For three years in the 1920s he managed a training mission in China, then successive base and training commands stateside. The day Hitler invaded Poland, Marshall was sworn in as the army chief of staff, charged with mobilizing the American military for a massive

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