Fifty years ago this June, Secretary of State George Marshall offered unprecedented American assistance to the European countries that would together draft a blueprint for their economic recovery. Within ten months, this vague proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, became a detailed program and then law. Billions of American dollars and tons of American products flowed across the Atlantic over the next five years. As large crates bearing the label "European Recovery Program" (ERP) became familiar sights in Western Europe, the contemporary verdict on the Marshall Plan came in clearly: it was a grand success.
Historical scholarship usually follows the laws of physics: what goes up, must come down. New generations of historians challenge the interpretations of their predecessors and question the deeds of their forefathers, especially those that have received widespread praise. Complementing these trends, the end of the Cold War has forced scholars to rethink their views on the last half-century. But, except for some of the fine points regarding motives, operations, and outcomes, the Marshall Plan has largely been spared this revisionist fate. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the thaw of the Cold War, and geopolitics' return to the messy sordidness of history have only enhanced the importance of the Marshall Plan and the reputation of its American creators.
The Marshall Plan served as the economic and political foundation for the Western alliance that waged the Cold War. It allowed the United States gradually to engage itself in the bipolar confrontation by first committing money, not blood. After its initial subscription of dollars, the United States backed up its investment with military force, protecting Berlin against the Soviet blockade and forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the first permanent military alliance in the nation's history. By providing the seed money for the recovery of Western Europe, the Marshall Plan transformed its beneficiaries from poverty cases into partners. During the quarter-century after 1948, Western Europe recorded its highest economic growth ever. This miraculous progress -- indeed, the German recovery
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