Miles to Go

From American Plan to European Union

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt smokes during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Bergedorfer Forum of the Koerber Foundation in Berlin, September 9, 2011. Reuters

Three speeches had a decisive impact on the economic and political rehabilitation of Europe after World War II: Winston Churchill's in Zurich in 1946 about a United States of Europe; George Marshall's at Harvard in 1947, offering American aid to Europeans struggling to escape their postwar predicament; and Robert Schuman's in Paris in 1950, proposing communal control of Europe's coal and steel resources. It would, of course, be unfair and historically inaccurate to credit these three men alone with Europe's successful revival. Many other leaders were instrumental in rebuilding the continent, and if not for Stalin's imperialism, many courageous acts in the United States and Western Europe, among them Secretary of State Marshall's plan, would have gone undone.

To understand the effects of the Marshall Plan, one must first comprehend what life was like for ordinary Germans, like me, toward the end of World War II and in those first turbulent years afterward. We had lost. I had been convinced for several years that we would, and many of my comrades in Germany's armed forces had reached a similar conclusion. During the day, we fulfilled our missions on the battlefield; at night, we hoped for a quick defeat of our own country. After the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, when my division was driven out of Belgium and Luxembourg, I complained to my commander about Germany's war strategy: prudence dictated that we concentrate our energies on the Soviets in the east, and in the west let the Americans occupy as much German soil as they wanted. Although he angrily rejected my suggestion, he did not report me.

I had imagined that when we lost the war we Germans would have to live in caves and holes in the ground, but this apocalyptic vision turned out to be much worse than our actual conditions. True, we struggled for coal and food; there were days during the winter of 1946-47 when we stayed in bed because there was nothing to eat and nothing to burn

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