A Vision of Liberty
GEORGE C. MARSHALL
20th c. soldier, diplomat, and statesman who led the world from war to a vision of peaceful democracy.
George Catlett Marshall (1880-1959) demonstrated unparalleled humanitarianism by his singular vision to rebuild Europe in the aftermath of the most violent and destructive war in history. His leadership was centered on a faith-based spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice. Marshall was convinced that liberty was a universal value and that global peace and freedom could be cultivated and achieved through empathy, compassion, and cooperation among nations. By acknowledging and accepting American responsibility to the international community, Marshall believed true liberty and a lasting peace could exist not only for the United States, but for the world.
Children waiting in line to receive bread after World War II in Athens, Greece. These children were among the first in Greece to benefit from the Marshall Plan with flour arriving from the U.S. just a few days before Christmas.
The Sovereign LORD has filled me with his Spirit. He has chosen me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce release to the captives and freedom to those in prison. He has sent me to proclaim that the time has come when the LORD will save his people.
The son of a prosperous businessman and his wife, Marshall decided to pass up the private sector and follow in his brother's footsteps as a soldier. Despite objections from his family, who wanted Marshall to embark on a business-related career path, he enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1897. A devout Episcopalian, Marshall was reared in the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer’s poetic liturgies and appointed Bible readings. With this devout formation, the 16-year-old developed strong leadership and character traits that set him apart as a compassionate and diplomatic cadet earning the respect of both friends and detractors. By the end of his first year at VMI, Marshall earned the position of top military student in his class, and by graduation he had risen to the rank of First Captain—the highest-ranking cadet position on post.
George Marshall as Virginia Military Institute First Captain.
Courtesy of the George C. Marshall Foundation, Lexington, Virginia
Conscientiously nonpartisan, years later Marshall famously claimed never to have voted. He believed that military service should be beyond politics. For those who insisted on knowing his political views, Marshall simply stated: "My father was a Democrat, my mother a Republican, and I am an Episcopalian."
…Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues….
Upon graduation from VMI, Marshall was commissioned in 1902 as an infantry officer in U.S. Army. He served with distinction in the Philippine-American War and later in World War I. As part of the American Expeditionary Force to Europe during the Great War, he was assigned to the headquarters staff that planned American operations including the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war, Marshall was an aid-de-camp to General John J. Pershing, U.S. Army Chief of Staff and the most senior officer in the U.S. Army.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt named Marshall as U.S. Army Chief of Staff, making him responsible for increasing the size of military forces at the onset of World War II. During this time Marshall not only built and directed the largest American army in history, but he also became responsible for war strategy, including Operation Overlord, later known as the successful invasion of Normandy on "D-Day" in 1944. His peerless leadership during this time led to his promotion to five-star General of the Army.
Marshall retired at the close of World War II in 1945, having served 45 years in the military. But his retirement was short-lived. Only a few days after he stepped down from his post, Marshall re-entered public life at the request of President Harry Truman, to serve as a diplomat. By 1947, he had assumed the role of Secretary of State, and was tasked with another great challenge in his public service career—winning the peace and bringing sustainable liberty to a devastated, war-torn Europe.
General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, shaking hands with another officer during his tour of the beachhead in Normandy, France on Jun 12, 1944.
United States Army
President Harry Truman shakes hands with Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
The guarantee for a long-continued peace will depend on other factors in addition to a moderated military strength, and no less important. Perhaps the most important single factor will be a spiritual regeneration to develop goodwill, faith, and understanding among nations.
By the end of the war, an estimated 4 percent of the world population were killed by war or war-related disease and famine. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history—80 million people had died, including 6 million systematically exterminated Jews. Of those who survived, millions became displaced persons: groups of people who were enslaved or otherwise forcibly relocated during and after the war. Approximately 11 million displaced persons existed in Germany alone, where they lived in camps awaiting repatriation to their home countries or settlement somewhere new.
As an officer during World War I, Marshall was an eye-witness to the horrific effects of crippling destitution in the aftermath of violent conflict. He learned first-hand that there can be high post-war casualties, not from bullets and grenades, but from disease and starvation. He also understood that the Treaty of Versailles, the World War I peace agreement, while delivering a brutal punishment to Germany for its role in the conflict, ultimately failed to conciliate and pacify Europe. In fact, the Treaty became prelude to another world war. The desperate post-war poverty of Germany’s population, combined with the people’s growing resentment of their European neighbors, helped pave the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. The Nazi regime under Hitler ultimately led to the horror and carnage of World War II and all its nightmarish atrocities. With the advent of nuclear weapons, Marshall did not believe the world could survive a third conflict.
Americans want a peaceful world. We know the terrible human and economic cost of past wars. We know that any future war may mean the end of all we value. Here again hunger is a primary menace. Wars are bred by poverty and oppression. Continued peace is possible only in a relatively free and prosperous world.
The Bavarian city of Nuremberg in ruins, 1945.
Keystone/Second Roberts Commission, General view of the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, 1945. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/
Residents of a Coventry street stand outside their ruined homes after the city was targeted by the German Luftwaffe in an air raid during the Second World War. 25th November 1940.
Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Marshall felt it was important for world leaders to learn from their past mistakes. If the surviving global powers did not band together and intervene quickly, Marshall believed the economic turmoil resulting from World War II could lead to a complete dissolution of European democratic rule, with Communist forces poised to take full advantage of the situation by instituting totalitarian regimes. Furthermore, punishment of those who participated in the war—like Germany’s punishment after World War I—would only lead to another, even more destructive global conflict.
During the Paris Peace Conference (1946-47), a meeting between the Western allies and the Soviet Union frustrated agreement on a viable peace treaty with the Germans. In the aftermath, Marshall became convinced that to avert post-war chaos and revolt, the United States must intervene directly to help with Europe’s economic revitalization. He felt there had to be another way to lead Europe through a recovery that would foster strong national economies as well as liberal democracies.
Marshall gathered his staff and advisors and swiftly put together the outline for what became the European Recovery Program. It recommended ways to ease financial bottlenecks, while allowing each country to devise their own plans for becoming self-sustaining through the use of potential U.S. financial support. Marshall unveiled this plan a few days later, in a speech given at the Harvard University Commencement ceremony on June 5, 1947.
General Alexei Antenoff, General George Marshall, General Henry Arnold, Admiral Ernest King, and other Allied officers meeting during the Potsdam Conference, Germany on July 27, 1945.
Allied officers meeting during the Potsdam Conference, Germany, July 27, 1945, United States National Archives. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov
Governments, political parties, or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.
Harvard University had decided to bestow an honorary degree on Marshall and invited to him to address those gathered for annual commencement. Marshall delivered this landmark speech with little fanfare, telling Harvard's president that he would "not be able to make a formal address, but would be pleased to make a few remarks in appreciation of the honor ... and perhaps a little more.” During his talk, Marshall announced his plan for the European Recovery Program or, as it became popularly known, "The Marshall Plan."
Secretary of State George C. Marshall at Harvard University to receive honorary degree, escorted by Professor Edmund M. Morgan, Jr. of Harvard Law School.
Recording of George C. Marshall at Harvard University commencement delivering the Marshall Plan Speech on June 5, 1947. Pictured in front row, from left to right, are J.R. Oppenheimer, atom bomb scientist; Ernest C. Colwell, Chicago University President; George C. Marshall; President Conant of Harvard, who awarded the degrees; General Omar N. Bradley, Vets' Administrator; T.S. Eliot, poet and James W. Wadsworth, former New York Senator. In rear, from left to right, are William A. Dwiggins, type designer; George H. Chase, former Harvard dean; W. Hodding Carter Jr., editor and author; Ivor A. Richards, Harvard professor; William F. Gibbs, naval architect, and Frank L. Boyden, Deerfield principal.
Image: Award of honorary degrees at Harvard, June 5, 1947, United States Department of Energy. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org
Instead of calling for retribution for wartime wrongs, including the punishment of Italy and Germany, Marshall asked Americans to overcome their historical isolationism and consider the need of the European nations. He hoped the people of his country would tighten their belts to aid those in desperate need and to assist former adversaries rather than humiliate them. He argued that the future of the world and democracy hung in the balance of this decision.
It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.
At the time Marshall unveiled the European Aid Program, he was serving as the Secretary of State to a Democratic president and working with a Republican Congress. Marshall knew that he needed broad, bipartisan support for his plan. In the months following the announcement of his aid program, Marshall delivered more than 100 speeches around the world to promote the plan. He also helped develop the Economic Cooperation Administration—a bipartisan, trans-European organization composed of people from business and financial backgrounds who would work with each country to develop and regulate their aid plans.
In April 1948, Congress approved Marshall's plan to provide nearly $13 billion in aid over a four-year period, with seventeen nations agreeing to receive food, fuel and machinery to revitalize their economies. By the time the European Recovery Program ended in 1951, Europe’s economic production had jumped between 15 to 25 percent above pre-war levels, food rationing tapered down, and every participating country retained democratic institutions. The plan also laid the foundation for future trans-European cooperation and the development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Sixteen nations met in Paris to negotiate the terms of the Marshall Plan before implementation.
Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 — the only career officer in United States Army to receive this honor. In his acceptance speech, Marshall reflected more deeply on the responsibility of those who live in societies built on true liberty. "We must present democracy as a force holding within itself the seeds of unlimited progress by the human race," he told the audience. "By our actions we should make it clear that such a democracy is a means to a better way of life, together with a better understanding among nations."
In September 1951, Marshall retired to his home, Dodona Manor, in Leesburg, Virginia, now a National Historic Landmark and house museum. In his retirement years, the soldier-statesman tended his gardens and indulged his passion for horseback riding. Ever the public servant even in retirement, Marshall headed the American delegation at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. He also served as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission until 1959. Marshall died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. on October 16, 1959 at the age of 78. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Today, the legacy of Marshall is preserved and perpetuated by the George Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia.
Bales of cotton in a French warehouse, as the Marshall Plan was important to the revival of the French cotton industry.
The first consignment of sugar under the Marshall Plan arrives in London.
Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images