Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Most Noble Adventure- a book review

The Marshall Plan and the Time
When America Helped Save Europe

By Greg Behrman

We are all creatures of our own past. I admit I am continually drawn back to my youth and the momentous happenings that occurred during that time. I found this book at Bookman’s in Phoenix before my annual visit to Lockport, N.Y. to visit family and friends. For my 80th birthday I received gifts of books. They were all worthy of reading. I finally got around to this one. It was like saving the best for last. For those of you born after the war it might interest you if you are a student of history as I am, but unless you were alive it could not be as meaningful to you as it was to me.
In actual fact it filled in voids in my knowledge as the events described mainly occurred while I was serving in the army of occupation of Japan from 1947 to 1949. As a serviceman there were other things to occupy my mind and Europe was light years away from Japan. I witnessed the remarkable rebuilding of Japan. I was not aware of a massive infusion of funds from America. There may have been but other than basic food stuff right after the war it was my impression that it was the Japanese people who got the job done. At any rate little is said about Asia in this book. President Truman and George Marshall believed that if Europe could not be saved as a capitalistic nation that America would be cut off from trade with the continent and our growth stifled as a result. Europe was in ruins. The bombing and ground combat had destroyed most of the infrastructure: roads, bridges, rail roads, airports, utilities and housing. The people were starving and destitute. They were accepting communism as the way out of their misery and countries were on the verge of becoming communist.
Mr. Marshall gave a speech at Harvard University, June 5, 1947. In it after stating the dire condition of Europe, he proposed an aid plan of massive proportions to save it. This was like a shot heard around the world. On April 3, 1948 President Truman put his signature to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948. He said, “This measure is Americas answer to the free world” and it was, “perhaps the greatest venture in constructive statesmanship that any nation has undertaken”. It was forever referred to as The Marshall Plan in honor of this great man who conceived the idea and did what was needed to persuade the Congress to enact the legislation. It was a hard sell. America was in turmoil itself with millions of returning veterans and industry in a massive restructuring from military to civilian goods.
Most of the book describes the many problems encountered and gives praise to a number of men whose skill and devotion shepherded it through. What made it more difficult was that European leaders were called upon to work together as they had never done before. Marshall and the rest were determined that this not be run by Americans country by country but that Europeans had to do the hard work of building a structure which was within reason as far as our funds were concerned. To accomplish this, each country was forced to accept projects for the good of all, not just their own. The ultimate goal was to create a union of countries like America without trade barriers, with free flow of goods and people. Great progress was made but it was many years later that full unification took place. In 1992 the European Union was finally established. It is generally accepted that it would never have been accomplished had there not been a Marshall Plan.
This was a four year program. During that time over 13 billion dollars in goods and services were given to Europe. The author estimates that in today’s dollars it would be equivalent to 100 billion dollars. It is important to take this into account so that the enormity of this transfer from Americans to Europeans can be appreciated. Never before or since has there been anything to compare with the generosity of our people.
At the beginning Russia and the satellite states under their control were invited to participate. Marshall Stalin would not allow it. It is stated in the book that Russia took from these countries as much as we gave.
Other interesting facts are
The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was created by the passage of The National Security Act of 1947 to counter communist propaganda.
The Berlin airlift began June 27, 1948, when Stalin closed all land access to Berlin. His goal was to drive us out by starving the 2.4 million Germans living there. He gave in on May 12, 1949 which was the first day trucks began to roll. On the same day the new German Federated Republic was formed. The occupied zones by America, Britain and France were combined into a complete country. Since everyone was wary about Germany rising again as a threat the allies retained veto power should that be necessary. It was never used.
Towards the end of the program on April 4, 1949, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was created for the mutual defense of the European nations. This began to drain funds from the economic program but the threat of Russian intervention was so grave there wasn’t any other choice.
In June, 1950 North Korea invaded the South which by necessity diverted attention from Europe. President Truman directed General Macarthur to send troops to counter. Macarthur was successful but when the Chinese crossed the border our forces retreated and a stalemate ensued. Macarthur was relieved of command after a fundamental disagreement with his boss, President Truman. Macarthur felt we were fighting Europe’s war in Asia but Truman and the European allies did not agree, neither wanted to squander the progress made by getting mired down in Asia. I guess we will never know who was right. I agreed with Macarthur but then my position and 10 cents at the time would buy a cup of coffee.
I want to conclude with President Truman’s inaugural address January 20, 1949. He was so happy with the results of the Marshall Plan that he proposed a new one. He said, “More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery.” Beset by starvation and disease, “for the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people.’ He proposed a “bold new program” of investment and technological transfer to provide resources, opportunity and hope to all the world’s peoples. It was called The Point Four Program. It was an inspired speech but unfortunately was never enacted by Congress.
I feel I cannot finish this review without further reflecting on the contribution made for world peace by President Truman. It was recommended that the plan be called the Truman Plan instead of the Marshall Plan. He rejected the thought knowing that with his name attached partisan politics being what it was, that the plan would never be approved. From reading this book I must conclude that he was correct.
Others may disagree but there is no doubt in my mind that his decision to drop atomic bombs brought the war with Japan to an end. The deaths of thousands of our American troops and countless millions of Japanese would have ensued had the invasion been initiated. Having been there after the war I was convinced and other servicemen there agreed on this point.
When you add up all that occurred during his presidency I am amazed at what he accomplished. Very few other presidents have contributed as much. He has never been credited as he should have been. People liked to belittle him since he was not an elitist from Harvard or Yale and did not have lineage tracing back to the beginning of our country.
A friend recently shared little known tidbits of information, which I will add to wrap this up. After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove themselves home to Missouri without Secret Service protection. He had a military pension of $13,507.72 per year. Congress discovered that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them. They granted him an allowance, and a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year. The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence, Missouri. The house was inherited from Bess’s mother.
Corporations offered high paying positions which he rejected, stating, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”
On May17, 1971, Congress was prepared to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday. He refused to accept it, writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any such award, Congressional or otherwise.”
I rest my case.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
September 17, 2008

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