Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Niall Ferguson on the Heroes of the Marshall Plan


In a fabulous review of Greg Behrman's The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe (check out some of the posters from that era), Niall Ferguson offers his take on the heroes behind the Plan:

There is Marshall himself, truly a titan among public servants. As Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during the war, he had been, in Churchill’s phrase, the “organizer of victory,” and, as Secretary of State, he approached Europe’s postwar reconstruction with the same sangfroid and self-discipline. There is William Clayton, the Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, a Southerner who had made his fortune in cotton and his political reputation in wartime procurement. Clayton was another formidable workhorse, whose only weakness was his demanding wife, Sue, who hated his absence on government business and vetoed a succession of more senior appointments he was offered. (To crown it all, she divorced him a year after he retired, only to remarry the hapless fellow two months later.) A third hero is Arthur H. Vandenberg, a leading Republican in the Senate, who had been converted from isolationism to internationalism by the experience of war. Without him, Behrman suggests, the Marshall Plan might have been stymied by Republican opposition. The fourth member of Behrman’s quintet is W. Averell Harriman, the imperious tycoon who, as Commerce Secretary, headed the President’s Committee on Foreign Aid and then became the European Recovery Program’s Special Representative in Europe. His contribution was to broker the diplomatic deals within Europe, whereby aid was subtly tied to other American objectives. Finally, there is Paul Hoffman, the indefatigable automobile salesman and president of Studebaker, whom Truman press-ganged into the job of Marshall Plan administrator. It was Hoffman, more than anyone else, who sold the Plan to Americans. (Richard Bissell, whom Hoffman summoned from M.I.T. to act as his chief economist, comes close to being a sixth hero—something of a rehabilitation for a figure now mostly recalled as one of the C.I.A. men behind the Bay of Pigs invasion.)

4 Comments:

  1. Ashutosh said...

    Marshall aid to France basically helped pay for French recolonization of Southeast Asia. Everyone knows what happened next...

  2. Aurelie said...

    I'll definitely buy the book! Thanks for posting the link to the review!
    Regarding the comment above: people shouldn't take what an extremely polarizing person such as Noam Chomsky says without a grain of salt!! Marshall aid to France was used to force the French to accept smaller reparations from Germany (dragging the French away from the attitude that had led to the Versailles treaty and ultimately World War II). *That* was the real purpose of Marshall aid to France.

  3. Ashutosh said...

    Actually the real purpose of the Marshall Plan, or at least one of the key purposes, was to essentially buy European countries and ally them with the US, to fight Communism. I agree that the Marshall Plan was one of the better things the US has done, Chomsky's quote notwithstanding (I sort of plugged it in to see if someone could identify it, and you did!). However, countries are not philanthropic, and there were certainly key nationalistic and anti-communist interests, rather than "helping" Europe, behind the plan.
    Also, the excerpt does not mention George Kennan, who was one of the chief architects of the plan especially as an anti-communist strategy. It is also useful to note that the plan evolved as a part of a two part strategem; the other one being the Truman doctrine which was less than philanthropic by any standard.

  4. Ashutosh said...

    Also, another less-than-reputable fact which recently came to light is that countries which received Marshall aid were supposed to set aside a fund in their own currency, a part of which was supposed to be given to CIA for covert operations in those countries, with no questions asked.