It’s St. Patrick’s Day today and in New York, where I live, everybody is smiling and wearing green. Since I’m a Finnegan, I’m smiling too. But President Harry S. Truman wasn’t smiling on March 17, 1948, when he spoke before a hastily convened Joint Session of Congress. (The Truman Presidential Library has a podcast of the speech. Access it here.)
In his speech, Truman addressed European security and condemned the Soviet Union. He was concerned because Eastern Europe was already subject to the political influence of the Soviets, behind what Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain called the Iron Curtain.
To counter the growing Soviet influence, Truman asked Congress to restore a peacetime military draft and to pass an Economic Cooperation Act, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan.
The Plan’s purpose was to provide billions of dollars in economic assistance to Western European countries devastated by World War II.
Most major cities had been hard hit and some — like Warsaw and Berlin — were in ruins. Industrial production as well as agriculture had been severely damaged.
Millions were homeless, roaming the streets without food or shelter.
Transportation — railways, bridges, and roads — had been destroyed by heavy bombing.
The only major power whose infrastructure remained intact was the United States. It had entered the war late, and was isolated from the war zone by geography. Still, many members of the 80th Congress were opposed.
The funding ended in 1952. By that time, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels, and Western Europe and the United States were solid partners. Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity.
Was Europe’s economic growth attributable to Marshall Plan aid? Opinions differ. What do you think?
Comments are welcome.