A fresh perspective on the Marshall Plan, bringing “new material from American, Russian, German, and Czech sources.”
From 1948 to 1952, the United States gave Western European nations more than $13 billion to rebuild after World War II. Though scholars have covered the subject many times before, general readers will do well to choose this lively, astute account from Steil (The Battle of Bretton Woods, John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, 2014), the director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. Everyone understood the physical destruction, but many failed to realize how, in the words of the State Department’s Will Clayton, “economic dislocation, nationalization of industries, drastic land reform, severance of long-standing commercial ties, and disappearance of private commercial firms were paralyzing recovery two years after Germany’s surrender. President Harry Truman and his advisers knew that they needed help. Secretary of State George Marshall tested the waters in his iconic June 1947 Harvard speech; though the American media barely noticed, it thrilled Europe. To everyone’s relief, the Soviet Union refused to participate and forced its eager satellites to withdraw. To persuade a war-weary electorate and Republican-controlled Congress to support massive foreign aid required political skills which—at least in that far-off era—our leaders possessed. A national PR campaign portrayed it as an emergency measure to fight communism, and several influential Republican congressmen fought for passage. Steil casts an expert eye on the results and concludes that it succeeded, if not as dramatically as popular writers often claim. On the downside, including Germany infuriated the Soviets but did not, despite revisionist claims, start the Cold War. The author also includes a 25-page cast of characters and four appendices.
Political history is often a tough slog, but Steil writes a vivid, opinionated narrative full of colorful characters, dramatic scenarios, villains, and genuine heroes, and the good guys won. It will be the definitive account for years to come.