A splendid narrative history of the Marshall Plan, perhaps the best foreign-policy idea America ever had.
Feeling entitled because of its battlefield sacrifices and driven by a seemingly ascendant Marxist ideology, Stalin’s expansionist Soviet Union saw prostrate Europe as especially vulnerable in the wake of World War II. To counter this threat, the United States conceived a comprehensive recovery program designed to revive the continent’s working economies. Wisely, the plan required European initiative and cooperation to make the aid self-sustaining, with the U.S. acting only as a constructive partner to help restore social conditions where free institutions could flourish. Fatefully, Stalin refused to allow Russia or its Eastern European satellites to participate. Berhman (The Invisible People: How the US Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time, 2004) follows the plan from its infancy in the U.S. State Department, where glittering figures such as the indispensable George Marshall, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and Dean Acheson presided, through its adolescence, where Michigan’s Senator Vandenberg shepherded the European Recovery Program through Congress, to its full maturity in Europe, where W. Averell Harriman, as well as three men insufficiently remembered by history—Will Clayton, Richard Bissell and Paul Hoffman—insured its success. The Plan would have foundered had it not been for European statesmen—England’s Ernest Bevin, France’s Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and Germany’s Conrad Adenauer—whose leadership and vision not only saved their countries, but also planted the seeds for European integration leading to NATO, the European Common Market and today’s EU. Astonishingly, billions of dollars and four years later, amidst Cold War episodes as unsettling as the Berlin airlift and the outbreak of the Korean War, the Plan had restored Western European confidence, political stability and economic health, and it secured the region as a U.S. partner for the next half century.
Berhman’s sure grasp of the geo-politics, his firm understanding of the Plan’s details and his deft portrayal of the men who made it work combine to forge a remarkable story.