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You know what's bad for the economy? Dropping bombs on it. (Actually, that's true pretty much across the board—although we're huge fans of the bath bomb.) During World War II, Europe had enough explosives dropped on it to make it only slightly more hospitable than the moon. And when the war ended, Europe found itself having a tough time recovering and the world realized that having an entirely devastated continent wasn't in anyone's best interests.
Who'da thunk it, right?
What Secretary of State George Marshall and others realized was that dire economic conditions generally result in countries turning to communism or fascism. They didn't even have to look that far in the past. After all, folks like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin didn't come to power in thriving, rich societies.
So they had a choice: help Europe recover, or watch World War II get an unnecessary and possibly even more brutal sequel. Since Part Threes are always terrible (*cough The Godfather Part III cough*) the USA chose the Marshall Plan.
The Marshall Plan is an umbrella term for two things. The first was a speech Marshall himself gave at Harvard in front of 15,000 people in 1947. This was where he outlined the need for economic action, and more or less what that means. The other was a series of laws, the Economic Cooperation Act and Foreign Assistance Act, which took the principles of the speech and made them into policy.
The basics were pretty simple: the U.S. would send a ton of cash over to Europe to fix the place up and jumpstart the economy. The big industrial powers would get the most, since that would help the most people, and allies would get preference over enemies. The biggest recipients of cash, therefore, were Great Britain, France, and West Germany, in that order.
The Marshall Plan even offered money to the Soviet Union and their satellite states. Unsurprisingly, they rejected it, since taking the money would mean the U.S. would have influence over them. And since part of the purpose of the plan was to fight communism, it wasn't like a bunch of communists were going to line up for it. They even had their own version of a plan specifically to fight the Marshall Plan: the Molotov Plan. (Source)
The Marshall Plan was in effect for four years, from 1948 to 1952, and afterwards was replaced with other foreign aid plans. It was a resounding success. Every single country that got U.S. money had an economy that was better off than it was before the war even started.
Granted, that was in the Great Depression…but still. Pretty good stuff.
Um, because there's been no World War III.
We're being dead serious here—the Marshall Plan helped rebuild the continent of Europe in a huge way after it had just been pummeled into a rubbly crater by WWII. Those Europeans needed more than a Hire-A-Maid; they needed cash money in order to get people out of bombed-out buildings and into the workforce.
The $$$ from the Marshall Plan wasn't just doled out thanks to the goodness of American's hearts, though: people had learned that recovery from the devastation of war is uber-important. After all, there had been no recovery after World War I, and we all know what happened there. (Psst...it's called World War II.)
So while the work-togetherness of the Marshall Plan is somewhat blunted by the very real incentive to stop another massive worldwide conflict from occurring, don't get too cynical. This is one of the moments in world history where you can actually get a legitimate case of the warm n' fuzzies. It's an object lesson in what the powerful nations of the world can do when they work together.
If the Marshall Plan occurred today, it would probably have its own Upworthy video: "Europe Was Totally Bombed Out. You Won't Believe What Happened Next" or "A Whole Continent Was Devastated. America's Response Was On Point."
Of course, the Marshall Plan also gives some interesting data for economic debates. While every nation participating recovered, there's an argument over whether it was the plan itself or just a natural rebounding of the economy. So if you're a fan of heated arguments over geopolitical restoration, have at it. There's a lot to get into, and we'll point out the nuances.
But if you're the kind of person whose natural response to reading about history is to curl up with some cocoa and a video about a pug becoming friends with a piglet, don't worry. Reading about the Marshall Plan is one of the few historical case studies that will leave your faith in humanity unshaken.
The Marshall Foundation
The website for the man, myth, legend, and middle initial-haver George C. Marshall.
Here's a quick overview of the Marshall Plan, in case you want to know more.
The Other Side
The Molotov Plan was the USSR's answer to the Marshall Plan.
The Cold War is what came out of the struggle between U.S.A. and USSR. Better than people shooting each other, we guess.
Let's Talk to Marshall
A huge collection of interviews with Marshall himself.
Molotov speaks, and that's not a common thing.
The site of the speech itself looks at the plan.
A Quick and Dirty Explanation
As quick as it gets, but not all that dirty.
The Marshall Plan as It Relates to the Truman Doctrine
The Marshall Plan was one part of a larger whole: President Truman's foreign policy.
Listen to the Speech
Here's the full audio of the speech, along with the transcript.
George C. Marshall
The man with the plan.
President Harry S. Truman
He's the guy in charge.
Marshall's Soviet counterpart.