Study Guide

The Marshall Plan Analysis

By George C. Marshall

  • Rhetoric

    Logos

    Marshall had the option really, of going for logos, ethos, or pathos.

    Pathos seems like it would have been the natural place to go with it, too. He had literal starving children to point to…and nothing makes an emotional argument better than starving kids. (We're tearing up just thinking about it.)

    Instead, Marshall laid out his argument methodically. He first pointed out that the situation was bad, then enumerated the ways in which it was bad. This seems like it shouldn't even be necessary, in the sense that no one in the crowd was likely to say, "Wait, war in Europe? When? Why am I always the last to hear about this kind of thing?"

    He then pointed out that bad economies is how you get either communism or fascism—and that you really don't want either.

    If you're going to make a properly logical argument (which should be your goal even if you aren't trying to convince Mr. Spock to hand you the phaser) you first need to establish your baseline. Think of logic like a house. If you're building it on a swamp, it's just going to sink. Build it on a solid foundation, and what do you know: it stays up.

    So with this in mind, Marshall points out that not only has Europe been bombed to a degree heretofore unseen in human history, it was also suffering because pretty much all the powers had turned their economies into wartime versions. That's great for war, but terrible for peace. This also meant that hostiles had broken trading ties across borders, so some of the worst of the economic devastation was invisible.

    Then he pointed out that the basic mode of economy, the interplay between the rural farmer and urban manufacturer, had broken down. That mode, basically "farmer feeds the manufacturer, manufacturer equips the farmer," was suffering because there was no currency to trust and no reliable way to get goods anywhere.

    Then, he established that the U.S., despite the distance, had skin in the game. You can see the argument building logically from "Hey, there's a problem, here's what happened, here's why it's worse than we think, and here's why it effects us." At this point, the logical build has been achieved.

    With his point eloquently and correctly argued, Marshall does maybe the most important thing: offers a solution. He's not whining here. He's a man with a plan. And while maybe you can argue with the specifics of the plan, there's nothing wrong with the man's logic. At its baseline, he's pointing out that economies need money and trust to thrive. His solution? Provide money people trust: the ol' U.S. dollar.

  • Structure

    If There's a Problem, Yo I Solved It

    Marshall structures his argument in perfect logical format. He establishes the problem, discusses the parameters of the problem, and then proposes a solution based on the problems he's just enumerated. His ideas flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next. He even keeps the whole thing short and sweet so that when he's done it's difficult to disagree with him.

    For the actual Marshall Plan, as in the cash handed over to Europe, it's interesting how that got divvied up. The idea was that it would be given out according to need, but then weighted by who was on the right side. Germany needed it bad—but so did Britain, which was bombed pretty relentlessly as well. Britain was also a close ally and didn't have Hitler as a leader. (Both serious bonuses.)

    Eighteen western European countries got money. The United Kingdom got the most with 26%, then France with 18%, and finally West Germany with 11%. So the top three countries getting aid received 65% total.

    How it Breaks Down

    What Are We Doing Here?

    He opens the speech with a thesis statement, then a quick appeal:

    "I need not tell you gentlemen that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people." (1.1-2)

    Marshall says the problem is serious, and then basically says, "if you're intelligent, you see that my statement is true." Who in the crowd is going to raise their hand and say, "No! I'm an idiot! I don't get it!"

    Nobody. (Remember, this was delivered at Harvard.)

    Okay, It's Bad. How Bad?

    The second paragraph discusses how bad it is. Specifically that while the visible cost might be bad enough, the invisible is even worse:

    "In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy." (2.1)

    He goes on to lay the problems at the feet of the Nazis, which is a good move. Nobody likes the Nazis. Can't pass that up.

    Dogs and Cats, Living Together, Mass Hysteria!

    It's not just the economy in peril; it's all of civilization:

    "The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time it is threatened with breakdown." (3.2-4)

    He's underscoring the severity of the problem here, and in the following paragraph says that in order to set things right, Europe needs more than they thought, and more than it can repay.

    What's the Worst that Could Happen?

    World War III.

    Marshall doesn't come right out and say it, but he points out that bad economic conditions are where political extremism comes from, whether its Russian feudalism creating a left wing tyrant in the form of Joseph Stalin or putative World War I reparations creating a right wing tyrant in the form of Adolf Hitler.

    He also stresses that he's being apolitical: he's trying to alleviate suffering, not start a beef with a specific country:

    "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist." (5.3-4)

    That's the kind of thing you like to hear out of a government official.

    How Do We Do This?

    Marshall finishes up his epic argument of awesomeness by addressing the final concern. How do we do this?

    He stresses that it has to be Europe in the lead here, because they know what they want. If Germany's in the middle of a shoe shortage, you don't send them hats. His last message is that we're the only ones who can do this, and so we're obligated:

    "With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome." (8.3)

    Marshall knew what he was doing.

  • Tone

    Grim, Yet Hopeful

    Marshall writes like the kind of man who's seen the best and the worst that human race has to offer. Maybe that's what happens when you live through two World Wars. Seriously, the point of the speech is that Europe has been pretty much bombed to rubble, and somehow things are worse than all that.

    "In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy." (2.1)

    Doesn't really get any more bleak than that, does it?

    Yet he's not all doom and gloom. When Hitler first showed up and started annexing countries, or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, those looked like insurmountable problems. Spoiler alert: they were surmounted. By a lot. So Marshall is used to looking at a problem that seems impossible and then solving the %$#@ out of it.

    Check out how Marshall closes the speech:

    "An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied. Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome." (8.1-3)

    He's telling the audience that, yeah, it's bad. But we have this…because we're Americans. Then presumably he released a whole flock of bald eagles and chowed down on a freshly grilled burger.

    Ha—just kidding. This was George Marshall, folks. Dude didn't have time for a burger; there was work to be done.

    That's the thing about this speech. The message is that things are bad, but there's a solution. It's going to take some work, but they got this.

  • Writing Style

    Know Your Audience

    Marshall delivered this speech at Harvard, and his goal was to convince them first. He opens with an appeal to their intelligence in the very second sentence:

    "That must be apparent to all intelligent people." (1.2)

    Just to be perfectly clear, he's including the people listening. He's not like, "Smart people get this, but not you guys. Hoo-boy, are you dumb." Marshall was making the rhetorical statement knowing anyone listening (especially Harvard students) would say, "Well, I'm smart, so it's apparent to me."

    The speech itself is specific, but not overly so. He's prescribing a series of basic actions, but this isn't a unilateral thing. In fact, the one thing he is extremely specific about is the fact that they can't do much of anything without Europe's support:

    "It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically." (7.2)

    He's right. It's a good thing to help, but it's a better thing to first listen to what kind of help is needed and then do that.

    Since this was a short speech designed to unveil a larger policy, he didn't need to get too specific. If he went into minutiae, it's likely his audience would have nodded off. That's pretty much the worst thing to happen during a speech. (Okay, not the worst. The worst thing is always a bear attack.)

    Marshall was known as a political moderate in his time, despite the fact that he basically announced socialism for all of Europe. For this reason, he's clear to point out that he has no political agenda for the plan:

    "Furthermore, governments, political parties or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States." (6.9)

    Though the Marshall Plan did have a specific enemy: communism and through that the Soviet Union, Marshall was careful not to point it out in the speech. People would get it, and plausible deniability is always an asset. After all, he's not after communism. He's after people perpetuating misery.

    Marshall closes with:

    "With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome." (8.3)

    This is an appeal to American Exceptionalism; the idea that the USA's unique history and culture makes it better but also gives it certain responsibilities.

    It's a good way to rile up the folks he's going to need: the intellectual and economic leaders coming out of Harvard.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The speech is generally known as "The Marshall Plan Speech," though it didn't have an official title when he delivered it. Though there were many people involved in the policy, Marshall was the Secretary of State at the time, and so he was the most visible and powerful person directly advocating this course of action. He didn't write the thing (that would be Charles Bohlen), but he gave it. It's as good a name as any.

    The actual recovery plan was called the Marshall Plan, likely because the previous way to deal with Germany was the Morgenthau Plan. This kept the name theming in place, gave the credit to the guy who would take the blame if it failed, and was an easy thing to remember. The fact that both plans (all three if you throw Molotov in there) had M names is a coincidence.

    The Marshall Plan is also known as the European Recovery Plan. This one is even simpler: because the goal was to help Europe recover economically from World War II.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    It's important to note here that there are two versions of the speech, and the only place they differ is with the addition of new opening and closing lines. Basically, he had a version that he intended to deliver, and then version he actually delivered.

    So in the "official" version, the one he intended to deliver, he opens right with the main idea, Europe is in trouble, along with that appeal to the audience's intelligence. It's a bit more streamlined in its structure, but it's a little sudden. Just gets right to the point and then leaves.

    The version he actually gave added a few remarks about how honored Marshall was to be giving the speech. It was a polite way to start things rather than just barreling headlong into the main idea of the speech.

    Want to see the difference for yourself? Check it out:

    Written version:

    I need not tell you gentlemen that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people. I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. Furthermore, the people of this country are distant from the troubled areas of the earth and it is hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reactions of the long-suffering peoples, and the effect of those reactions on their governments in connection with our efforts to promote peace in the world. (1.1-4)

    Live version:

    Mr. President, Dr. Conant, members of the board of overseers, ladies and gentlemen, I'm profoundly grateful and touched by the distinction and honor and great compliment accorded me by the authorities of Harvard this morning. I'm overwhelmed, as a matter of fact, and I'm rather fearful of my inability to maintain such a high rating as you've been generous enough to accord to me. In these historic and lovely surroundings, this perfect day, and this very wonderful assembly, it is a tremendously impressive thing to an individual in my position.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    Remember, Marshall had two versions of the speech: the official and the transcription. The official version was the one he intended to give, while the transcription was, well, transcribed from the version he did give. It only differs in the opening and closing bits.

    Let's check out those differences in the ending.

    In the official version, Marshall closes with a call to action. This is that appeal to American Exceptionalism. He says there's a problem, anyone smart would agree, and the United States has the power, and therefore the responsibility, to do something. The Marshall Plan Speech was an argument, and this was the mic drop.

    For the transcription version, he includes some closing remarks. These are a few reiterations of what he was saying, pointing out that while he didn't mean to get technical, he had to. The problem is too distant from most people, he says, so he had to lay it out. That's how important what he's talking out is.

    It feels a little more informal, and sounds like a man actually engaging with his audience. This is an important skill for a public speaker to have. Know when to stick with your remarks, and know when to talk like you're having a conversation.

    Ready to see the actual endings? Here you go.

    Written version:

    An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied. Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome. (8.1-3)

    Live version:

    I am sorry that on occasion I have said something publicly in regard to our international situation; I've been forced by the necessities of the case to enter into rather technical discussions. But to my mind, it is of vast importance that our people reach some general understanding of what the complications really are, rather than react from a passion or a prejudice or an emotion of the moment. As I said more formally a moment ago, we are remote from the scene of these troubles. It is virtually impossible at this distance merely by reading, or listening, or even seeing photographs or motion pictures, to grasp at all the real significance of the situation. And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment. It hangs, I think, to a large extent on the realization of the American people, of just what are the various dominant factors. What are the reactions of the people? What are the justifications of those reactions? What are the sufferings? What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done? Thank you very much.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base camp

    Some of Marshall's phrasing is a little tough, but it's nothing you can't handle. 1940s English is pretty much the same as modern English…except adorable slang like chrome-dome (bald guy) or ducky shincracker (good dancer).

    But Marshall isn't using any slang here: his intended audience was a bunch of notoriously square Harvard students. So he's using big words, but he's also trying to make a point, which means he's going to be as clear as he can be.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Literary and Philosophical References

    John Maynard Keynes

    Marshall never mentions Keynes directly, but he was pretty much the Beatles of economics at the time. He believed that the government had to intervene to keep the economy from periodically imploding. By providing money to governments in order to fix economies, Marshall is indirectly supporting this idea.

    Historical and Political References

    World War II 

    It would be tough to get through this speech without mentioning the war, really. Marshall touches on a number of things, notably the devastation wrought by the war, and the pre-emptive destruction of the German economy by the Nazis.

    The Soviet Union

    This reference is more oblique. He merely points out where such things can go. He didn't say, "Nobody turn out like the Oviet-say Union-way."

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

    U.S. Foreign Policy

    The Marshall Plan has been a model for foreign policy beyond Europe. Any time America gives cash to a foreign country, some of the price is that they keep a government at least friendly to the USA.

  • Trivia

    The Molotov Cocktail, a generic term of an improvised incendiary explosive, is named after the architect of the Molotov Plan. But not for that reason. (Source)

    The "S" in "Harry S. Truman" stands for…nothing. Seriously—it's just an S. (Source)

    George C. Marshall served in both World Wars...but never in combat. (Source)

    George C. Marshall was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1944, but sadly missed out on being named People's Sexiest Man Alive. (Source)

    Joseph Stalin's name comes from the Russian "Man of Steel." DC should sue. (Source)

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