Study Guide

The Marshall Plan Quotes

By George C. Marshall

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    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. (1.4)

    Marshall refers to the people hurt by the war almost off-handedly here. He is clear, though, in using the terms "plight" and "long-suffering." In placing these two things in a sentence otherwise pretty devoid of emotion, he's presenting them as fact. Compassion, therefore, is a given. He doesn't even need to argue for it.

    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)

    This is an appeal to the compassion of his audience. He's enumerating the costs of war, and pointing out that it's even worse than they thought. His goal is to get people to go "Oh yeah, it's really on us to help these people."

    Recovery has been seriously retarded by the fact that two years after the close of hostilities a peace settlement with Germany and Austria has not been agreed upon. (2.9)

    Marshall complains here about the peace settlement not being finished and remember, this speech was given halfway through 1947, two years after the war was over. There can't be a peace settlement without a little bit of forgiveness.

    Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. (6.3)

    This is a direct call to compassion. Marshall is saying that he doesn't care where you're from, be it an old enemy like Germany, a new enemy like Russia, or a longtime ally in Britain. If you're in a bad way, this policy is there to help. That's the essence of compassion right there.

    The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all European nations. (7.6)

    "All European nations" includes Germany. Marshall wants to show forgiveness by reaching out to the people the U.S. was just fighting, and see how much money they needed to get on their feet again.

  • Warfare

    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)

    This is Marshall's thesis statement for the larger speech. In it, he's describing, explicitly, the costs of war. The interesting part is that while he's allowing that the obvious physical destruction is bad, the economic devastation is worse. For someone in 1947, that was stunning, mostly because Europe was leveled in the war.

    The feverish preparation for war and the more feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economies. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete. (2.3-4)

    Once again, Marshall highlights a hidden cost. His point is that Europe has stagnated economically not just during the six years of the war itself, but even before that. They haven't been doing anything but churning out weapons, and while that will employ people during wartime, weapons aren't so handy in peacetime.

    Under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German war machine. Long-standing commercial ties, private institutions, banks, insurance companies and shipping companies disappeared, through loss of capital, absorption through nationalization or by simple destruction. (2.5-6)

    When Marshall invokes Nazis, he's talking about actual, literal Nazis, not people he disagrees with politically while trying to win an argument on social media. He's saying that the Nazis pretty effectively destroyed the economy before the bombs even fell, by turning everything into war machines, and by destroying the ties that make economies work.

    The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down. (3.15)

    Marshall spends this paragraph talking about the interplay between urban and rural economies. Basically, rural produces food, urban produces manufactured goods. The war made this system break down entirely. So that needs to be fixed.

    The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products–principally from America–are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character. (4.1)

    In a way, Marshall is warning about the consequences of losing not the war, but the peace. Granted, this situation only developed because of the war, and he's pointing out that a failure to do something will result in even more war. The phase "vicious cycle" might come to mind. It did with Marshall too, who used those exact words.

  • Suffering

    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. (1.4)

    Distance is unfortunately a large component in whether or not we recognize suffering. It's a lot easier, for example, to see that your neighbor is stuck under an anvil, than it is to see someone in Germany isn't getting enough to eat. Marshall acknowledges this difficulty, and points out that it's part of the job of the folks in the room to make that connection for others.

    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)

    Yeah, things in Europe were really bad. Marshall lists the most obvious causes—all of that physical suffering from the death and destruction. The stunning point he makes is that the destruction of the economy is an even worse blow.

    He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization. Meanwhile people in the cities are short of food and fuel. (3.10-11)

    Here Marshall is talking about the specific way each side of the economy—rural farmers and urban workers—are suffering. Sure, it sounds like the urban people, being short on fuel, have it worse. That doesn't mean it's a picnic being without manufactured goods. Worse suffering does not immediately invalidate suffering elsewhere.

    Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. (6.3)

    In short, the policy is against suffering itself. Or, more appropriately, against the causes of suffering. Marshall is all about the cure, not a treatment.

    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)

    Marshall is declaring war not on a country, but on human misery itself. He's setting the U.S. against the entire concept of suffering, and in doing so, plans to rebuild the world economy from the ground up.

  • Power

    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)

    It's the most obvious, vulgar display of power, but it is a display. Marshall makes an interesting and correct point here. He almost dismisses the physical destruction. He is in effect saying, that the true power is the economy, this nebulous invisible thing. And it's broken in Europe.

    Under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German war machine. (2.4)

    The Nazis were sort of famous for misusing their power. (No, not with the Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail.) They had guns and tanks and soldiers and whatnot. This quote is a depiction of power. The Nazis had already destroyed the economy before the war.

    The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole. (5.1)

    Oh, is that all? By saying that they should fix the European economy, he's implying that they have the power to do so. That's a pretty stunning amount of power there, and Marshall believes that they're obligated to use it.

    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)

    This is something of a threat to exercise the power of the U.S. against potential enemies. This statement would be entirely hollow without the power to back it up in some way, but since the U.S. is one of two nations with that power, it means something.

    The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all European nations. (7.6)

    Ever hear the phrase "there's strength in numbers"? So has Marshall. As much power as the U.S. has, it still can use the help of the parts of Europe it plans to assist. With this help, the plan can be put into practice.

  • American Exceptionalism

    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. (1.4)

    The U.S.A. was far away from World War II (except for one point when the Japanese attacked Hawaii, at the time a colonial possession). This is another thing that makes America exceptional: we are guarded from both east and west by oceans and share borders with only two countries, both of whom are allies. This privileged place keeps us safe at home and allows us the time and resources to do stuff like give tons of cash to Europe.

    The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products–principally from America–are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character. (4.1)

    Marshall namechecks the good old U.S. of A. here, and for good reason. He's talking to Americans and reminding them that all the stuff Europe needs is stuff America has. Again, this is an appeal to the exceptional position America has. This also reminds the listeners that Europe can't repay any loans for quite some time. That's normally not the best negotiating position, and would have been the end of things. But there's that American Exceptionalism. Most countries would want or even need to be paid back in short order. Not the U.S.

    It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. (6.2)

    This is a direct appeal to American Exceptionalism. The U.S. has the ability to help, and therefore must. He takes it as a given that the U.S. should help, noting merely that "it is logical" to do so.

    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)

    This is largely directed at the Soviet Union. Taken at face value, he is saying that any country who traffics in misery gets an enemy of the United States out of it. That's a pretty stunning statement as it can mean a whole lot of countries. This might scare off a lesser power, but not the U.S. Why? Exceptionalism.

    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 a direct appeal to the concept of American Exceptionalism. He's talking about the responsibility history has placed on the country. We have the power to help Europe, and therefore the responsibility. Who gave us this? History. Yep, in short, America is awesome and it's time to get the awesome-train in motion.

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