President George Washington bid his countrymen to steer clear of foreign entanglements, especially with Europe, whose interests were remote from the United States. Europe was always engaged in controversies irrelevant to American concerns.
After World War II, President Harry Truman took seriously Washington’s warning against foreign alliances, but he was convinced the realities of the late 1940s dictated the necessity of involvement.
Aid to war-torn Europe was the only way to get the shattered countries back on their feet and away from the new enemy, the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan came to be.
During five years of war, the occupied countries had learned to cheat, lie, and run black markets. Rather than lend them reconstruction funds and wish them well, the United States controlled the purse strings with its blueprints, cash, and security guarantees.
Who would receive the American aid? The British and French believed Russia should be consulted, and held a conference with Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Molotov. Including him carried a high risk. The Russians could have killed the Marshall Plan with their demands and grievances over terms.
Goaded into rejecting the plan, Molotov walked out, making the U.S. the good guys and the Russians the bad guys. The Soviet Union wanted chaos in Europe, not reconstruction.
The recipient countries needed to devise a collective plan for recovery. Twenty-two nations were invited to participate. The Soviets instructed their satellite countries to attend to disparage the plan and prevent its unanimous adoption.
Poland and Czechoslovakia were especially eager to take part in the plan. Realizing they couldn’t be counted on the cooperate, Russia rescinded their order and forbid their attendance.
The western countries presented a plan that would have required continued assistance long after the U.S. wanted. The aim of the Marshall Plan was a self-supporting western Europe. Terms were spelled out: a workable economy independent of outside aid within four years, with demonstrable progress during that period in achieving production targets on essential items, especially food and coal. Greater austerity, not greater demands on America.
Selling the plan to Americans was equally difficult. Congressmen toured Europe and became believers. After a hard-won war, they couldn’t afford to lose the peace.
Coming in February The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil