October 29, 2012
“If man does find the solution for world peace it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known.“ George C. Marshall, 1880-1959.
On Oct. 30, 1953, George Catlett Marshall, the first American to serve as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, and who was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the efforts to rebuild Europe after the war. The reconstruction plan became known as the Marshall Plan; it was first proposed at a Harvard University Alumni Association meeting in June 1947 where Marshall was being presented an honorary degree.
Marshall was born on Dec. 31, 1880, in Pennsylvania. He was rejected by the United States Military Academy in West Point, and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. He served in a number of posts including the Philippines; was the youngest officer appointed to teach at the Army Staff College; he served on General John J. Pershing’s staff, planning the final offensives that ended World War I. After the war, Marshall was Pershing’s aide-de-camp when he was Army Chief of Staff. He commanded various units, including three-year posting in China, until being named deputy Chief of Staff in 1938.
When war in Europe appeared imminent, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Marshall as Chief of Staff over more than 30 of his superior officers. He led the rapid creation of the U.S. Army, training, equipping and deploying a force that grew from about 200,000 soldiers to over 8 million in less than three years. He was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1943. He was made the first General of the Army in 1944. In November 1945, he was appointed by President Harry Truman to oversee the negotiations in China between the Nationalists (Chiang Kai-shek) and the Communists (Mao Zedong). He failed to broker a peace, and civil war lasted until a Communist victory in 1949.
President Truman appointed Marshall as Secretary of State when he returned from China in January 1947. On June 5, 1947, he addressed the Harvard alumni. No one was expecting a major policy speech. But they heard the outline of a plan to save Europe.
He described a dire situation:
“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. For the past ten years conditions have been highly abnormal.” He stated the impact on America:
“Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. 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.”
And proposed that America would support European efforts to help themselves, as long as they agreed together on a plan.
“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.”
He retired as Secretary of State at the end of Truman’s first term in 1949, but was called back by Truman in 1950 to fix the relatively new Department of Defense as they faced war on the Korean Peninsula. He stayed for a year. He retired again, and passed away on Oct. 16, 1959.