A Marshall Plan for the 21st century

Back on August 2nd this blog proposed a Marshall Plan for the 21st century. You can find the post here. Today we’re returning to that idea.


Well one reason is that my wife and I just returned from a very pleasant three-day Columbus Day weekend with my brother and his wife. We met them in Lexington, Virginia.

A non sequitur, you say?

Not at all! For Lexington is home to VMI, the Virginia Military Institute, which in turn hosts the George  C. Marshall Foundation building, which itself houses both the George C. Museum and the Marshall Research Library. On Saturday we spent an hour there (not nearly enough time!) , learning more about this wonderful man.

This blog can’t contain enough words to do justice to Marshall’s life story. Interested? You can get started with the Wikipedia link. But here are the basics. After graduating from VMI, Marshall served in the army in both World Wars. In the second he rose to the position of Chief of Staff. Churchill called him “the organizer of victory.” Following the war he served as Secretary of State. In this position he promoted the so-called Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Europe’s economy – a plan formulated by others who realized that were they to call it the Truman Plan, it would be a casualty of partisan politics (sound familiar?). Loyal soldier that he was, Marshall went along for the greater good. Later he would head the Red Cross; he then returned to government service as Secretary of Defense during the Korean War.

Quite a string of responsibilities and accomplishments! So did you know that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953? You didn’t?

[An aside for those young readers who have most of your careers ahead of you. It is all too easy at this point in your lives to see a wide gap separating yourself from such historic figures. It seems they went from success to success, while your life is marked by reverses and (even occasionally well-deserved) criticism.

Don’t be fooled! Marshall himself was widely criticized for the system he instituted for replacing troops on the front lines, which had the unintended consequence of putting poorly-trained, raw recruits in harm’s way. They suffered heavy casualties. He failed to foresee and forestall the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was faulted by some for his decision to follow Churchill’s advice and delay a Normandy landing – for two years, it would turn out – in favor of an assault on Italy. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to shut down the Chinese Civil War that culminated in a communist takeover of the mainland. Senator McCarthy attacked him for being soft on communism.

Have you made mistakes that bad? Been so reviled? Chances are…not yet. But be strong and courageous. Be the heroes and heroines of your own life story.]   

Now…more on that Nobel Peace Prize.

You can find his Nobel Lecture in its entirety here, but let’s look at some excerpts…

“There has been considerable comment over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a soldier. I am afraid this does not seem as remarkable to me as it quite evidently appears to others. I know a great deal of the horrors and tragedies of war. Today, as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, it is my duty to supervise the construction and maintenance of military cemeteries in many countries overseas, particularly in Western Europe. The cost of war in human lives is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones. I am deeply moved to find some means or method of avoiding another calamity of war. Almost daily I hear from the wives, or mothers, or families of the fallen. The tragedy of the aftermath is almost constantly before me…”

“I share with you an active concern for some practical method for avoiding war. Let me first say that I regard the present highly dangerous situation as a very special one, which naturally dominates our thinking on the subject of peace, but which should not, in my opinion, be made the principal basis for our reasoning towards the manner for securing a condition of long continued peace. A very strong military posture is vitally necessary today. How long it must continue I am not prepared to estimate, but I am sure that it is too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable, long-enduring peace. The guarantee for a long continued peace will depend on other factors in addition to a moderated military strength, and no less important. Perhaps the most important single factor will be a spiritual regeneration to develop goodwill, faith, and understanding among nations. Economic factors will undoubtedly play an important part. Agreements to secure a balance of power, however disagreeable they may seem, must likewise be considered. And with all these there must be wisdom and the will to act on that wisdom.”

“In this brief discussion, I can give only a very limited treatment of these great essentials to peace. However, I would like to select three more specific areas for closer attention.”

The first (boldface added) relates to the possibilities of better education in the various factors affecting the life of peaceful security, both in terms of its development and of its disruption. Because wisdom in action in our Western democracies rests squarely upon public understanding, I have long believed that our schools have a key role to play. Peace could, I believe, be advanced through careful study of all the factors which have gone into the various incidents now historical that have marked the breakdown of peace in the past. As an initial procedure our schools, at least our colleges but preferably our senior high schools, as we call them, should have courses which not merely instruct our budding citizens in the historical sequence of events of the past, but which treat with almost scientific accuracy the circumstances which have marked the breakdown of peace and have led to the disruption of life and the horrors of war…”

“…I believe our students must first seek to understand the conditions, as far as possible without national prejudices, which have led to past tragedies and should strive to determine the great fundamentals which must govern a peaceful progression toward a constantly higher level of civilization. There are innumerable instructive lessons out of the past, but all too frequently their presentation is highly colored or distorted in the effort to present a favorable national point of view. In our school histories at home, certainly in years past, those written in the North present a strikingly different picture of our Civil War from those written in the South. In some portions it is hard to realize they are dealing with the same war. Such reactions are all too common in matters of peace and security. But we are told that we live in a highly scientific age. Now the progress of science depends on facts and not fancies or prejudice. Maybe in this age we can find a way of facing the facts and discounting the distorted records of the past…”

“…For my second suggestion (boldface added), I would like to consider the national attitudes that bear on the great problem of peace. I hope you will not think me amiss if I turn to my own country and certain rather special circumstances found there to illustrate my point. Despite the amazing conquest of the air and its reduction of distances to a matter of hours and not days, or minutes instead of hours, the United States is remote in a general sense from the present turbulent areas of the world. I believe the measure of detachment, limited though it is, has been of help in enabling us on occasion to take an impartial stand on heated international problems.

Also, my country is very specially constituted in terms of population. We have many families of Norwegian ancestry in our population. My country also includes large numbers of former citizens of many of the other countries of Europe, including the present satellite states. I recall that when the first Polar flight6 was made by the Russians from Moscow over the top of the world to land on the little airfield of the post I commanded at Vancouver on the Columbia River in the state of Washington, my home was surrounded within a few hours by hundreds and hundreds of Russians, all presumably citizens of the United States. Italians, Turks, Greeks, and many, many others who came to our country now constitute an organic portion of our population.

From this fact we have acquired, I think, a feeling and a concern for the problems of other peoples. There is a deep urge to help the oppressed and to give aid to those upon whom great and sudden hardship has fallen…”

“..The third area (boldface added) I would like to discuss has to do with the problem of the millions who live under subnormal conditions and who have now come to a realization that they may aspire to a fair share of the God-given rights of human beings. Their aspirations present a challenge to the more favored nations to lend assistance in bettering the lot of the poorer. This is a special problem in the present crisis, but it is of basic importance to any successful effort toward an enduring peace. The question is not merely one of self-interest arising from the fact that these people present a situation which is a seed bed for either one or the other of two greatly differing ways of life. Ours is democracy, according to our interpretation of the meaning of that word. If we act with wisdom and magnanimity, we can guide these yearnings of the poor to a richer and better life through democracy.

We must present democracy as a force holding within itself the seeds of unlimited progress by the human race. By our actions we should make it clear that such a democracy is a means to a better way of life, together with a better understanding among nations. Tyranny inevitably must retire before the tremendous moral strength of the gospel of freedom and self-respect for the individual, but we have to recognize that these democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs, and that people turn to false promises of dictators because they are hopeless and anything promises something better than the miserable existence that they endure. However, material assistance alone is not sufficient. The most important thing for the world today in my opinion is a spiritual regeneration which would reestablish a feeling of good faith among men generally. Discouraged people are in sore need of the inspiration of great principles. Such leadership can be the rallying point against intolerance, against distrust, against that fatal insecurity that leads to war. It is to be hoped that the democratic nations can provide the necessary leadership…”

[If these excerpts don’t motivate us to read the lecture in its entirety, or dedicate our lives to high purpose, then perhaps we lack not just time, but soul. It is uplifting to know many of the readers of this blog…and to know that in speaking to you, Marshall preaches to the choir. You are already living out his exhortation. Keep it up.]

That Marshall Plan for the 21st century? You can check it out now if you wish. But there’ll be more in the next post.

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One Response to A Marshall Plan for the 21st century

  1. Pingback: If Marshall were alive today… | Living on the Real World

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