It was on June 5th, 1947 when Secretary of State George Marshall took to the podium at Harvard University’s graduation ceremonies. In his speech, Marshall proposed a European recovery program for nations lying in ruin from World War II.
He said, “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.”
The speech was drafted by Chip Bohlen, a Russia specialist and interpreter. Bohlen especially benefited from Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs William Clayton’s graphic oral descriptions of Europe’s situation. In a memorandum Clayton wrote, “Millions of people in the cities are slowly starving,” and if the standard of living continued to deteriorate, “there will be revolution.” (Caption and video courtesy of the Marshall Foundation)
The summer of the Marshall Plan proposal was rough for Europe because of drought conditions, which followed a harsh winter. Crops failed. Food shortages were growing and President Truman had a Cabinet Committee on Food, which included Marshall, working on this crisis constantly.
Round one of the Marshall Plan had to be food, in the form of interim aid approved in 1947 by Congress. But it was also forthcoming from the public in the form of the Friendship Train, the Silent Guest program and CARE packages.
David Morris, author of A Gift from America, described boy scouts from Bethesda, Maryland having their own little Marshall Plan which they presented to Marshall himself. This plan consisted of hosting a fundraiser at a movie and buying CARE packages for five children in Europe.
Even 64 years later, the spirit of the Marshall Plan and the foreign policy ideal behind it is one we need to uphold. It starts with the foundation of food.
In Afghanistan the UN World Food Programme is facing funding shortages that are causing ration cuts for child feeding programs, all this taking place in a country with one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world.
We have seen Yemen in the news quite a bit lately. What you do not hear much about, though, is the high rate of malnutrition there, especially among infants. Hunger relief programs for Yemen get little funding and this results in children stunted in growth and mind.
In Sudan, Catholic Relief Services is apt to point out that food shortages will disrupt any progress toward peace and reconciliation. In Libya, there is much hunger and suffering from the conflict ongoing and food supplies may run out.
Egypt, the West Bank, Gaza, and Iraq all need universal school feeding programs to build their future. Children need the dual “CARE package” of food and education. But will these plans be supported?
It is vital for the U.S. and the international community to fight hunger in all corners. While meeting existing shortages, there must be a plan for longer-term solutions. That can come in the form of agricultural development in these countries. The more food they can produce at home, the more stability will grow. It also comes in the form of universal child feeding, so more generations do not get doomed early in life.
If anything is to be learned from this spring of uprisings in the Arab world, it is that the needs of the people can no longer be ignored. People want their freedoms and at the top of this list is “freedom from hunger,” for this unlocks the door to education and economic development.
As Marshall said in his speech, “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.”
The Marshall Plan succeeded in giving Europe the major boost it needed to recover from the war. Marshall’s words are worth remembering as we chart the course of our foreign policy amid rough waters today.