During the winter of 1946-47, the worst in memory, Europe seemed on the
verge of collapse. For the victors in World War II, there were no spoils. In London,
coal shortages left only enough fuel to heat and light homes for a few hours a day.

In Berlin, the vanquished were freezing and starving to death. On the walls of the
bombed-out Reichstag, someone scrawled Blessed are the dead, for their hands do
not freeze. European cities were seas of rubble--500 million cubic yards of it in

Germany alone. Bridges were broken, canals were choked, rails were twisted.

Across the Continent, darkness was rising. Americans, for the most part,
were not paying much attention. Having won World War II, most Americans just
wanted to go to the movies and drink Coca-Cola, said Averell Harriman, who had
been FDR's special envoy to London and Moscow during the second world war.

But in Washington and New York, a small group of men feared the worst. Most of
them were, like Harriman, Wall Street bankers and diplomats with close ties to

Europe and a long view of America's role in the world. They suspected that in the

Kremlin, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was waiting like a vulture. Only the United

States, they believed, could save Europe from chaos and communism.

With sureness of purpose, some luck and a little convincing, these men
persuaded Congress to help rescue Europe with $13.3 billion in economic
assistance over three years. That sum--more than $100 billion in today's dollars, or
about six times what America now spends annually on foreign aid--seems
unthinkable today. The European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall

Plan, was an extraordinary act of strategic generosity. How a few policymakers
persuaded their countrymen to pony up for the sake of others is a tale of low
politics and high vision

Yet their achievement is recalled by many scholars as a historical blip, a
moment of virtue before the cold war really locked in. A truer, if more
grandiloquent, assessment was made by Winston Churchill. The Marshall Plan,
said England's war leader from his retirement, was the most unsordid act in

It was, at the time, a very hard sell. The men who wanted to save

Europe--Harriman, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, diplomats like George

Kennan--were unelected and for the most part unknown. They needed a hero, a
brand name respected by ordinary Americans. They turned to George C. Marshall.

His name would bring blank stares from schoolchildren today, but Marshall,
the army's highest-ranking general in World War II, was widely regarded then as
the Organizer of Victory. He is the great one of the age, said President Harry

Truman, who made Marshall secretary of state in January 1947. Upright, cool to
the point of asperity (I have no feelings, he said, except those I reserve for Mrs.

Marshall), Marshall made worshipers of his followers. Dean Acheson described
his boss walking into a room: Everyone felt his presence. It was a striking and
communicated force. His figure conveyed intensity, which his voice, low, staccato
and incisive, reinforced. It compelled respect. It spread a sense of authority and
calm. Though self-effacing and not prone to speechifying, Marshall used a few
basic maxims. One was Don't fight the problem. Decide it.

Without hesitation, Marshall gave his name and authority to the plan to
rescue Europe. His only advice to the policymakers: Avoid trivia. The unveiling
came in a commencement speech at Harvard on June 5, 1947. Wearing a plain
business suit amid the colorful academic robes, Marshall was typically
plain-spoken and direct: Our policy, he said, is not directed against any country
or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.

The response in the american press was tepid, but the leaders of Europe were
electrified. Listening to the address on the BBC, British Foreign Minister Ernest

Bevin regarded Marshall's speech as a lifeline to a sinking man. Bevin
immediately headed for Paris to urge the French to join him in grabbing the rope.

Marshall did not want Washington to appear to be dictating to its allies.

The initiative, I think, must come from Europe, he had said at Harvard. But the

Europeans fell to squabbling. The French, in particular, were wary of reviving

Germany. The Plan? There is no plan, grumbled George Kennan, the diplomat
sent to Paris that summer of 1947 to monitor the talks. The Europeans were able to
write shopping lists, but nothing resembling an overall program. In a cable to

Marshall, Kennan predicted that the United States would listen, but in the end, we
would not ask them, we would just tell them