STARRED REVIEW
February 13, 2018

Unrepeatable history

By Benn Steil
Review by

When political leaders in America and abroad search for successful historical precedents for solutions to crises, we sometimes hear calls for “a new Marshall Plan.” That is not an easily attainable goal. The conditions and personalities that made the original plan possible were unique to a post-World War II world, as Benn Steil explains in his compelling, authoritative and lucid The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War.

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When political leaders in America and abroad search for successful historical precedents for solutions to crises, we sometimes hear calls for “a new Marshall Plan.” That is not an easily attainable goal. The conditions and personalities that made the original plan possible were unique to a post-World War II world, as Benn Steil explains in his compelling, authoritative and lucid The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War.

By 1947, many of President Truman’s top advisers saw the unity of the Western world and its recovery as the only way to avert another major U.S. military commitment in Europe. Secretary of State George C. Marshall was tasked with creating a plan to stabilize Europe. What began as a humanitarian effort to assist Germany and our European allies—who were on the edge of economic, social and political collapse at the end of WWII—became a serious challenge to Joseph Stalin’s plans for taking over Europe and instituting communism. The crisis that ensued gave birth to the Cold War.

Steil’s superb narrative combines diplomatic, economic and political history with descriptions of such episodes as the Berlin Airlift, along with vivid portraits of the diverse primary personalities, who were often at odds with each other. Key shapers of the Marshall Plan included Ambassador to the Soviet Union George F. Kennan, who brought brilliant insights and a diplomatic strategy; William L. Clayton, who gave it economic principles; and future Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who delivered a speech Truman later referred to as “the prologue to the Marshall Plan.” As essential as anyone was Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican from Michigan, who shepherded appropriate legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress. George Marshall later reflected that without Vandenberg, “the plan would not have succeeded.”

The Marshall Plan was followed by the founding of NATO and the European Union, important legacies that continue today. This dramatic and engaging account of one of the most complex but enduring achievements of American foreign policy deserves a wide readership.

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The Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan

By Benn Steil
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781501102370

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