Most know that this week marks the anniversary of the June 6 US-led invasion of Europe known as "D-Day," which turned the tide against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, bringing about the end of WWII. Many don’t know, however, that the first week of June is also remembered as the time when the post-war peace in Europe was established. This is all thanks to George Marshall.
Though a soldier in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars, George Marshall is best known to history as a man of peace. In fact, he's the only US soldier to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Here's that story...
On June 5, 1947, at the age of 66, Marshall gave a speech at Harvard University to announce his plan to rebuild a continent shattered by six years of war. It was the European Recovery Plan, which has come to be known as the Marshall Plan.
During the four years the plan was in effect, the U.S. donated $17 billion (equivalent to almost $200 billion in 2017) to help the recovery of Europe -- even West Germany. (Aid was offered to the Soviet Union, which had been a wartime ally against Hitler but it was declined.) The financial help laid the groundwork for the trans-Atlantic alliance, which became the foundation of global trade and security (that is, at least, until the current American president started swinging his sledgehammer).
The program itself wound down in 1952 and Marshall was awarded his Nobel in 1953 -- a fitting capstone to a career for someone whose ancestors supposedly included a famous and precedent-setting chief justice of the United States, John Marshall.
George Marshall graduated from the Virginia Military Academy and in the first decades of the new century, he had postings around the US and the Philippines. But his real break came during World War I when he served as a successful planner for the army chief, John J. Pershing.
By the time World War II broke out, he'd climbed the ladder, organized a massive military force as chief of staff of the US army and earned the trust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even though Marshall planned the D-Day invasion, FDR wouldn't let him command the operation since he couldn't bear the thought of his top general being out of Washington. That task fell to Dwight Eisenhower.
After the war, Marshall was sent to China to mediate the Civil War between the Communists of Mao Zedong and the Nationalists. Though that came to naught, Marshall was named the top US diplomat -- Secretary of State -- by Harry Truman, FDR's successor. And it was in that position that he rolled out his massive plan to help rebuild Europe.
By 1952, three years after the rollout of the Marshall Plan, Europe had already experienced a dramatic increase in economic production. The hunger and starvation felt by the vast numbers of people who'd been displaced by the hostilities literally disappeared overnight. What's more, the Marshall Plan eased trade between member nations and set up the institutions that coordinated European economies, laying the foundation for the European Union which was formalized with the Maastricht Treaty on November 1, 1993. The Marshall Plan also facilitated the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which can be credited for keeping peace in Europe these past 70 years. That's why George Marshal was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize and why we're honored to include him as a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.
Who's your #HistoryHero?
Message us (above) or tell us in the comments (below) and we'll let you know when we feature him or her on the #HistoryHero BLAST.