Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Marshal Plan -- no thanks due America for it?

In the current issue of the London Review of Books, 30 April 2009 is a review of two books: The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Postwar Europe by Greg Behrman and Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower by Nicolaus Mills. The review is by Hugh Wilford and is entitled “Should We Say Thank You?

Wilford’s short answer is “no.” But that is not the answer you find in either of the two books being reviewed. Wilford takes a counterfactual view and thinks Europe could have refurbished itself without America’s ERP money and the Communists under Stalin would have contented themselves with Eastern Europe and not tried to commandeer Western Europe even without American presence. I thought at first Wilford was going to damn America with faint praise, but the hint of praise soon dwindles almost to non existence. Only when he compares the Marshall Plan to America’s [and the multinational force’s] efforts in Iraq does he praise the Marshall Plan – not the plan so much as its leadership.

There is no evidence on Wilford’s side, only speculation that Europe would have been fine without America’s aid. The Marshall Plan still sticks in the craw of European Anti-Americans. They seek new ways to punish this remarkably good deed.

He even takes a swipe at America’s efforts in Iraq referring to a statement Bush made, which most of us wouldn’t remember, comparing the aid America was going to give Iraq to the aid America gave Europe as part of the Marshall Plan. He concludes, “Post-Saddam Iraq is not post-Second World War Europe. The US is generally perceived as an invader rather than a liberator; its presence lacks international legitimacy; and the new authorities cannot draw on the historic traditions of democracy the Marshall Planners were able to harness in 1940s Europe. As so often with historical exemplars, the plan works better as a rhetorical device than a policy blueprint.”

Lacks international legitimacy? Tch, tch, Wilford. A great number of nations, an international force in fact, participated. Who were the big guns that refused participation and torpedoed UN approval? France and Russia which subsequent investigation has shown to have been receiving money from illicit trade with Saddam Hussein. The “rhetoric” describing America’s “unilateralism” is an anti-Americanism, Wilford.

But you British were part of this multi-national force liberating Iraq.

Hugh Wilford teaches history at California State University, Long Beach, but he was educated at Bristol and Exeter Universities, and from the fact that he entitles his article “Should we say thank you?” [for the Marshall Plan] and then in his article answers, in essence’ “no,” I take him to identify more with Europe than Long Beach California where he lives and teaches.

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