We missed another recent anniversary.
We missed another anniversary, you and I, the other month. It’s not our fault really. We don’t have someone like Lynne Cheney or the late Paul Harvey starting our day with a “Great Americans Almanac” like Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Alamac.” And so, we missed on October 16 the 50th anniversary of the death of a great American, George C. Marshall.
(I say “we” missed the anniversary because most of us did. The George C. Marshall Foundation did not. On that day, the Foundation presented an award to Defense Secretary Gates at the State Department at a luncheon at which Secretary Clinton spoke. This was not reported in either the Washington Post or the New York Times.)
I thought of George C. Marshall in two contexts recently — in connection with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 and in connection with the announcement of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama — and his plan to accept it.
In all of the commentary on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, next to nothing was written about when and why the Wall was built in the first place.
When Winston Churchill introduced the term “Iron Curtain” on March 5, 1946, to describe what had befallen Eastern Europe following World War II, he was using it metaphorically. The physical curtain between East and West Germany was erected in 1952 and that between East and West Berlin in 1961.
It was in the dark of night that the East German army had acted. At midnight on August 12-13, 1961, it had torn up streets and installed barbed wire and fences — not only along the 27-mile border between East and West Berlin but, because Berlin was in the middle of East Germany, also along the 97-mile perimeter separating West Berlin and East Germany. In just a few hours, the residents of East Berlin were torn asunder from the rest of their city, from their relatives, from their jobs and their friends. On that Sunday morning, the 13th, the East German government had created a concrete symbol of the Cold War.
The Allies decided not to go to war over this Wall, but the following weekend, three brigades of Allies (one U.S., one UK, and one French) in full battle gear marched 110 miles from West Germany to West Berlin in a column 100 miles long.
Thirteen years earlier, the Soviets had blocked road, barge, and rail access to West Berlin. A mere 22,000 Allied soldiers stationed in West Berlin were surrounded. Again, the Allies did not choose war. Instead, on June 24, 1948, the Berlin Airlift began, using three air corridors that had been guaranteed in writing by the Soviets in November 1945. It was to continue until 200,000 flights had been made into the three West Berlin airports, Tegel, RAF Gatow, and Tempelhof, carrying 1,500 tons of food and 3,500 tons of fuel per day for the two million residents of West Berlin. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets surrendered and lifted their blockade. (For comparison’s sake, the current busiest airfield in the world is Atlanta’s Hartsfield which receives about 212,000 flights in 10-1/2 months.) The Berlin Airlift resulted in about 60 Allied deaths.
Why was the Wall built? In the 16 years between the end of World War II and that fateful night in 1961, some 3.5 million people residing in East Germany — 20% of the population — had fled to the West. When the East/West German border was closed in 1952, it caused East Germans who wished to escape to enter East Berlin first and then cross over to West Berlin. From West Berlin, emigrants would travel along the Allied corridor to West Germany.
Some said at the time that the East German emigrants were attracted to the West by its economic prosperity, but interviews revealed that it was freedom — political, religious, economic — that they sought. Whatever the truth, there was indeed economic prosperity in West Germany, in Western Europe, and in the West generally. How so just 16 years after a war that killed tens of millions and ruined the economies of so many nations? There was no guarantee that the defeat of Nazi Germany would yield such freedom and prosperity. Indeed, after the war there was an acute danger that the United States would lose the peace.
A major contribution was made by the Marshall Plan.
Although the United States had given $9 billion in aid to Europe during the two years since the war had ended, it had not saved the peace. Just four months into his term of office as Secretary of State, Marshall proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan (President Truman insisted that Marshall be given full credit for it). On June 5, 1947, in a speech at Harvard University, Marshall invited the countries of Western and Eastern Europe (the East declined to participate under Soviet pressure) to develop specific spending plans. Sixteen countries came together and did so. Most notably, West Germany, which had been subject to industrial production caps under the prior post-war plan, the Morgenthau Plan, was included.
The Plan Marshall proposed to Congress was limited in years (four) and money ($17 billion). Congress enacted the European Recovery Act in April 1948. Charles L. Mee, Jr., the author of a book on the Plan, reported, “Of all who testified [before Congress] none made a greater impression than General Marshall. He was, as President James Conant of Harvard said of him, the only American in history who could be compared with George Washington…He [was] a warmly revered man, a national monument.” (Marshall had served our country as U.S. Army Chief of Staff (when the air force was part of the Army) from 1939 through all of World War II.)
From 1948 to 1951 the United States spent $13 billion (25% under the $17 billion budget). To help you gauge this amount, in 2009 dollars this would be equivalent to between $104 and 117 billion, GDP in 1948 was $256 billion and in 1952 it was $348, and the federal expenditures in 1948 were $30 billion and in 1952 $68 billion. The results:
• post-war poverty and starvation were reduced, nearly eliminated;
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online