The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe
By Greg Behrman
Free Press, $27.00
World War II took a toll of 36.5 million people and on V-E day there were 13 million displaced persons or DPs. More than 50 percent of the housing in major cities and in some cities 80 percent, had been reduced to rubble. In London 3.5 million homes had been destroyed. In Berlin 75 percent of buildings were uninhabitable. In Europe, 100 million people survived on 1,500 calories a day.
To repair such devastation would be a monumental task on its own terms. To achieve a full recovery while the forces of Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, a genocidal Georgian also known as Stalin, did all in his power to sabotage the effort, is more remarkable still.
When Stalin is being rehabilitated in Russia, and when leftist authors such as Naomi Klein are portraying Stalin's USSR as merely "authoritarian" and "contemptuous of pluralism," it pays to see what other authors say about Stalin before venturing too far. If someone gets Stalin wrong, one can have little confidence in the author's take on the Marshall Plan or anything else.
"Stalin employed a scale of ruthlessness unseen in human history," writes Greg Behrman, the Henry Kissinger fellow for foreign policy at the Aspen Institute. "He uprooted families and entire communities, sending dissenters or undesirables by the tens of million to the gulags. . . the number of deaths caused by Stalin's policies before World War II numbered between 17 and 22 million."
There's more to it, but the author is no revisionist. The Most Noble Adventure, also does a fine job of showing how Stalin deployed his ruthlessness against a recovery plan in which he could have participated. The Marshall Plan, says Behrman, was "was rooted in U.S. security and economic interests." However, it was not against any nation but "against hunger, poverty and chaos." In today's terms it was inclusive. All could participate, even Russia.
"The United States did not seek to dictate terms to participating countries. On the contrary, it wished to empower and embolden Europe to assume control of its own destiny." The Marshall Plan, Behrman further explains, "is best viewed as a partnership in which the United States and Europe played co-leads." The emphasis here, is on the American side, led by the "organizer of victory," Gen. George Marshall, who had supported the decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan. The author also profiles such key players as Harry Truman, Will Clayton, Arthur Vandenberg, Richard Bissell, Paul Hoffman and W. Averell Harriman. Behrman understands that they were working under adverse conditions.
"The Soviet Union's role in the war gave Communism a moral sheen, a powerful aura of progress and momentum." And as British historian A.J.P. Taylor said at the time, "nobody believes in the American way of life – that is, in private enterprise." Henry Wallace, the former Roosevelt vice-president, scorned the "martial plan" and wanted to hand over $50 billion to the USSR, then conducting more purges and show trials.
"The Marshall Plan was an undertaking that sought to defy the very laws of history, as Stalin saw them," says Behrman. Once Stalin rejected the Plan, he launched a campaign of sabotage and destabilization that did not amount to some street skirmish. By Behrman's count, French coal production declined by two million tons and the country lost $16 million a day. Communist parties launched violent strikes and Stalin blockaded Berlin. Czechoslovakia fell to a Stalinist coup in 1948 and the next year Stalin acquired the atomic bomb. In 1950, he gave the green light for Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea. None of it would prevent the Marshall Plan from accomplishing its objective.
Behrman notes that by June 1950, Western Europe's industrial production ran at an all-time peak, 24 percent higher than prewar production. Agricultural production also set records, exports 20 percent higher, and intra-European trade increased to 17 percent above pre-war level. By the time it ended in 1951, the author says, "the Marshall Plan and NATO had decisively secured Western Europe in the U.S. orbit. . . Soviet domination of Eurasia was no longer a viable threat. The objective for which the war had been fought was achieved and the Marshall Plan helped to realize it."
Behrman supplies a photo section that includes a cartoon of Stalin shooting a basketball. The author has an eye for details that have escaped notice, such as the state of the U.S. armed forces in 1939, when the Army had fewer than 200,000 men and ranked nineteenth in the world, behind Portugal and Bulgaria. He charts how the Soviets pillaged Europe, in one case ripping off an entire optical factory in Jena, along with 7,000 skilled workers. He also notes that "occupying Soviet forces raped as many as two million German women," a massive sex crime ignored by feminists and women's studies departments.
Greg Behrman is also the author of The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time. Readers may suspect that he will use the Marshall Plan to call for massive U.S. spending in this area. He does not do so to his great credit, but The Most Noble Adventure could well inspire national efforts on many fronts, including Iraq.
It was not the author's intent, but this book provides readers with an ideal opportunity to compare Stalin's critique of capitalism and U.S. foreign policy with that of the current left. As in Animal Farm, readers may look from one to the other and wonder which is which.