About two decades ahead of the Plastic Ono Band, U.S. President Harry Truman urged the globe to give peace a chance. On April 3, 1948, he signed the European Recovery Program into law. Popularly known as The Marshall Plan, this U.S. assistance package would deliver around $13 billion from 1948-1951 to help 16 European countries get back on their feet after World War II. It was designed as humanitarian aid that would also stimulate the American economy by establishing European markets for U.S. goods. It also was intended to stabilize democratic regions to push back on any idea of expanding communism.

Secretary of State Marshall speaks at Harvard

The war that began September 1, 1939, with Germany’s invasion of Poland came to a conclusion when the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers (the U.S., Great Britain, Soviet Union, and China) September 2, 1945. The millions of casualties and disrupted agricultural production of the war years left much of Europe devastated and on the brink of famine.

This plan to overcome the destruction was first floated at an unlikely venue: The Harvard Class of 1947 graduation. There, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who was also a general, called for funding to rebuild Europe and detailed a four-year plan that the U.S. could use to step up.

Hints of Cold War

Sixteen nations, including Germany, became part of the plan, which began with sustenance items like food, fuel, and machinery. But in time the Marshall Plan helped get European industrialization in full swing, with several overachieving countries even rebounding ahead of schedule. On the downside, while Truman offered the same assistance to the USSR, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin thought it over and declined. This didn’t lead to the Cold War per se, but it was definitely an early indicator of how U.S.-USSR relations would grow icy in the coming decades. The humanitarian aspects of the Marshall Plan prevailed, though, and General Marshall was presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.