The Marshall Plan

Essential Question: Was the Marshall Plan more helpful to the United States or Western Europe?

Common Core Standards: RH1, RH6, RH8


This lesson is designed to be part of a broader Cold War unit plan. Students should have a basic knowledge of the outlines of the Cold War in terms of major issues and geography. It is based primarily on a series of primary sources maintained by the Library of Congress.

Several online sources provide some good background knowledge for teachers:

The Marshall Plan - The George C. Marshall Foundation

For European Recovery: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan - Library of Congress


Students will determine the essential nature and important effects of the Marshall Plan by writing a newspaper editorial from either an American or Western European perspective on the importance of the Marshall Plan.


Imagine borrowed your sister’s phone and lost it. Both of you know that if anyone finds out, you will both be in trouble: you for losing it and her for letting you borrow it. Your sister (let’s assume she likes you) works just as hard as you do looking for the phone.

Is she helping you or helping herself? Can she be doing both at the same time? Does it matter?

Learning Activities:

The following sources could be distributed as jigsaw exercise, a gallery walk, or as a series of handouts. They could also be presented in a PowerPoint presentation with a guided notes sheet or graphic organizer. The goal is to have the students explore the Essential Question as a class or in small groups.

1. Concerns about Western Europe after WWII

Officials in the State Department were very worried that the economic dislocation in Western Europe after WWII presented the Soviet Union with an inroad. Have students read this portion of a memo from George Kennan of the Policy Planning Staff to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, 23 May 1947:

“The Planning Staff recognizes that the communists are exploiting the European crisis and that further communist successes would create serious danger to American security. It considers, however, that American effort in aid to Europe should be directed not to the combatting of communism as such but to the restoration of the economic health and vigor of European society. It should aim, in other words, to combat not communism, but the economic maladjustment which makes European society vulnerable to, exploitation by any and all totalitarian movements and which Russian communism is now exploiting. The Planning Staff believes that American plans should 'be drawn to this purpose and that this should be frankly stated to the American public.”

2. Marshall Announces the Marshall Plan is external)

Press Release Issued by the Department of State, June 4,1947

Remarks by the Honorable George C. Marshall, Secretary of State, at Harvard University on June 5,1947.

The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products - principally from America-are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character.

. . .

Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

3. Western European countries describe how much they need economic aid.

(From: Committee of European Economic Co-Operation, Vol. I, General Report, Paris, 21 September 1947)

quote from Committee of European Economic Co-Operation

4. Worry about the delay in getting the Plan passed by Congress.

Cartoon details and background information:

Cartoon details and background information

Be sure students understand that the bear was a traditional symbol of Russia.

5. Map of countries receiving Marshall Plan aid:

Western Europe's Recovery map

6. A Dutch View

From the Library of Congress:

“Many European governments produced materials to explain the Marshall Plan to their citizens, such as this booklet printed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands. The text and artwork are by Jo Spier (1900-1978), a Dutch, Jewish artist and writer who had been imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II and who emigrated to the U.S. in 1951.

A note in this English edition states that the original Dutch version, published in November 1949, was distributed to employers and employees, professional groups, teachers, students, and other groups in the Netherlands. It reached 2.5 million readers out of a total population of 10 million, a quarter of the nation.

Jo Spier. "The Marshall Plan and You." The Hague, the Netherlands: Ministry of Economic Affairs, 1949, p.5. 
Averell Harriman Papers, Manuscript Division. 
Used by permission of the government of the Netherlands.”

7.  Belgian metal works before and after Marshall Plan.

Belgian metal works before and after Marshall Plan (Harry S. Truman Library)

8. An American View

Because Americans feared that after World War II the financial troubles and unemployment of the 1930s could recur, increasing prosperity in the U.S. was one goal of the Marshall Plan. As a way of boosting exports, the plan had wide appeal to American business people, bankers, workers, and farmers.

Soon after passage of the Foreign Assistance Act, Kiplinger Magazine, a publication for business people, printed a guide to show them how to benefit from the plan. "The Marshall Plan is very much a business plan. . . ," it concluded. "At its root is an office and factory and warehouse job. The Marshall Plan means work, and you will be one of the workers." During the years of the Marshall Plan, when much of the money European participants received was spent on U.S.-produced food and manufactured goods, the American economy flourished.

"How to Do Business under the Marshall Plan." Reprinted from Kiplinger Magazine, Washington, D.C., May 1948, cover. 
Averell Harriman Papers, Manuscript Division. 
Used by permission of Kiplinger Magazine.


If you don’t have time for the writing assignment to close the lesson, you can have the students write one piece of evidence that the Marshall Plan helped the United States and one piece of evidence that helped Western Europe.

Additional Primary Sources: is external)

This has an extensive list of early Cold War primary sources, including an entire section devoted to the Marshall Plan.

Further Reading:

The Marshall Plan, by Michael J. Hogan

Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America's Coming of Age as a Superpower, by Nicolaus Mills