It doesn’t take long for newcomers to recognize Gen. George C. Marshall’s impact on Vancouver.
There is Marshall Park and Marshall Community Center and Marshall Elementary School and the Marshall Leadership Awards, presented by The Historic Trust. And as a recent Columbian article by reporter Lauren Ellenbecker detailed, Marshall House is the majestic jewel of Officers Row.
All of which represents an oversized influence for a man who lived in Vancouver for two years, from 1936-38. During that time, he commanded the Army’s Department of the Columbia and oversaw the region’s Civilian Conservation Corps.
“The more attention we can bring to this type of leadership and hope to inspire future generations — to observe those lessons learned — I think we’re better off for it,” Don Sockle, a Marshall House docent, told The Columbian.
With Saturday representing the 142nd anniversary of Marshall’s birth and with the article about Marshall House, such attention seems warranted. It also seems necessary for assessing the U.S. role in the world.
Columnist and historian George Will, after all, has called Marshall the greatest American of the 20th century. Others have ranked him as the most significant non-president in the nation’s history. While Vancouver is merely a footnote in a long life of significance and influence, the city is right to proudly embrace its connection to Marshall, who died in 1959.
Marshall’s time in Vancouver was sandwiched between meaningful roles in World War I and World War II, working as a military planner rather than commanding troops in the field.
But it is his role in shaping the post-war global community for which Marshall is best known. He was named U.S. secretary of state in January 1947, under President Harry Truman, and became the architect of what is known as the Marshall Plan.
On June 5, 1947, Marshall delivered a commencement address at Harvard University that heralded a worldwide transformation. Literally. While it often is tempting to overstate events of the past, it is nearly impossible to overestimate the impact the Marshall Plan has had upon global history.
With Europe reeling from World War II, Marshall said, “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.”
In March 1948, Congress approved the European Recovery Program, which over five years provided $13 billion in aid to 16 European countries — an amount equivalent to about $160 billion in today’s dollars. The money helped rebuild Europe, fortifying economies that had been destroyed by the war and establishing partnerships that have bolstered both the United States and her allies.
The Marshall Plan, coinciding with the formation of the collective security system that is NATO, was crucial to establishing American preeminence in global affairs and ushering in generations of peaceful relations among the world’s democracies.
That seems pertinent as Congress questions the efficacy of providing aid to Ukraine in its defense against Russia. As Marshall said regarding post-war Europe: “Any assistance that this government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative.”
Indeed, there are lessons from Marshall’s career of action and diplomacy, as a soldier and a statesman, that remain important today. And Vancouver can take pride in its small role in that.