During my years of writing and speaking about the harm and injustice inflicted upon the world by unending United States interventions, I’ve often been met with resentment from those who accuse me of chronicling only the negative side of US foreign policy and ignoring the many positive sides. When I ask such people to give me some examples of what they think show the virtuous face of America’s dealings with the world in modern times, one of the things they almost always mention is The Marshall Plan. Along the lines of: “After World War II, we unselfishly built up Europe economically, including our wartime enemies, and allowed them to compete with us.” Even those today who are very cynical about US foreign policy, who are quick to question the White House’s motives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, have no problem in swallowing this picture of an altruistic America of the period of 1948-1952.
After World War II, the United States, triumphant abroad and undamaged at home, saw a door wide open for world supremacy. Only the thing called “communism” stood in the way, politically, militarily, and ideologically. The entire US foreign policy establishment was mobilized to confront this “enemy”, and the Marshall Plan was an integral part of this campaign. How could it be otherwise? Anti-communism had been the principal pillar of US foreign policy from the Russian Revolution up to World War II, pausing for the war until the closing months of the Pacific campaign, when Washington put challenging communism ahead of fighting the Japanese. This return to anti-communism included the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan as a warning to the Soviets.
After the war, anti-communism continued as the leitmotif of foreign policy as naturally as if World War II and the alliance with the Soviet Union had not happened. Along with the CIA, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the Council on Foreign Relations, various corporations, and other private institutions, the Marshall Plan was one more arrow in the quiver in the remaking of Europe to suit Washington’s desires — spreading the capitalist gospel (to counter strong postwar tendencies towards socialism); opening markets to provide new customers for US corporations (a major reason for helping to rebuild the European economies; e.g., almost a billion dollars of tobacco, at 1948 prices, spurred by US tobacco interests); pushing for the creation of the Common Market and NATO as integral parts of the West European bulwark against the alleged Soviet threat; suppressing the left all over Western Europe, most notably sabotaging the Communist Parties in France and Italy in their bids for legal, non-violent, electoral victory. Marshall Plan funds were secretly siphoned off to finance this last endeavor, and the promise of aid to a country, or the threat of its cutoff, was used as a bullying club; indeed, France and Italy would certainly have been exempted from receiving aid if they had not gone along with the plots to exclude the communists.
The CIA also skimmed large amounts of Marshall Plan funds to covertly maintain cultural institutions, journalists, and publishers, at home and abroad, for the heated and omnipresent propaganda of the Cold War; the selling of the Marshall Plan to the American public and elsewhere was entwined with fighting “the red menace”. Moreover, in its covert operations, CIA personnel at times used the Marshall Plan as cover, and one of the Plan’s chief architects, Richard Bissell, then moved to the CIA, stopping off briefly at the Ford Foundation, a long time conduit for CIA covert funds; one big happy family.
The Marshall Plan imposed all kinds of restrictions on the recipient countries, all manner of economic and fiscal criteria which had to be met, designed for a wide open return to free enterprise. The US had the right to control not only how Marshall Plan dollars were spent, but also to approve the expenditure of an equivalent amount of the local currency, giving Washington substantial power over the internal plans and programs of the European states; welfare programs for the needy survivors of the war were looked upon with disfavor by the United States; even rationing smelled too much like socialism and had to go or be scaled down; nationalization of industry was even more vehemently opposed by Washington. The great bulk of Marshall Plan funds returned to the United States, or never left, to purchase American goods, making American corporations among the chief beneficiaries.
It could be seen as more a joint business operation between governments, with contracts written by Washington lawyers, than an American “handout”; often it was a business arrangement between American and European ruling classes, many of the latter fresh from their service to the Third Reich, some of the former as well; or it was an arrangement between Congressmen and their favorite corporations to export certain commodities, including a lot of military goods. Thus did the Marshall Plan lay the foundation for the military industrial complex as a permanent feature of American life.
It is very difficult to find, or put together, a clear, credible description of how the Marshall Plan was principally responsible for the recovery in each of the 16 recipient nations. The opposing view, no less clear, is that the Europeans — highly educated, skilled and experienced — could have recovered from the war on their own without an extensive master plan and aid program from abroad, and indeed had already made significant strides in this direction before the Plan’s funds began flowing. Marshall Plan funds were not directed primarily toward feeding individuals or building individual houses, schools, or factories, but at strengthening the economic superstructure, particularly the iron-steel and power industries. The period was in fact marked by deflationary policies, unemployment and recession. The one unambiguous outcome was the full restoration of the propertied class.
Manure of the Taurus
The US Interests Section in Havana has been flashing electronic messages on its building for the benefit of Cubans passing by. One recent message said that Forbes, the weekly financial magazine, had named Fidel Castro the world’s seventh-wealthiest head of state, with a fortune estimated at $900 million. This has shocked Cuban passersby, as well it should in a socialist society that claims to have the fairest income distribution in the world. Are you not also shocked, dear readers?
What’s that? You want to know exactly what Forbes based their rankings on? Well, as it turns out, two months before the Interests Section flashed their message, Forbes had already stated that the estimates were “more art than science”. “In the past,” wrote the magazine, “we have relied on a percentage of Cuba’s gross domestic product to estimate Fidel Castro’s fortune. This year, we have used more traditional valuation methods, comparing state-owned assets Castro is assumed to control with comparable publicly traded companies.” The magazine gave as examples state-owned companies such as retail and pharmaceutical businesses and a convention center. So there you have it. It was based on nothing. Inasmuch as George W. “controls” the US military shall we assign the value of all the Defense Department assets to his personal wealth? And Tony Blair’s wealth includes the BBC, does it not?
Another message flashed by the Interests Section is: “In a free country you don’t need permission to leave the country. Is Cuba a free country?” This too is an attempt to blow smoke in people’s eyes. It implies that there’s some sort of blanket government restriction or prohibition of travel abroad for Cubans, a limitation on their “freedom”. However, the reality is a lot more complex and a lot less Orwellian. The main barrier to overseas travel for most Cubans is financial; they simply can’t afford it. If they have the money and a visa they can normally fly anywhere, but it’s very difficult to obtain a visa from the United States unless you’re part of the annual immigration quota. Cuba being a poor country concerned with equality tries to make sure that citizens complete their military service or their social service. Before emigrating abroad, trained professionals are supposed to give something back to the country for their free education, which includes medical school and all other schools. And Cuba, being unceasingly threatened by a well-known country to the north, must take precautions: Certain people in the military and those who have worked in intelligence or have other sensitive information may also need permission to travel; this is something that is found to one extent or another all over the world.
Americans need permission to travel to Cuba. Is the United States a free country? Washington makes it so difficult for its citizens to obtain permission to travel to Cuba it’s virtually a prohibition. I have been rejected twice by the US Treasury Department.
Americans on the “No-fly list” can’t go anywhere.
All Americans need permission to leave the country. The permission slip — of which one must have a sufficient quantity — is green and bears the picture of a US president.
ADC Chickens Out
In March I agreed to speak on a panel at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee convention, to be held in June in Washington, DC. The panel is called: “America, Empire, Democracy and the Middle East”. Then someone at the ADC apparently realized that I was the person whose book had been recommended by Osama bin Laden in January, and they tried to cancel my appearance with phoney excuses. I objected, calling them cowards; they changed their minds, then changed their mind yet again, telling me finally “all of the seats on the journalism panel, for the ADC convention, are filled.” Two months after our agreement, they had discovered that all the panel seats were filled.
American Muslims are very conservative. 72% of them voted for Bush in 2000, before they got a taste of a police state. Now, they’re still very conservative, plus afraid.
University officials are also conservative, or can easily be bullied by campus conservative organizations which are part of a well-financed national campaign (think David Horowitz) to attack the left on campus, be they faculty, students or outside speakers. Since the bin Laden recommendation, January 19, I have not been offered a single speaking engagement on any campus; a few students have tried to arrange something for me but were not successful at convincing school officials. This despite January-May normally being the most active period for me and other campus speakers.
WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.
He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com