Most of us don't remember much about commencement speeches at graduations ceremonies. But 73 years ago this month, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall gave the commencement speech at Harvard College. We aren't exaggerating by saying his remarks that day changed the course of history.
In fact, there are certainly elements of his speech that we could use to address the challenges of today.
Marshall spoke in the wake of World War II, in which the United States suffered the loss of more than 400,000 Americans. But European countries lost millions of citizens, and their cities and economies were destroyed.
Marshall talked about how focusing only on our own recovery was shortsighted. Europe could not rebuild without assistance, and allowing anarchy to rule would allow Communists and other enemies of America to flourish. In the long term, the rebuilding of Europe would determine the future of the United States.
Eventually the "Marshall Plan" was adopted by Congress, signed by the president and authorized about $12 billion to be transferred to Western European countries (the aid would be the equivalent of $128 billion today).
The Soviet Union declined any aid from the U.S. and blocked any aid to Eastern Bloc countries like Poland and Hungary. But the countries that did accept aid became strong allies of the United States, both in political terms and in trade.
Marshall ended with the address with words that may apply today. They may seem strange in an era of political isolation, but they are worth repeating:
"And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment...What are the reactions of the people? What are the justifications of those reactions? What are the sufferings? What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done?"
-- Jon M. Hunter