By Jim Garamone
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States will continue to build on the legacy of George C. Marshall and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO’s system of collective defense during his speech Wednesday at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
“The U.S. commitment to our NATO Article 5 security guarantee is ironclad,” Mattis said during his speech, part of an event marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Marshall Plan – a plan that saved millions of Europeans from starvation and Soviet domination. Under Article 5, an attack on one NATO partner nation is considered an attack on all.
The Marshall Plan initiative, named after American statesman and soldier George C. Marshall, provided more than $13 billion in economic support to help rebuild western European economies after the end of World War II.
George C. Marshall: U.S. Statesman, Soldier
Marshall was born on Dec. 31, 1880, and died on Oct. 16, 1959. He was commissioned an Army officer out of the Virginia Military Institute and fought in World War I. He served in the Army through the 1920s and saw the effects of the Great Depression on his countrymen.
Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, beginning the European portion of World War II. Marshall became Army chief of staff the same day. He was one of the architects of victory in the war, building and deploying a 10-million-man Army that worked in conjunction with the Allies to defeat dictatorships that brought untold suffering to the world.
After Marshall left active duty, he served as the Secretary of State, and in that capacity he proposed his Marshall Plan, which he announced during a commencement speech at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1947.
The war had ravaged Europe. Fully 14 percent of the pre-war population was dead or displaced, Mattis noted. “Our nations experienced the horrors that can happen when freedom is imperiled, when peaceful pursuits of civilized life are suspended, when deterrence fails and our societies are engulfed in total war,” the secretary said.
Under the plan, the United States spent $13 billion to feed the continent and invest in building the economies of these shattered nations so they could provide for their citizens.
Marshall’s vision saw a Europe that was “a peaceful, industrious, and prosperous continent, free from tyranny, possessing the military strength to defend itself from aggression,” Mattis said.
Security in Europe
But it was more. It was the American realization that security in Europe — indeed around the world — was in the country’s best interests.
“Longing for a safer future, the Greatest Generation saw their own security in the security of others, the secretary said. “They had the courage to recognize all collective efforts had to be taken to avoid repeating mistakes that open the door to war.”
He added, “And, should freedom be threatened and war truly unavoidable, then all efforts must be taken to bring war to a decisive end as swiftly as possible.”
The post-World War II generation saw the need for collective defense; they saw the need to work with allies, and they saw the interconnected aspects of diplomacy, economics and military power to shape the world, Mattis said.
“Marshall knew history swings on a hinge,” the defense secretary said. “The Marshall Plan permitted hundreds of millions to keep their humanity, confident of basic social order: food, security, rule of law and essential political freedom.”
By 1967, the per capita gross domestic product of Britain, France, Italy and Germany had more than doubled, he noted.
European Partnership, Leadership
The plan required European partnership and leadership — it could not be imposed by the United States or international organizations, Mattis said.
And they did, building on the Marshall Plan to create the institutions that have underwritten stability and peace in Europe since World War II, the defense secretary said.
“Europe transformed from a security consumer into a security provider, something Marshall ardently desired, for he never envisioned that America would carry this burden alone,” Mattis said. “He knew from experience it had to be shared, both its benefits and its burdens.”
In the 72 years since the end of World War II, America’s European allies have contributed to large-scale, U.S.-led global operations, he said.
“At peak contributions, 39,000 allies fought with the United States in Afghanistan, and 59,000 allies fought with us in Iraq,” Mattis said. “We must not allow the years passed since 1947 to blind us to reality. For those of us who grew up with freedom from fear, starvation and the burden of world war, we cannot turn away from our responsibility to pass these same freedoms intact to the next generation.”
Shared history and commitment mean something, the secretary said, and spoke of the solidarity of the allies when the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin in 1948. He spoke of the sacrifice of a young U.S. Air Force officer — Capt. Billy Phelps — who died when his plane crashed delivering food and coal to the beleaguered city.
“A German boy named Wolfgang Samuel saw it happen,” Mattis said. “Wolfgang wrote that Phelps’ plane, ‘Fell like a rock out of the sky.’”
The two American pilots were killed, the secretary said.
“And then, the child had a flash of insight: ‘Only three years ago they were fighting against my country, and now they were dying for us. I wondered what made these people do the things they did?’” Mattis said.
He added, “Captain Phelps knew he owed future generations the same freedom he had. And, what young Wolfgang, a little German kid, saw that cold December night in 1948 we can see — clearly — today in 2017: We can see foreigners putting their lives on the line for others; whether Captain Billy Phelps of the Berlin Airlift, or the men and women of NATO’s enhanced forward presence.”
European Reassurance Initiative
The secretary mentioned the U.S. commitment to the European Reassurance Initiative, which grew to $4.8 billion in the fiscal 2018 budget request and the continuation of the U.S. participation in NATO’s forward presence through 2020.
“Beyond any words in the newspapers, you can judge America by such actions,” he said. “This is who we are. We — America, Germany, Europe, the West — we risk life so a child in Berlin can eat; we hunt terrorists in the dark so they cannot murder innocents at concerts. Our nations stand together, democratic islands of stability in a world awash with change.”
The Marshall Center’s faculty, staff, students and alumni carry the legacy of this center’s namesake, Mattis said. “For you students, when you return home, you have a golden opportunity to operate history’s hinge to close the door to war, exercising your moral authority and your generation’s responsibility to protect freedom,” he said. “Western values — respect for a rules-based international order and for national sovereignty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the dignity of the human person are worth defending.”
Those values are under attack on the continent. Russia is trying to assert itself to undermine the goal of a continent whole, free and at peace, the secretary said.
Relations With Russia
“The United States seeks to engage with Russia. So does the NATO alliance,” he said. “But Russia must know both what we stand for and, equally, what we will not tolerate: we stand for freedom and we will never surrender the freedom of our people or the values of our alliance that we hold dear.”
The secretary said there are millions of discouraged people in Russia in need of inspiration. “Their leader making mischief beyond Russian borders will not restore their fortunes or rekindle their hope,” he said.
While the NATO allies will meet aggression with determination, deterrence and purpose, the alliance will leave the door open for a Russia that changes its stripes and “honors its people enough to abide by international law and so win for them the peace we all offer,” Mattis said.
NATO is doing its part, he said, deploying troops to the frontline states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to demonstrate the alliance’s resolve.
“This is a profound example of a united NATO,” Mattis said. “Our alliance has long been a stabilizing force in Europe. It helps preserve the rules-based international order. And it serves to keep the peace and defend the shared values that grew out of the enlightenment.”
The world is at another hinge of history, Mattis said.
“Our hands rest purposefully on history’s door and it depends on us to push it in the right direction,” he said.
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