George C. Marshall, one of the great American statesmen of this century, played a crucial role in international affairs from 1939 to 1951 -- the years that shaped the second half of the twentieth century. Until 1945, he served in the United States Army. As Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945 he was, in the words of Winston Churchill, the "true Architect of Victory" in the West European arena of World War II.
In a succession of positions of great responsibility between 1945 and 1951, Marshall devoted his efforts to the cause of international peace. He spent a year in China from 1945 - 46 as President Truman's representative, attempting -- without success to bring about a resolution to the conflict between the nationalists and the communists. As Secretary of State from 1947 to 1949, he had the vision to make the Marshall Plan the vehicle for the economic reconstruction of Europe.
As Europeans endured unemployment, dislocation, and starvation in the wake of World War II's devastation, the Marshall Plan embodied Marshall's conviction that economic recovery and stability were vital underpinnings to the successful rebuilding of a democratic Europe. Marshall's belief that America's security and continued economic growth were inextricably linked to Europe's well-being, formed the cornerstone of his Plan.
With the assistance of the Marshall Plan, Western Europe began to recover from the ravages of war. Marshall's effort to include the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in this grand design was rejected by Moscow. As Western Europe rebuilt, Europe was divided both economically and ideologically, and conflicting politics soon laid the ground for another war -- The Cold War.
When it became evident that the gap between Eastern and Western Europe would not be bridged, and that the Western European states feared for their safety, Marshall was one of the leaders who created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which would ensure the security of the West. The establishment of NATO in 1949 achieved a balance of power in Europe that endured until the end of the Cold War.
In his last official position, as Secretary of Defense from 1950-51, Marshall oversaw the formation of an international force, under the United Nations, that turned back the North Korean invasion of South Korea.
Although he spent most of his life in military service, Marshall is best remembered as a true internationalist who sought peace for the world through cooperation and understanding among nations. It was a fitting tribute to a career devoted to this ideal that Marshall received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1953. He is the only soldier ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The principles of Marshall's vision for post-World War II Europe are those which led to the establishment of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in 1993.
In Graduation exercises at the Marshall Center in 1996, then Secretary of Defense William J. Perry said , "The Marshall Plan (1949) offered Europe a new passage toward reconstruction and renewal...Today we have a second chance to make Marshall's vision a reality; to build a Europe united in peace, freedom and democracy."