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From Germany, With a World of Commitment

June 14, 1987|Richard von Weizsaecker | Richard von Weizsaecker, president of the Federal Republic of Germany, spoke at Harvard University commencement exercises last Thursday. This article is adapted from his speech.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — On Commencement Day in June, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall addressed Harvard graduates and alumni, America and the world. His speech has gone down in the history of nations. Let us try to picture the situation then.

Two disastrous world wars lay behind us. America had decided both of them. At the end of the second world war, Europe lay in ruins. Inconceivable human pain, injustice and slaughter had occurred. Millions of Jews had become the victims of an unprecedented crime. The Poles, the Russians--and the Germans, too--were deeply suffering, as were other nations. Though there were winners and losers, they all shared the terrible burden. Europe was devastated and exhausted.

In this situation, we young people who had miraculously survived the war set about building a new life. What we wanted most were fundamental ethics. We had witnessed what happens when the human mind is distorted by manic racism, terror and violence. We had discovered that man cannot live by bread alone. Without bread, however, man cannot survive either. "First food, then morals," as Brecht said in "The Threepenny Opera."

Misery prevailed in Europe: expulsion, displacement, hunger, no production, no material resources, no prospects, little hope. In this situation Marshall announced his program. He proclaimed it without pathos, rather succinctly and soberly. His plan is unparallelled in the history of world powers in generosity, selflessness and vision. It was the work of a farsighted, highly responsible American Administration. Europe was called upon to regain its life and its political role, the decisive impetus being provided by America's material assistance.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 21, 1987 Home Edition Opinion Part 5 Page 2 Column 4 Opinion Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
An editing error in West German President Richard von Weizsaecker's article for Opinion on June 14 referred to "the late Sen. J. William Fulbright." Fulbright, while no longer in the U.S. Senate, is 82 and living in Washington.

The plan was generous: It was intended for everyone, including the enemies defeated in the recent war, not least us Germans. It was addressed to the whole of Europe, including the East. As Marshall stated, it was "directed not against any country or doctrine."

The plan was selfless: The assistance was provided with no political strings. The recipients themselves were free to decide on the distribution and use.

The plan was visionary. Great victors seldom are; they tend to carry on with their war objectives even in peacetime. They seek to ensure that defeated adversaries or weakened allies remain dependent. The happiest times in history, however, occurred whenever victors assisted everyone to recover and helped the defeated to regain their self-esteem.

America did not misuse its superiority by moral arrogance or political coercion. It did not seek to maintain dependence. Instead, the aim of the United States was to restore the confidence of the Europeans in their own strength, in their own political future. The Marshall Plan bears testimony to the strength of a great and free nation to define its own legitimate interests. America gave expression to its own dignity by respecting the dignity of other people.

Marshall was not an ideologist, but a realist. He was all too familiar with the temptation of nations to adhere to mutual prejudices instead of seriously trying to understand others. In history, this has proved to be dangerous time and again. We are facing similar dangers today.

What has become of the Marshall Plan in these 40 years? What has been achieved? What is still unfinished? What is our task ?

The first answer is quite clear: The Marshall Plan laid foundations for new life in Europe. The nations that benefitted from it are free and sovereign. They experienced an unprecedented recovery. The Marshall Plan is the most successful example to date of a policy aimed at assistance for self-help.

The plan simultaneously acted as a trigger for cooperation and growing unity. It gave rise to the European Community. It focused attention on global tasks; worldwide forms of cooperation, such as the International Monetary Fund, are the product of its economic momentum. The Marshall Plan is and will remain the most fundamental achievement of the Western world since the war.

The plan also gave decisive impetus to transatlantic partnership. George Marshall was not only concerned with practical cooperation between America and Europe. His thoughts were deeply rooted in the common stock of ideas of Europeans and Americans. They include universal human rights, cultural openness among nations, free world trade. It is these common values and goals, and not missiles, that give the North Atlantic Alliance its identity and permanence.

The alliance has worked well over the last four decades. Yet there are misgivings between America and Europe. Many Americans regard us Europeans not only as strong economic rivals, but above all as affluent egotists who constantly criticize America, but are not able or willing to think in global dimensions, to bear our fair share of burdens or to discharge our political responsibility properly. They view us as wavering partners with a provincial outlook as "Euro-wimps."

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