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During the winter of 1946-47 the worst in memory Europe seemed on the verge of collapse For the victors in World War II there were no spoils In London coal shortages left only enough fuel to heat and light homes for a few hours a day In Berlin the vanquished were freezing and starving to death On the walls of the bombed-out Reichstag someone scrawled Blessed are the dead for their hands do not freeze European cities were seas of rubble--500 million cubic yards of it in Germany alone Bridges were broken canals were choked rails were twisted Across the Continent darkness was rising Americans for the most part were not paying much attention Having won World War II most Americans just wanted to go to the movies and drink Coca-Cola said Averell Harriman who had been FDRs special envoy to London and Moscow during the second world war But in Washington and New York a small group of men feared the worst Most of them were like Harriman Wall Street bankers and diplomats with close ties to Europe and a long view of Americas role in the world They suspected that in the Kremlin Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was waiting like a vulture Only the United States they believed could save Europe from chaos and communism With sureness of purpose some luck and a little convincing these men persuaded Congress to help rescue Europe with 133 billion in economic assistance over three years That sum--more than 100 billion in todays dollars or about six times what America now spends annually on foreign aid--seems unthinkable today The European Recovery Program better known as the Marshall Plan was an extraordinary act of strategic generosity How a few policymakers persuaded their countrymen to pony up for the sake of others is a tale of low politics and high vision Yet their achievement is recalled by many scholars as a historical blip a moment of virtue before
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