Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan in The Hague
Thank you very much, Mr. Sedee, for sharing your wonderful story. I forgive you for stealing the matchbook from the White House. [Laughter] In fact, just before we came in, I confess that I had heard he did such a thing, so without theft, I brought him some cufflinks and some Oval Office candy for his grandchildren today. [Laughter]
Your Majesty, Prime Minister, fellow heads of state and leaders of government, ministers parliamentarian, Members of Congress, to the youth leaders from Europe and America, to all of you who had anything to do with or were ever touched by the Marshall plan. And I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to two distinguished Americans, former Ambassadors General Vernon Walters and Arthur Hartman, who worked on the Marshall plan as young men, who have come here to be with us today.
This is a wonderful occasion. We are grateful to the Queen, the Government, and the people of The Netherlands for hosting us and for commemorating these 50 years. The words of Mr. Sedee reach out to us across the generations, no matter where we come from or what language we speak. They warn us of what can happen when people turn against one another and inspire us with what we can achieve when we all pull together. That is a message that we should emblazon in our memories.
Just as we honor the great accomplishments of 50 years ago, as the Prime Minister said so eloquently, we must summon the spirit of the Marshall plan for the next 50 years and beyond to build a Europe that is democratic, at peace, and undivided for the first time in history, a Europe that does not repeat the darkest moments of the 20th century but instead fulfills the brightest promise of the 21st.
Here in the citadel of a prosperous, tolerant Dutch democracy, we can barely imagine how different Europe was just 50 years ago. The wonderful pictures we saw, with the music, helped us to imagine: Some 30,000 dead still lay buried beneath the sea of rubble in Warsaw; 100,000 homes had been destroyed in Holland; Germany in ruins; Britain facing a desperate shortage of coal and electric power; factories crippled all across Europe; trade paralyzed; millions fearing starvation.
Across the Atlantic, the American people were eager to return to the lives they had left behind during the war. But they heeded the call of a remarkable generation of American leaders, General Marshall, President Truman, Senator Vandenberg, who wanted to work with likeminded leaders in Europe to work for Europe's recovery as they had fought for its survival. They knew that, as never before, Europe's fate and America's future were joined.
The Marshall plan offered a cure, not a crutch. It was never a handout; it was always a hand up. It said to Europe, if you will put your divisions behind you, if you will work together to help yourselves, then America will work with you.
The British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, called the Marshall plan a lifeline to sinking men, bringing hope where there was none. From the Arctic Sea to the Mediterranean, European nations grabbed that lifeline, cooperating as never before on a common program of recovery. The task was not easy, but the hope they shared was more powerful than their differences.
The first ship set sail from Texas to France with 19,000 tons of wheat. Soon, on any given day, a convoy of hope was heading to Europe with fuel, raw materials, and equipment. By the end of the program in 1952, the Marshall plan had pumped $13 billion into Europe's parched economies. That would be the equivalent of $88 billion today. It provided the people of Europe with the tools they needed to rebuild their shattered lives. There were nets for Norwegian fishermen, wool for Austrian weavers, tractors for French and Italian farmers, machines for Dutch entrepreneurs.
For a teenage boy in Germany, Marshall aid was the generous hand that helped lift his homeland from its ruinous past. He still recalls the American trucks driving onto the schoolyard, bringing soup that warmed hearts and hands. That boy grew up to be a passionate champion of freedom and unity in Europe and a great and cherished friend of America. He became the first Chancellor of a free and unified Germany. In his good life and fine work, Helmut Kohl has come to symbolize both the substance and the spirit of the Marshall plan. Thank you.
Today we see the success of the Marshall plan and the nations it helped to rebuild. But more, we see it in the relations it helped to redefine. The Marshall plan transformed the way America related to Europe and, in so doing, transformed the way European nations related to each other. It planted the seeds of institutions that evolved to bind Western Europe together, from the OECD, the European Union, and NATO. It paved the way for reconciliation of age-old differences.
Marshall's vision, as has been noted, embraced all of Europe. But the reality of his time did not. Stalin barred Europe's Eastern half, including some of our staunchest allies during World War II, from claiming their seats at the table, shutting them out of Europe's recovery, closing the door on their freedom. But the shackled nations never lost faith, and the West never accepted the permanence of their fate. And at last, through the efforts of brave men and women determined to live free lives, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell.
Now the dawn of new democracies is lighting the way to a new Europe in a new century, a time in which America and Europe must complete the noble journey that Marshall's generation began, and this time with no one left behind. I salute Prime Minister Kok for his leadership and the leadership his nation is giving to ensure that this time no one will be left behind. [Applause] Thank you.
Twenty-first century Europe will be a better Europe, first, because it will be both free and undivided; second, because it will be united not by the force of arms but by the possibilities of peace. We must remember, however, that today's possibilities are not guarantees. Though walls have come down, difficulties persist: in the ongoing struggle of newly free nations to build vibrant economies and resilient democracies; in the vulnerability of those who fear change and have not yet felt its benefits; to the appeals of extreme nationalism, hatred, and division; in the clouded thinking of those who still see the European landscape as a zero-sum game in terms of the past; and in the new dangers we face and cannot defeat alone, from the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorism, to organized crime, to environmental degradation.
Our generation, like the one before us, must choose. Without the threat of cold war, without the pain of economic ruin, without the fresh memory of World War II's slaughter, it is tempting to pursue our private agendas, to simply sit back and let history unfold. We must resist that temptation. And instead, we must set out with resolve to mold the hope of this moment into a history we can be proud of.
We who follow the example of the generation we honor today must do just that. Our mission is clear: We must shape the peace, freedom, and prosperity they made possible into a common future where all our people speak the language of democracy; where they have the right to control their lives and the chance to pursue their dreams; where prosperity reaches clear across the Continent and states pursue commerce, not conquest; where security is the province of all free nations working together; where no nation in Europe is ever again excluded against its will from joining our alliance of values; and where we join together to help the rest of the world reach the objectives we hold so dear.
The United States and Europe have embraced this mission. We're advancing across a map of modern miracles. With support from America and the European Union, Europe's newly free nations are laying the cornerstones of democracy. With the help of the USIA's Voice of America, today's celebration is being heard freely by people all across this great continent.
In Prague, where listening to Western broadcasts was once a criminal offense, Radio Free Europe has made a new home and an independent press is flourishing. In Bucharest, democracy has overcome distrust, as Romanians and ethnic Hungarians for the very first time are joined in a democratic coalition government. Thank you, sir.
From Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, the people of Russia went to the polls last summer in what all of us who watched it know was a fully democratic, open, national election.
We must meet the challenge now of making sure this surge of democracy endures. The newly free nations must persevere with the difficult work of reform. America and Western Europe must continue with concrete support for their progress, bolstering judicial systems to fight crime and corruption creating checks and balances against arbitrary power, helping to install the machinery of free and fair elections so that they can be repeated over and over again, strengthening free media and civic groups to promote accountability, bringing good government closer to the people so that they can have an actual voice in decisions affecting their lives.
We have also helped new democracies transform their broken economies and move from aid to trade and investment. In Warsaw, men and women who once stood on line for food now share in the fruits of Europe's fastest growing economy, where more than 9 of 10 retail businesses rests in private hands. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the international financial institutions have channeled to the new democracies some $50 billion to strengthen the foundations of their market economies. And as markets have emerged, another $45 billion in private investment has flowed from places like Boston and London to help support enterprises from Budapest to Lvov.
Now, as the new democracies continue to scale the mountains of market reform, our challenge is to help them reap more fully the benefits of prosperity, working to make the business climate as stable and secure as possible, investing in their economies, sharing entrepreneurial skills, and opening the doors of institutions that enable our community to thrive.
Again let me say America salutes the European Union's commitment to expand to Central and Eastern Europe. We support this historic process and believe it should move ahead swiftly. A more prosperous Europe will be a stronger Europe and also a stronger partner for Europe's North American friends in America and Canada.
Nations that tackle tough reforms deserve to know that what they build with freedom, they can keep in security. Through NATO, the core of transatlantic security, we can do for Europe's East what we did in Europe's West: defend freedom, strengthen democracy, temper old rivalries, hasten integration, and provide a stable climate in which prosperity can grow.
We are adapting NATO to take on new missions, opening its doors to Europe's new democracies, bolstering its ties to nonmembers through a more robust Partnership For Peace, and forging a practical, lasting partnership between NATO and a democratic Russia—all these things designed to make sure that NATO remains strong, supports the coming together of Europe, and leads in meeting our new security challenges.
Yesterday in Paris, the leaders of NATO and Russia signed the historic founding act that will make us all more secure. We will consult, coordinate, and where both agree, act jointly, as we are doing in Bosnia now.
Now, consider the extraordinary milestone this represents. For decades, the fundamental security concern in Europe was the confrontation between East and West. For the first time, a new NATO and a new Russia have agreed to work as partners to meet challenges to their common security in a new and undivided Europe, where no nation will define its greatness in terms of its ability to dominate its neighbors. Now we must meet the challenge of bolstering security across outdated divides, making the NATO partnership work with Russia, continuing NATO's historic transformation.
In less than 6 weeks, NATO will meet again in Madrid to invite the first of Europe's new democracies to add their strength to the alliance. The prospect of NATO membership already has led to greater stability, for aspiring members are deepening reform and resolving the very kinds of disputes that could lead to future conflict.
The first new members will not be the last. NATO's doors must and will remain open to all those able to share the responsibilities of membership. We will strengthen the Partnership For Peace and create a new Euro-Atlantic partnership council so that other nations can deepen their cooperation with NATO and continue to prepare for membership.
But let us be clear: There are responsibilities as well. Enlargement means extending the most solemn guarantees any nation can make, a commitment to the security of another. Security and peace are not cheap. New and current allies alike must be willing to bear the burden of our ideas and our interests.
Our collective efforts in Bosnia reflect both the urgency and the promise of our mission. Where terror and tragedy once reigned, NATO troops are standing with 14 partner nations, Americans and Russians, Germans and Poles, Norwegians and Bulgarians, all in common cause to bring peace to the heart of Europe. Now we must consolidate that hard-won peace, promote political reconciliation and economic reconstruction, support the work of the International War Crimes Tribunal here in The Hague, and help the Bosnian peace make the promise of the Dayton accord real.
Today I affirm to the people of Europe, as General Marshall did 50 years ago: America stands with you. We have learned the lessons of history; we will not walk away.
No less today than five decades ago, our destinies are joined. For America, the commitment to our common future is not an option, it is a necessity. We are closing the door on the 20th century, a century that saw humanity at its worst and at its most noble. Here, today, let us dedicate ourselves to working together to make the new century a time when partnership between America and Europe lifts the lives of all the people of the world.
Let us summon the spirit of hope and renewal that the life story of Gustaaf Sedee represents. He has a son, Bert, who is a bank executive. Today, he is helping to fulfill the legacy his father so movingly described, for just as the Marshall plan made the investment that helped Holland's industry revive, Bert Sedee's bank is helping Dutch companies finance investments in Central and Eastern Europe. Just as the American people reached out to the people of his homeland, Bert Sedee and his colleagues are reaching out to the people in Slovenia, Latvia, Bosnia, and beyond.
The youngest members of the Sedee family are also in our thoughts today, Gustaaf Sedee's grandchildren, Roeland and Sander, 9 months and 1 1/2 . I wonder what they will say 50 years from today. I hope that they and all the young people listening, those who are aware of what is going on and those too young to understand it, will be able to say, "We bequeath to you 50 years of peace, freedom, and prosperity." I hope that you will have raised your sons and daughters in a Europe whose horizons are wider than its frontiers. I hope you will be able to tell your grandchildren, whose faces most of us will not live to see, that this generation rose to the challenge to be shapers of the peace. I hope that we will all do this, remembering the legacy of George Marshall and envisioning a future brighter than any, any people have ever lived.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:49 p.m. in the Hall of Knights at Binnenhof Palace. In his remarks, he referred to Gustaaf Albert Sedee, who represented The Netherlands during a visit to the White House on February 3, 1949.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan in The Hague Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/224868