Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

George Marshall Exhibit Teaching Activities

Background Information | Marshall Plan Poster | Nobel Peace Prize | George Kennan | Dwight Eisenhower | Marshall Plan speech | Back to Marshall Exhibit

Background Information

Few Americans in the twentieth century have left a greater legacy to world peace than George C. Marshall (1880-1959). As chief of staff of the United States Army during World War II, it fell to Marshall to raise, train, and equip an army of several million men. It was Marshall who selected the officer corps and it was Marshall who played a leading role in planning military operations on a global scale. In the end, it was Marshall whom British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed as "the true organizer of victory."

Yet history will associate Marshall foremost as the author of the Marshall Plan. The idea of extending billions of American dollars for European economic recovery was not his alone. He was only one of many Western leaders who realized the tragic consequences of doing nothing for those war-shattered countries in which basic living conditions were deplorable and still deteriorating two years after the end of the fighting. But Marshall, more than anyone else, led the way. In an address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, Marshall, in his capacity as secretary of state, articulated the general principles of the Marshall Plan. Between 1948 and 1951, the United States contributed more than thirteen billion dollars of economic, agricultural, and technical assistance toward the recovery of free Europe. The Marshall Plan was generally acclaimed a success in its day. Moreover, it gave impetus to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and to the European Common Market. In recognition of Marshall's world leadership, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the National Portrait Gallery and the George C. Marshall Foundation have produced this exhibition, remembering Marshall and the leaders with whom he helped shape history for much of the twentieth century.

Marshall Plan Poster

Marshall Plan poster1. What are the main colors used in the poster?

2. Is the message in the poster primarily visual, verbal, or both?

3. Who do you think is the intended audience for the poster?

4. What does the Government hope the audience will do?

5. What Government purpose(s) is served by the poster?

6. The most effective posters use symbols that are unusual, simple, and direct. Is this an effective poster?

7. What do you think the phrase "All our colours to the mast" means? Why is "colours" spelled this way?

8. Design your own poster promoting the Marshall Plan.


Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel PrizeReverse of Nobel prize

The face of the medal shows a portrait of Alfred Nobel.The inscription gives the years of his birth and death in Latin - Birth-MDCCCXXXIII Death-MDCCC XCVI. The reverse side of the Peace Medal represents a group of three men forming a fraternal bond. The inscription reads: Pro pace et fraternitate gentium translated "For the peace and brotherhood of men."

1. Who created the Nobel Peace Prize? What can you find out about this person? What did this person invent? Why does that surprise you? What is the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize?

2. On the medal Alfred Nobel's years of birth and death are represented in Roman numerals? Can you translate these? Write the year you were born in Roman numerals.

3. George Marshall was the first soldier to be awarded this prize. Why do you think he received this award?

4. Who would you nominate for a Nobel Peace Prize? Why? Write a letter proposing one person as someone who should receive the award, make sure you give reasons and make your argument strong and persuasive. Design your own Nobel Peace Prize medal.


George Kennan George Kennan

Look at the magazine cover to the right. This was an unused cover for Time magazine in July, 1947. It features George Kennan.

1. What job did George Kennan have in the mid-1940s?

2. Look closely at the magazine cover. Describe what you see.

3. What are the two games pieces (the one on the left is white and the one on the right is red) supposed to represent?

4. What game is represented here and why do you think this game was chosen for this picture?

5. Research more about George Kennan

  • What was the "long telegram"
  • What was the "X-Article"
  • What was the theory of containment and why was that so important in US foreign policy?

Dwight D. Eisenhower Eisenhower

When asked by the President who should become supreme commander in 1943, Marshall in effect deferred to Eisenhower by refusing to put his own name forward. Eisenhower became the war's most visible general, the one who methodically organized the D-Day invasion of France and who ultimately spearheaded the Allied victory over Germany. Eisenhower deserved his laurels, and Marshall was the first to congratulate him. Yet both men fully understood who had laid the cornerstone for his achievements.

1. Why do you think Marshall did not put his own name forward for Supreme Commander?

2. What does this tell you about the personality and character of George Marshall?

3. Eisenhower has been described as a "protege" of Marshall, what does this mean?

Marshall Plan

In an address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947, Marshall articulated the general principles of the Marshall Plan. The European Recovery Program, as it was officially known, provided aid to war-torn Europe. Between 1948 and 1951, sixteen nations received more than thirteen billion dollars with which to improve agricultural and industrial production, and to rebuild housing, medical, and transportation facilities.

Extract from "Design for Reconstruction" Proposed Address for Secretary Marshall June, 1947, drafted May 20, 1947

"What will happen if we do not provide adequate funds and commodities for subsistence and reconstruction abroad? This, I think, is hardly questionable: what if adequate help from the United States is not forthcoming, many of our allies in the late war ... will be obliged the months to come to cease imports of food and reconstruction material. Should this happen, human want, economic collapse, political crisis, collapse of democratic institutions, growth of extremism, and perhaps loss of independence would in many countries quickly follow. Our hopes for peace and prosperity would quickly vanish. We would live in unprecedented isolation. We would live in growing poverty. We would live in growing fear."

1. How much aid was given through the Marshall Plan?

2. Who received the money and what was the money used for?

3. In the extract above what reasons are given for providing this aid?

4. According to the extract above, what would happen if the aid was not given?

5. Look at all the reasons given for providing aid, which reason do you think was the most important to the U.S. government at that time and why?

6. The Marshall Plan was also offered to countries defeated by the allies in World War II. Why do you think the US government offered aid to countries it had just defeated? Compare and contrast the American attitude and policy after World War I to World War II toward Europe. Why was it so different?

7. The Marshall Plan was also offered to the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. What was the reaction to this by the Soviets? What were the short and long term consequences of this?

8. To what extent did the Marshall Plan affect the Cold War? How did the Marshall Plan signify a change in American foreign policy in the 20th century?