Do good and speak out about it this seems to have been the motto behind the promotion of the European Recovery Program, which went down in history as the Marshall Plan. It was an astute campaign in which each country receiving ERP aid contributed an equal amount. An astonishing five percent of these matching funds flowed into the public information initiatives -- through posters, pamphlets, exhibitions, radio programs and, above all, films. This seems like a high percentage, but it should be remembered that aid was viewed as more than just a contribution to the material recovery of these countries, it also served a strategic political goal.
A “New Europe” was envisaged, fostered, and drafted long before it became a reality. The plan was designed to protect Europe from Soviet influence. Isolationism would have been an option for the U.S. To pursue the other alternative and usher in the “American Century” was presumably the riskier course. But it went over well in ERP recipient countries, not least in the three western zones of occupied Germany, the zones later evolving into the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Marshall Plan films play a considerable role in the media history of the past century. In their wide distribution, which can hardly be overestimated, and their often astounding acumen, these films were effective propaganda for “Western values.” They managed to bring life to these abstract notions in ways that touched the inhabitants of the “New Europe” from Dublin to Ankara, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean Sea. One does not diminish the Marshall Plan by pointing out its political significance, nor does one detract from the films by calling them clever propaganda. They attest to a spirited, sometimes ironic, partisanship for civil society.
Our Marshall Plan film collection has become an invaluable part of the German Historical Museum’s archive, and we are proud to contribute our prints to the historic Selling Democracy showcases in Europe and the United States.
Dr. Rainer Rother, former Director, Deutches Historisches Museum-Kinemathek