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Illustration by Josh Gossfield

During the past few years, we seem to have observed the fiftieth anniversary of everything. Through media and memory, we have again been witness to paratroopers filling the skies over Normandy, the liberation of Buchenwald, a sailor's kiss in Times Square, an Iron Curtain descending, and Jackie Robinson sliding home.

Today, we recall another turning point in that era. For on this day 50 years ago, Secretary of State George Marshall addressed the graduating students of this University. He spoke to a class enriched by many who had fought for freedom and deprived of many who had fought for freedom and died.

The Secretary's words were plain. But his message reached far beyond the audience assembled in this Yard--to an American people weary of war and wary of new commitments--and to a Europe where life-giving connections between farm and market, enterprise and capital, hope and future had been severed.

Secretary Marshall did not adorn his rhetoric with high-flown phrases, saying only that it would be logical for America to help restore "normal economic health to the world, without which there could be no political stability and no assured peace."

He did not attach to his plan the label "Made in America," but rather invited European ideas and required European countries to do all they could to help themselves.

His vision was inclusive, leaving the door open to participation by all, including the Soviet Union, and--so there would be no repetition of the punitive peace of Versailles--also to Germany.

British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin called the Marshall Plan a "lifeline to sinking men," and it was--although I expect some women in Europe were equally appreciative. By extending that lifeline, America helped unify Europe's west around democratic principles and planted seeds of trans-Atlantic partnership that would soon blossom in the form of NATO and the cooperative institutions of a new Europe.

Just as important was the expression of American leadership that the Marshall Plan conveyed. After World War I, America had withdrawn from the world, shunning responsibility and avoiding risk. Others did the same. The result in the heart of Europe was the rise of great evil. After the devastation of World War II and the soul-withering horror of the Holocaust, it was not enough to say that the enemy had been vanquished--that what we were against had failed.

The generation of Marshall, Truman, and Vandenberg was determined to build a lasting peace. And the message that generation conveyed from the White House, from both parties on Capitol Hill, and from people across our country who donated millions in relief cash, clothing, and food, was that, this time, America would not turn inward, America would lead.

Today, in the wake of the Cold War, it is not enough for us to say that Communism has failed. We, too, must heed the lessons of the past, accept responsibility, and lead.

Because we are entering a century in which there will be many interconnected centers of population, power, and wealth, we cannot limit our focus, as Marshall did in his speech, to the devastated battleground of a prior war. Our vision must encompass not one, but every continent.

Unlike Marshall's generation, we face no single galvanizing threat. The dangers we confront are less visible and more diverse, some as old as ethnic conflict, some as new as letter bombs, some as subtle as climate change, and some as deadly as nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands.

To defend against these threats, we must take advantage of the historic opportunity that now exists to bring the world together in an international system based on democracy, open markets, law, and a commitment to peace.

We know that not every nation is yet willing or able to play its full part in this system. One group is still in transition from centralized planning and totalitarian rule. Another has only begun to dip its toes into economic and political reform. Some nations are still too weak to participate in a meaningful way. And a few countries have regimes that actively oppose the premises upon which this system is based.
Photograph by Jim Harrison

Because the situation we face today is different from that confronted by Marshall's generation, we cannot always use the same means. But we can summon the same spirit.

We can strive for the same sense of bipartisanship that allowed America in Marshall's day to present to both allies and adversaries a united front.

We can invest the resources needed to keep America strong economically, militarily, and diplomatically, recognizing, as did Marshall, that these strengths reinforce each other.

We can act with the same knowledge that, in our era, American security and prosperity are linked to economic and political health abroad.

And we can recognize, even as we pay homage to the heroes of history, that we have our own duty to be authors of history.

Let every nation acknowledge. Today, the opportunity to be part of an international system based on democratic principles is available to all. This was not the case 50 years ago.

Then, my father's boss Jan Masaryk--foreign minister of what was then Czechoslovakia--was told by Stalin in Moscow that his country must not participate in the Marshall Plan despite its national interest in doing so. Upon his return to Prague, Masaryk said it was at that moment he understood that he was employed by a government no longer sovereign in its own land.

Today, there is no Stalin to give orders. If a nation is isolated from the international community now, it is either because the country is simply too weak to meet international standards, or because its leaders have chosen willfully to disregard those standards.

Last week, in the Netherlands, President Clinton said that no democratic nation in Europe would be left out of the trans-Atlantic community. Today, I say that no nation in the world need be left out of the global system we are constructing. And every nation that seeks to participate and is willing to do all it can to help itself will have America's help in finding the right path.

In Africa, poverty, disease, disorder, and misrule have cut off millions from the international system. But Africa is a continent rich both in human and natural resources. And today, its best new leaders are pursuing reforms that are helping private enterprise and democratic institutions to gain a foothold. Working with others, we must lend momentum by maintaining our assistance, encouraging investment, lowering the burden of debt, and striving to create successful models for others to follow.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, integration is much further advanced. Nations throughout our hemisphere are expanding commercial ties, fighting crime, working to raise living standards, and cooperating to ensure that economic and political systems endure.

In Asia and the Pacific, we see a region that has not only joined the international system, but has become a driving force behind it; a region that is home to eight of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world.

With our allies, we have worked to ease the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program and invited that country to end its self-imposed isolation. And we have encouraged China to expand participation in the international system and to observe international norms on everything from human rights to the export of arms-related technologies.

Finally, in Europe, we are striving to fulfill the vision Marshall proclaimed but the Cold War prevented, the vision of a Europe whole and free, united, as President Clinton said this past week, "not by the force of arms but by the possibilities of peace."

Where half a century ago, American leadership helped lift western Europe to prosperity and democracy, so today, the entire trans-Atlantic community is helping Europe's newly free nations fix their economies and cement the rule of law.

Next month, in Madrid, NATO will invite new members from among the democracies of central and eastern Europe, while keeping the door to future membership open to others. This will not--as some fear--create a new source of division within Europe. On the contrary, it is erasing the unfair and unnatural line imposed half a century ago. And it is giving nations an added incentive to settle territorial disputes, respect minority and human rights, and complete the process of reform.

NATO is a defensive alliance that harbors no territorial ambitions. It does not regard any state as its adversary, certainly not a democratic and reforming Russia that is intent on integrating with the West and with which it has forged an historic partnership, signed in Paris just nine days ago.

Today, from Ukraine to the United States, and from Reykjavik to Ankara, we are demonstrating that the quest for European security is no longer a zero-sum game. NATO has new allies and partners. The nations of central and eastern Europe are rejoining in practice the community of values they never left in spirit. And the Russian people will have something they have not had in centuries--a genuine and sustainable peace with the nations to their west.

The Cold War's shadow no longer darkens Europe, but one specter from the past does remain. History teaches us that there is no natural geographic or political endpoint to conflict in the Balkans, where World War I began and where the worst European violence of the past half century occurred in this decade. That is why the peaceful integration of Europe will not be complete until the Dayton peace accords in Bosnia are fulfilled.

When defending the boldness of the Marshall Plan 50 years ago, Senator Arthur Vandenberg observed that it does little good to extend a 15-foot rope to a man drowning 20 feet away. Similarly, we cannot achieve our objectives in Bosnia by doing just enough to avoid immediate war; we must do all we can to help the people of Bosnia to achieve permanent peace.

In recent days, President Clinton has approved steps to make the peace process irreversible and give each party a clear stake in its success.

And this past weekend, I went to the region to deliver in person the message that if the parties want international acceptance or our aid, they must meet their commitments, including full cooperation with the international war-crimes tribunal.

That tribunal represents a choice not only for Bosnia, and for Rwanda, but for the world. We can accept atrocities as inevitable, or we can strive for a higher standard. We can presume to forget what only God and the victims have standing to forgive, or we can heed the most searing lesson of this century, which is that evil--when unopposed--will spawn more evil.

The majority of Bosnia killings occurred not in battle, but in markets, streets, and playgrounds where men and women like you and me, and boys and girls like those we know, were abused or murdered not because of anything they had done, but simply for who they were.

We all have a stake in establishing a precedent that will deter future atrocities, in helping the tribunal make a lasting peace easier by separating the innocent from the guilty, in holding accountable the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing, and in seeing that those who consider rape just another tactic of war answer for their crimes.


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