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Thus, paramount American interests were to be presented as being really the interests of the Europeans themselves. It would be a situation wherein America was simply helping along people who were, at present, unable to adequately help themselves. The concept had much in common with the goals of many charity or self-help organizations - people grow and are transformed by learning to help themselves. They are given assistance so as to be enabled to learn the skills and life ways necessary to improve their own conditions. Naturally, everything that was in the "real" interests of Europeans would also be in the interests of the United States. The more similar the peoples of the two continents could become, the more readily Europeans could identify their own aspirations with those of the American people, the closer would be the bond between the two sides. In effect, the new post-War Europe would be an Americanized Europe - the once colonized colonizing the motherland.
As a consequence, the United States found itself embroiled in the political and social controversies of Europe. France, in the late 1940s, was riven by dissent among the various political and social factions. Labor unrest was high and the government was in a terrible financial condition. An alliance of political parties including conservatives and socialists, the Third Force, maintained a fragile control of the state, as Americans, desperate to introduce the aid promised by the Marshall Plan, look on. Any delay in introducing the Marshall Plan was seen as a threat to future American interests, as it would prevent the United States from intervening actively in French affairs.
France faced escalating prices at home, coupled with a funds crisis that was exemplified by its perilous balance of trade. The French were producing enough to satisfy domestic needs, but there was little incentive to export goods that would offset French international debts.
While French officials proposed a process of "sterilization" of funds, in which large amounts of liquidity would be introduced from the outside i.e. The Marshall Plan, few French were willing to put up with the austerities that this scheme would demand.
Thus was another problem introduced into the American effort to turn the Europeans in their direction. By injecting itself in the middle of fundamental debates over French life, the United States was creating real difficulties at the time, and potential problems down the road. The Third Force was strongly anti-communist, but the power of the socialists within the coalition, and the continual infighting between them and the more conservative and traditionalist elements within the government showed the great strains presented by the arrangement. Socialism is not ideologically terribly far from communism. France, as was other European countries of the period, greatly affected by the lure of systems which purported to bring help to all segments of the population, and to level inequalities. If the American aid plan were to be seen as forcing Frenchmen to accept a status quo in which the masses would be compelled to accept a comparatively poor standard of living, many might turn to more radical solutions. The Communists were initially favorable to the government and participated in the first post-War coalition government, their ministers being expelled only in 1947 when the Third Force came to power, the expulsion a sign that battle lines were hardening between the right wing Gaullists and the forces of the left.
The same cleavage was opening in France as was opening in other European countries. The desperately needed infusion of funds that was represented by the Marshall Plan could prove to be a double-edge sword, hardening class distinctions and driving supporters of both sides to greater extremes, and possibly toward open conflict.
The full spectrum of Marshall Plan implications, pro and con, was demonstrated by the Italian Parliamentary Elections of 1948. The issues presented here drew into the conflict passionate voices on both sides of the Atlantic. Italian-Americans followed the developments closely as factions within their ancestral land battled for the future of Italy. The strength of the communist movement in Italy as a result of Italy's defeat and devastation in the Second World War no doubt contributed to a hardening of anti-communist attitudes among Italian-Americans. Though discriminated against by the restrictive quotas of 1920s immigration law - laws that were still in full effect in the late 1940s - they saw it worth their while to identify as completely as possible with the mores of their new country; a 1952 survey showing that sixteen percent more Italian-Americans viewed the anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy in a favorable light than viewed him and his crusade unfavorably.
The United States government vigorously intervened in the fight against Italy's powerful communist and socialist bloc, funneling $227 million in interim economic aid to Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi's Christian Democrats.
The aid would hopefully create the impression that the Christian Democrats could take control of the situation, and bring an end to Italy's dire circumstances. Ominously; however, the Communists and Socialists were combined under the name of the Popular Front - a clear statement of their general manifesto that they, and their Marxist ideologies, represented a genuine concern for average Italians. The United States also attacked the Italian situation in terms of international disputes. America supported Italy's claims to Istria and Trieste, both of which had been taken away from Italy after World War II. Americans also supported an end to the crushing reparations Italy had been forced to pay, advocating as well, the position that Italy should be able to receive payments from Germany - payments she had been forbidden to receive because of her former role as one of Hitler's allies - as a response to the brutal post-1943 Nazi occupation of the country.
American labor unions with large Italian memberships also worked to raise funds for the anti-communist fight in Italy, sending money to De Gasperi's campaign.
Once again, the Marshall Plan was being administered with an eye toward the Americanization of another potential friend in the larger global fight against Soviet communism. In Italy, a country considered industrially backward prior to the war, the development of capitalism as an institution appeared as a fundamental issue in American strategy. As New York Times correspondent, Michael L. Hoffman, described the situation, "The idea of persuading the low income consumer to feel the need for something he's never had, using advertising, and then to give it to him at a price he can afford, could be the Marshall Plan's biggest contribution to Italy -- if it gets anywhere."
American funds would constitute a crash course in the benefits of capitalist living. Lower income Italians, like similar populations in other European nations, would be shown that their interests lay with the system that could most easily and successfully raise their standard of living. Consumer goods would be shown as desirable, and a life of creature comforts something for which it would be worth fighting.
The Italian campaign revealed yet more of the all-embracing nature of the Marshall Plan. Targeted would be not merely the working people of Italy, those unaccustomed to the wonders of modern technology, but children across the European continent. American planners recognized the need to shape the hearts and minds of the young as being foundations upon which a future favorable to America and its ideals could be built. If American ideas were to be imported and fully embraced, a fertile ground had to be prepared for their acceptance. As part of "Operation Bambi," Mobile puppet shows, ostensibly for children, were actually also used to reach illiterate and semi-literate adults to teach them the values of a capitalist society.
By showcasing the tangible material benefits of capitalism, proponents of the Marshall Plan hoped to achieve success on a variety of levels. An appreciation of capitalist principles would prepare the way for an expansion of American businesses in Europe. In addition, these businesses would be more likely to adopt American methods if those methods were presented as part of the aid package, and taught to youngsters and those first making their way under changing post-War economic conditions. Such aims frequently faced local criticisms, as in Italy. There, the European Recovery Plan was blamed for the fall-off in hemp production, a significant industry in the area, while still others complained that the Marshall Plan put obstacles in the way of trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc - potentially lucrative sources of income.
Further, Italian communists claimed that, Czechoslovakia, while not yet under the full control of Communist forces, had actually been forced to import wine, oranges, oil, lemons, and rice on American orders - a fact to which Italian Primie Minister De Gasperi had turned "a deaf ear."
The American propaganda that accompanied the Marshall Plan emphasized the strides being made by American technology, and the importance of continued bold innovation in modern economic systems. As Stephen Gundle showed, even in contentious Italy,
Communist militants and sympathizers adapted by making their own…[continue]
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