By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. If celebrated biographer David McCullough didn’t write so well, this article might not have been written. But McCullough is a masterful writer… and his book on President Truman compelling reading for anyone who wants to understand contemporary America and its place in the world. Thus, I saw on this second reading, a date I had overlooked before and which this time was glaring: That is February 27,1947, and it is vital for my story today; it being the day my distant cousin General of the Army George C. Marshall became Secretary of State of these United States and went forward to do battle with the dark forces of Communist Russia and its murderous leader Joseph Stalin.
I had been waiting impatiently for General Marshall (no one including the President ever called him anything else and when President Roosevelt had tried, he was well and truly snubbed), waiting, I say, since I was born on Sunday, February 16, 1947 at 10.15 p.m. Central time. I was an American boy conceived in liberty and ready for the orders of the man appointed to save civilization. I knew he’d need all the help he could get… the battle crucial, the outcome in doubt, Americans not yet recognizing the danger or the stakes… and, having just returned from war, they wanted the benefits of the peace they had so newly won and which they were about to learn was now at the mercy of the greatest tyrant history had ever produced and his determination to rule everything and dictate to all. General Marshall had been appointed to stop this man and his barbarous deeds… and so the Cold War took form.
I was to be a participant in this war… we all were… although no one knew it yet.
First Wedding Anniversary
Even today when my 87-year old father discusses the events of February 16, 1947 there is a note of exhaustion in his voice. And this cannot be wondered at since this sleepy Sunday of post-war America had been sharply interrupted at 6 a.m. by a baby ready to be born… and no nonsense about it. Its young parents, my father just 22, my mother 23, got into what my father remembers as a ramshackle Ford, battered but dependable, and headed from Maywood, Illinois to Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park across the railway tracks. Whether I was born on the right or wrong side of those tracks I cannot say, but I know that from birth I had a way of centering the discussion and keeping things focused, as this day proved.
It was my parent’s first wedding anniversary… and no doubt along the way some mention of this was made… but cards, presents, kisses and congratulations… all must wait for a better time. Not least because there was a nervous young mother to help in her task. And this was difficult. She went into the labor room of the hospital; my father was directed by Dr. Morrison to the maternity waiting room… but my mother’s nervousness made the birth difficult. And so from early morning until late at night, my exhausted mother was wheeled into — and out of — the labor room… the baby ready to be delivered… my mother not yet ready to do so.
And so the day passed, very slowly indeed.
In the waiting room anxious fathers, puffing one cigarette after another, passed the time. One of these fathers, John Kafka, fell into conversation with my father, glad to pass the time so, as expectant fathers will do. My father and Khafka hit it off. My father was not happy with his current job and Khafka offered him one better; at National Malleable, a foundry which made castings for cars on America’s all-important railroads. And so on this red-letter day, my father, Donald Marshall Lant, passed his first anniversary by getting a son and a job he kept for seven years. As for the baby, my father recalls he was red-faced, waving his hands and feet for attention. He said he looked “feisty and determined.” Some things never change.
General Marshall was determined, too…
The minute peace came in the Pacific war with Japan (August 15, 1945), the worldwide situation completely shifted and with astonishing speed. No longer was the U.S.S.R. our ally. The Nazis conquered, Russia became our greatest nemesis, far greater than Germany had ever been. While America’s military might unravelled as servicemen demanded to go home and at once, Stalin, the murderous weapons of the dictatorship his to command, kept a million men and more under arms, to be directed when and how he commanded. And so, he directed the fall and absorption of every Eastern European nation… and was determined to get more, starting with Turkey and Greece, then casting an eye at Italy and even France.
China, too, was about to fall as none knew better than a frustrated, aggravated Marshall who had attempted to sort out the situation there before becoming Secretary of State. He had failed… and came to Washington with a growing understanding that Stalin, an ally just the other day, meant to destroy an America which, as yet, had no understanding of this matter. Marshall’s opinion strengthened and his world view darkened after flyiing to Stalin and attempting to broker a deal for post war peace. Stalin instead wanted chaos in Europe and Asia, the better to control and dictate. He didn’t need peace… and it took the “striped pants boys” (as Truman called them) in Washington too long to figure out that Communists only negotiate when they cannot dictate… but that dictating is what they like best. Marshall was among the first to know what the Communists intended… and what it would mean for boys like me in the years ahead.
And so he, with the ardent backing of President Truman, whose support for General Marshall was unwavering, went to work on a plan which had nothing less than the clear objective of saving civilization and containing the spread of Communism. President Truman outlined his vision in an address to a joint session of Congress, March 12, 1947, less than a month after I was born. It lasted just 18 minutes and changed the world; Truman announcing that he intended to save Turkey and Greece; to draw the line at further Communist expansion. He let it be known the very soul of the world was at stake. And so it was…
I was less than a month old and was no doubt sleeping peacefully that day because of what came to be called the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan which followed, providing the details — and the money — that would make the President’s strong and uplifting words a reality… so much so that I have slept soundly from that day to this. In due course, June 5, 1947, General Marshall traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to accept an honorary degree and to give the most important and historic commencement speech in all Harvard’s 375 years. How well I can picture the scene, which took place right across the street from where I am writing today. It was charged with pageantry and over shadowed by deep concern and apprehension. General Marshall was not a gifted speaker, but he had formidable presence, an immense sense of occasion…. and his subject commanded total attention.
Marshall, looking beyond the assembled guests and worthies, spoke to the great American public, advising them that it was “virtually impossible by merely reading articles or looking at photographs to grasp the real conditions in Europe — ‘and yet the whole world’s future hangs on proper judgement, hangs on the realization by the American people of what can best be done, or what must be done’.”
22 years later I arrived at Harvard as a student myself. I wonder if that would have been possible, even conceivable had General Marshall and the President who so supported him failed. But they did not fail and as a beneficiary of all they did, I take this opportunity to recall their achievements and what they did for that feisty child born February 16, 1947, whose life was secured by a distant cousin he never knew, always grateful. This was America at our best… an America of leaders who saw far, told the truth, and worked diligently for the people, finding solutions, without fear of retribution or criticism…. who truly believed in and worked for the good of all. Where is General Marshall and his like today, when we need him so? For them all, then, “Taps”, which you can find in any search engine:
“Day is done, gone the sun From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.”
But God can only help those who help themselves.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com Your response to this article is requested. What do you think? Let me Dr. Lant know by posting your comments below.
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