Lessons from the Post-War Era: It Pays to be Engaged

April 16, 2015 By Zach Silberman

This year marks the 70th anniversary of one of the fiercest wars in global history: World War II. As we remember the conflict and the lives lost, this anniversary is especially etched in our nation’s collective memory because it saw the rise of America’s role as the foremost global leader. As world leaders gather this week for the World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s spring meetings, it prompts reflection on the United States’ important leadership role in rebuilding war-torn Europe and the Pacific following the war.

After World War II ended, the world was still in a state of shock from the conflict when the United States stepped in to help restore normalcy. This came in the form of foreign assistance. The United States delivered over $4 billion of foreign assistance to Germany and over $2 billion of assistance to Japan to help with reconstruction and economic development. The post-war order also saw the rise of one of the most well-known foreign aid programs in history: the Marshall Plan. Our allies like Great Britain and France received critical American assistance from the Marshall Plan that helped restore the economic infrastructure of those countries. It was also credited with restoring agricultural and industrial productivity, as well as preventing famine and political chaos. These examples are important in understanding the American impact on global prosperity and how it has helped countries become active participants in making the world a better place.

Moreover, recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) show how far we have come in 70 years, particularly when you look at the top aid donors. According to the report, top donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA) include the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. It’s worth noting that the United States was responsible for helping four of those countries rebuild and rise from the ashes.

It is clear 2015 will be an important year for the global community, particularly when there are so many crises occurring all at once. In addition, the World Bank meetings this week highlight the forthcoming end to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years. If these developments prove anything, they highlight the ongoing need to remain engaged in the world and utilize all our tools of national power.

The end of World War II and the beginning of the Pax Americana continue to remind us of the power we have to shape the world for the better. With the political debate heating up and polls suggesting that we spend too much on foreign aid, we should remember what we have done in the past to lead the world and how it can have an incredible impact on the future.