Ambassador’s Opening Remarks at 2017 American Studies Seminar

70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan in Greece

May 8, 2017, 18:00-18:30

As Delivered

Καλησπέρα!  Good evening everybody.  It’s great to be here.  I want to start by thanking you all for coming on a beautiful Athens sunny evening.  And it’s my pleasure and honor to be part of the kickoff of this exercise.

I’m impressed to see how, over the years, the American Studies Seminar has really become a valuable and valued venue for developing insights into American culture, American history, and, most importantly of all, the relationship between our two great democracies.  And I’m especially pleased that we’ve got this ongoing partnership with DEREE, with Panteion University.  I am a great believer in these partnerships, especially with the American College of Greece, which is such a fantastic, legacy of years and years of American investment in our relationship with the people of this country.

This year’s Seminar has a particular focus on the 70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan and tonight’s event is, in fact, the kickoff of what is going to be a series of Embassy-supported events looking back on that period but also looking forward.  And, in preparation for this, I’ve been dusting off some of my own diplomatic history texts and rereading some of that history.  What’s interesting, when you do so, is how relevant many of the conversations that took place 70 years ago are to where we are today.

It’s worth remembering where we were 70 years ago – a Europe which, in the aftermath of war, was on the brink of collapse.  I had forgotten, I’m sure that Gaddis Smith and my professors said this to me at one point a long time ago, but I had forgotten how important the bitter winter of ‘46-‘47 had been in alerting Americans to the real crisis of Europe and the fact that Europe, left to its own, might not recover – with potentially calamitous consequences for the investment that Americans had made in blood and treasure in assuring the victory of freedom during the Second World War.

And you had a decision by President Truman then to step in; driven, significantly, by Secretary of State Marshall, and, again, one of the interesting aspects of the history is how decisive the leadership and, to some degree, the autonomy and independence of the State Department was in shaping that administration decision.  But, it’s a decision that, in retrospect I think, is remembered as one of America’s wisest international investments.  It really marked the beginning of the modern period of transatlantic relations; gave birth to many of the institutions that we still rely on, including, most importantly, our NATO alliance.

And, if you look at the assistance specifically that the United States committed to Greece – resources that amounted, at the time, to about two billion U.S. dollars, what would be equivalent to 21 billion U.S. dollars today – this was an early investment by the American people in ensuring that remained anchored firmly in the West.  I was really gratified today with Defense Minister Kammenos, as he was meeting with a group of American Congressmen that we had in town, the emphasis that he placed on that investment long ago and the resonance that it has with the people of Greece.  In many ways, it’s that investment that laid the foundation for the alliance that we enjoy today.

And, today, we’re privileged to have a real expert, Professor Edward Lengel, to speak to us about this history and place it in context.  He is Chief Historian at the White House Historical Association and Special Advisor to the Woodrow Wilson Center Presidential Library Foundation.  So, Dr. Lengel, thank you very much for accepting our invitation, coming all the way to Athens to participate in these next three days.  If I had a different job description, I would look forward to sharing my next three days and dusting off some of that diplomatic history that I learned a long time ago, but I won’t be able to do that.  But do look forward to this evening’s discussion.

I want to say, again, warm thanks to our partners at Panteion University and American College of Greece and I hope this is as valuable an investment for your institutions as it is for ours.  Your support over the years has been invaluable.  And then I also want to express thanks to all of the Greek professors, academics, think tank-ers, and experts who will be part of this conversation over the next couple of days of the Seminar.  Thank you for your continued support, your engagement, but also encouraging Greek students, Greek young people, to make the investment in learning more about the history of our relationship during this really critical period.

A lot has changed over the past 70 years but two things that have not changed are the constancy of our commitment to our alliance with Greece but, also, the people-to-people relationship, which is the most important and enduring foundation of our partnership and our relationship.  So, again, thanks all.  I look forward to hearing this evening’s conversation.  And I hope we’ll all learn something from it.  Ευχαριστώ πολύ