Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #189. First published in the St. Cloud Times, online and in print Apr. 2, 2023

Last month I attended (virtually) a panel discussion on “A Marshall Plan Blueprint for Ukraine.” This year marks the 75th anniversary of the 1948 European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan because it was initially proposed the year before by Secretary of State George C. Marshall. That initiative, passed overwhelmingly by a Republican majority House and Senate, and signed by Democratic president Harry S. Truman, invested the equivalent of $215 billion in today’s dollars in the recovery of a Europe devastated by World War II. “An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States,” Marshall said, “is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied.”

The discussion was co-hosted by the Association of Marshall Scholars, the German Marshall Fund, and Rotary International. Moderator was John Hewko, General Secretary and CEO of Rotary International – he (1979) and I (1960) are former Marshall Scholars; panelists were Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States; Heather A. Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund; and David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist and associate editor.

Just the night before the panel discussion Tucker Carlson, on Fox News, had read the now notorious response from Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis to the question, “Is opposing Russia in Ukraine a vital American national strategic interest?” DeSantis, aligning himself with Carlson and former president Donald Trump, replied, “While the U.S. has many vital national interests … becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.” Dismissing an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation as a “territorial dispute” is yet another MAGA Big Lie to distract “the people of America” from “the character of the problem.”

The premise of “A Marshall Plan Blueprint for Ukraine” is this: “When Russia’s war of aggression” – not “territorial dispute” – "ends, the transatlantic community can look to the Marshall Plan for lessons and inspiration as Ukraine faces the daunting task of recovery.” Further words of Secretary Marshall are applicable now: all depends “on the realization of the American people, of just what are the various dominant factors.”

Two differences between then and now. First, while “opposing Russia in Ukraine is a vital American national strategic interest,” Europe itself is in a position, and has the moral obligation, to be a major contributor, along with the U.S., to Ukraine’s recovery from the widespread destruction wrought by Russian artillery, bombs, missiles, and war crimes. Second, recovery needs to begin now, even before hostilities end. The resilience of the Ukrainian people assures that recovery in the midst of chaos cannot be obliterated.

The panel discussion faced the issue of corruption. Ukraine, like most of the former Soviet republics, has been rife with shady dealings. Can we trust that support meant for the nation as a whole won’t be siphoned off by a few oligarchs? Ambassador Markarova, an authentic patriot, articulate and unevasive, acknowledged it as a huge problem, but she made specific reference to practical steps that President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration are taking to deal with it.

Writers Group columns are supposed to have a local tie. How does a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine come home to us here?

Panelists noted that a void in the original Marshall Plan was direct involvement by American citizens and localities. Let’s help fill that gap for this new Marshall Plan.

June 21-22 there will be an international Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, following one last year in Lugano, Switzerland. The conference focuses on “mobilizing international support for Ukraine's economic and social stabilization and recovery from the effects of war.” Guiding the conference are principles adopted at Lugano, which include “inviting the private sector, academia and civil society as well as actors at sub-national level, such as cities, hospitals and others, to enter into partnerships with Ukrainian counterparts.”

“Sub-national level.” How about regional? Instead of “We can’t do anything more than we’ve already done,” we step up to the challenge.

I propose that mayors and city administrators of our area communities (St. Cloud, 68,818; Sartell, 19,532; Sauk Rapids, 13,896; Waite Park, 8,360; St. Joseph, 6,932 – total: 117,538), and officers of the St. Cloud Area, Waite Park, and Sauk Rapids Chambers of Commerce, choose one of their number as their representative to request an invitation to the London conference, where that person would ask that a similar area in Ukraine be identified to which we here in Central Minnesota would become “sibling region.” We would together commit to do everything we can to aid those siblings in what they say is needed in their neighborhood for their recovery, starting now.

Marshall’s 1947 speech is directed right at us: “What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done?” And I’ll add: “Who will do it?”