A bit of history that is also a bit of autobiography. On his European trip this week, President Clinton stopped in the Netherlands to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. The Netherlands, because it is the current rotating chair of the European Union.
As it happens, 50 years ago I was reporting from the Netherlands for The Christian Science Monitor and was able to witness the profound impact of what President Truman said would "go down in history as one of America's greatest contributions to the peace of the world."
On June 5, 1947, at Harvard University, Secretary of State George Marshall delivered the address on which much of the preparatory work had been done by his predecessor, Dean Acheson.
To the war-crippled countries of Europe, Marshall conveyed an offer from President Truman: If Europe would organize itself and agree on its needs, then the United States would undertake to help Europe to its feet.
Hardly a month later, the countries of Western Europe - the Soviet Union had been invited, but Stalin said, "Nyet" - met in Paris and formed the Committee for European Economic Cooperation. And then, with some $13 billion in American money, the miracle of rebuilding shattered economies happened, and the second miracle of integrating their economies began to happen.
The Monitor asked if I could find one concrete example of the Marshall Plan at work. I found it in Nijverdal, population 9,000, near Almelo in the eastern province of Twente.
The village depended on its spinning mill, the Stoomspinnerij te Nijverdal. The factory was in danger of shutting down for lack of cotton. Cotton had to be bought with dollars, and the Netherlands was short of dollars.
In The Hague, the mission of the Economic Cooperation Administration, the American Marshall Plan organization running independently of the embassy, considered the application. Mission Chief Alan Valentine sent it forward to Averell Harriman, the European chief in Paris, who recommended an allocation of dollars for cotton for Nijverdal.
And so, I watched the bales of cotton arriving. The 2,000 workers stayed at work. The mayor said that, with taxes from the factory, he could go ahead on building 600 new houses, a school, medical center, town swimming pool, and meeting social welfare needs.
That was not all. The bakery store windows of Nijverdal displayed signs reading: "The grain in this bread comes from the American Marshall Plan."
And that was not all. The dollar grants were not exactly a gift. The gilder equivalents were called, "counterpart funds." And these were used to finance Fulbright Scholars studying in America.
And from the European cooperation started by the Marshall Plan came the European Coal and Steel Community and, eventually, the European Community. It all started 50 years ago. And who could have predicted then in the Netherlands how far it would go, and who could have predicted that an American president would be there to hail it as a lesson for today?
Whereas 50 years ago the Marshall Plan was a matter of jump-starting 17 basically viable countries toward recovery, President Clinton said in The Hague that today there is an "enormous gap between the richest and the poorest." He promised that the United States would "stay engaged." Not as electrifying as Marshall's massive aid offer, but these are different times.
* Daniel Schorr is senior news editor for National Public Radio.