Seated from left: J. Robert Oppenheimer, unidentified, George C. Marshall, Harvard University President James B. Conant, Omar N. Bradley, T. S. Eliot, unidentified

The above quote comes from the opening lines of the speech Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered at the Harvard University graduation commencement on July 5, 1947. Marshall had been the Secretary of State for all of about ten weeks when he showed up in Cambridge, Massachusetts to give the graduation commencement and receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws. As one can see from the list of names in the caption, a disparate mix of men received honorary degrees that day. George Marshall’s appointment was more controversial at the time than one might realize today; many Americans were concerned that a military man would be a bad fit to run American diplomacy. Menswear often coveys a message and Marshall is transmitting one here. In the photograph above we see the onetime five-star general sitting third from the left, pointedly wearing a crisp suit and avoiding any display of military display.

The war had been over for more than two years by this time but Europe was hardly at peace. V-E Day had been both and end and a beginning. Millions of Europeans now faced civil war, religious and ethnic strife, refugeeism, food insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, and other issues. Men like the late FDR, Marshall, Truman and others understood the failures of Versailles and what that led to in the 1920s and 1930s. This speech was the germination of Marshall Plan; the following April President Truman signed the Economic Recovery Act, one of the most generous and forward-thinking achievements in American statecraft.

(image/Los Alamos National Lab)