A Pennsylvania-born graduate from the Virginia Military Institute, he served, among others, in the Philippines, in France during WWI, and then in China. In 1939–1945, he was Chief of Staff of the US Army, which he developed to become the largest armed force in the world at that time. In 1950, he was nominated Secretary of Defence.
He participated in a conference, held onboard HMS Prince of Wales off the coast of Newfoundland, that established the Atlantic Charter to set political goals and the principles for post-war international relations (1941) and in the Casablanca Conference (1943), Quebec Conference (1943), Cairo and Tehran Conferences (1943), Yalta Conference (1945), Potsdam Conference (1945).
As Secretary of State in 1947–1949, he initiated the European Recovery Program, nicknamed the Marshall Plan, which he outlined in his speech of 5 June 1947 at the Harvard University. He said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” He asserted that the United States should “do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”
The implementation of the Marshall Plan entailed the establishment in April 1948 of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) in order to coordinate effective functioning of the recovery and currency stabilisation programme. In 1961, the OEEC was transformed into OECD.