January 31, 2021

This grew out of a conversation Don and I had about reconciliation writ large—how reconciliation has worked when countries try it. I waxed eloquent about the Marshall Plan and how it made enemies into friends. Don asked several of us to talk about reconciliation, and asked me to summarize our conversation.


The Marshall Plan…the way I heard it…was a plan to rebuild the war-torn economies of Western Europe after WWII…including the enemy countries of Germany and Italy. This exists in stark contrast to the Treaty of Versailles war reparations at the conclusion of World War 1…and one of the primary reasons Europe was pulled back into war just thirteen years later. Instead of punishing Germany and Japan, the United States rebuilt its enemies.


Before giving this talk, I figured I’d better get my facts straight, so I did a little reading. Like most things, the truth is more complicated. Japan wasn’t actually part of the Marshall Plan—it, and other Asian countries received money through grants that were similar to the Marshall Plan, but not part of the plan itself. The Plan’s mandate was to rebuild Europe—more money was given to Britain and France than to Germany. And many economists have contended that while the plan may have speeded recovery, recovery was already underway.


But what virtually no one disputes is this: after World War Two, the United States gave financial aid to its enemies to help them get back on their feet…and, in doing so, made friends out of enemies. It did so in stark contrast to the victors’ treatment of their foes after World War One…and the way victorious countries had treated their enemies for hundreds of years prior to that. The term “Marshall Plan” has become a generalized term for offering succor to a defeated foe.


What are the lessons we can draw from this?


Reconciliation is the opposite of revenge. It requires a generosity of spirit that Christ commands of us (for instance, in Matthew 5:44: But I say to you, pray for your enemies and pray for those who persecute you).


Reconciliation requires relationship. We can’t reconcile to strangers. In fact, we can’t even begin to reconcile unless we understand the person or group we’re trying to reconcile with. This, I think, is vital to remember as we try to figure out how to move forward from the political events of the last year…four years…and, frankly, forty years.


While reconciliation involves forgiveness, it isn’t a blanket forgiveness of all wrongs: even while the Marshall Plan was put in place, the Nuremburg Trials took place, and twenty-four Nazi’s were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. As an aside, let me mention that the trials, conducted in an atmosphere of retaliatory outrage remain to this day a sterling example of the rule of law over justifiable outrage. In fact, three men were acquitted.


Reconciliation involves sacrifice. The United States had given and given to the war effort. Ordinary Americans had gone without…rationed domestic supplies in order to support the troops overseas. Yet, despite this, they gave billions (in today’s dollars, about 200 billion) to rebuild a world devastated by war. On a smaller scale, personal reconciliation also requires sacrifice—not in terms of financial resources, but in time, patience, and, most especially, pride.


Finally, one can’t reconcile…one can only offer an opportunity to reconcile. Reconciliation comes with no guarantees: one can offer a hand, but can’t make the other person take it. Reconciliation that’s done with the expectation of reward or advantage isn’t reconciliation: it’s manipulation. As such, reconciliation is something we do because it’s the right thing…because it makes us the people we want to be…because it is righteous and good in our God’s sight.