Panel at the German American Conference 2015: Miriam Meckel and speakers
@Haniel Stiftung
German-American Exchange

The new generation of transatlantic relations

The historical basis for the friendship between Germany and America is very broad. However, the two countries will not be able to draw on this relationship forever. How the McCloy program is helping to shape the future of transatlantic relations.

On June 5, 1947, one week before Secretary of State George C. Marshall was to receive an honorary doctorate from Harvard, his assistants contacted the university. The Secretary would like to use the occasion to make a speech. It took Marshall slightly less than twelve minutes to make his 1,200-word address to the members of the Harvard Alumni Association at their traditional meeting. First, Marshall expressed how overwhelmed he was at being given the honorary title before beginning his prepared speech, saying, “I need not tell you, gentlemen, that the world situation is very serious.” What followed was a broad description of the framework for developing the European Recovery Program (ERP), which came to be known as the Marshall Plan. June 5, 1947 can be considered the day a program was born that would lay the foundation for the positive development in Europe following the Second World War.

Antique poster of the marshall plan 1949
© Bundesarchiv | Source

At that time, however, not even those who had devised the program in all its details are likely to have guessed that the Marshall Plan would not only enable the economic revival of Europe in the late 1940s, but would also lay the foundation for a transatlantic friendship between Germany and the U.S. Even though the motives of the U.S. in initiating the Marshall Plan were not entirely unselfish – for one thing, an economically stable Europe presented a good market for the sale of American products, and for another, the program was intended to curb the influence of the communist Soviet Union – the contribution of this aid program to the reconstruction and integration of Europe is as indisputable as the fact that it marked the start of German-American relations.

McCloy and the young Federal Republic of Germany

Yet it was not at all obvious that the U.S. would develop into the world’s ruling power and would help a defeated Germany to get back on its feet economically. One person who played a key role in the implementation of the Marshall Plan was John Jay McCloy, whom history books often mention in the same breath as Konrad Adenauer. This lawyer and diplomat championed the Marshall Plan with its economic stimulus over the Morgenthau Plan, which called for a complete deindustrialization of Germany.

“As the Germans have realized, McCloy himself did more than anyone else to turn the Bonn Republic from a defeated enemy into an indispensable friend.” This is how the New York Times summarized his work at the end of his stint as High Commissioner to Germany from 1949 to 1952. McCloy called upon the occupying powers not to treat the Germans as underlings, but instead to encourage their cooperation. He promoted relations between the neighboring countries of France and Germany, and took part in the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which is considered to be the predecessor to the European Community. He even supported the accession of Germany to NATO, an achievement which, only ten years after the end of the war, entailed the rearmament of the country. His connections to postwar German politicians were to strengthen the transatlantic relationship for a long time to come.

McCloy ... did more than anyone else to turn the Bonn Republic from a defeated enemy into an indispensable friend.

New York Times, July 18, 1952

In 1981, then Chancellor Helmut Schmidt wrote in a guest contribution to Foreign Affairs magazine, “Apart from our historical and cultural ties, human bonds are what join the two sides of the Atlantic. Many overlapping political and social values constitute the basis of our friendship today.” If politicians from Germany and the U.S. are still emphasizing these shared values, it is also because the erstwhile High Commissioner John J. McCloy did not limit the bilateral exchange to economic issues. He played a part not only in the refounding of the Free University of Berlin, but also the creation of exchange projects for journalists, politicians, and trade unionists.

The beginnings of the McCloy Program

In this he enjoyed the support of Shepard Stone, who was a special adviser responsible for establishing a democratic press in postwar Germany. It was Stone, too, who in the late 1970s began making use of his extensive network to get an academic foundation off the ground, which is still a model for many international aid programs today. He named it after a person who had devoted a major part of his political life to German-American relations: John Jay McCloy.

The lawyer and diplomat John McCloy supported the economic, cultural and scientific reconstruction of Germany after World War II.
© Yoichi R. (Yoichi Robert) Okamoto | Source

The lawyer and diplomat John McCloy supported the economic, cultural and scientific reconstruction of Germany after World War II.

As successful as this program was from the very outset, its name also provoked some opposition. Many historians still take a critical view of McCloy because he opposed bombing rail lines to concentration camps while he was U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense during the war. In addition, he was accused of being too soft on business leaders who had been charged and in some cases even convicted. McCloy, by contrast, wanted to integrate their experience and knowledge into the economy of the young Federal Republic of Germany as quickly as possible. James Cooney, the first Director of the McCloy Program, made a typical Harvard response to the protest: he left room for the discussions. The controversy soon subsided and both sides were able to concentrate on designing the program.

Crucial to the program’s success was funding, which was first assured for five years and later for a total of ten by the Volkswagen Foundation. In an essay, Cooney told of many disagreements over this issue between donors and representatives of Harvard University. This led to numerous discussions because the makers of the McCloy Program knew too little about the situation of their respective counterparts. For one thing, the donors in Germany were unfamiliar with the American university system – they first had to understand its extremely decentralized nature and realize that their demand for a separate curriculum for McCloy Fellows could not be met. For another, the representatives of the university were at first unwilling to allow non-university members on the Selection Committee. The makers were thus struggling with exactly the same difficulties which the exchange program they were currently negotiating was intended to diminish: misunderstandings in transatlantic cooperation.

Germany and the U.S. divide up the funding

The time finally came in 1983 for the first Fellows of the McCloy Academic Scholarship Program to take up their studies at the world-famous Harvard University. The program made a mark not only on the participants, but also on the Harvard Kennedy School, which at that time was still a very young institution. As then Dean Graham Allison recalls, “The German McCloy Program with its signal effect represented the successful transfer of a European idea of education to an archetypal American university. The young and promising leaders who came to our institute from various countries inspired our place of higher learning to more and better achievements” – as he put it in an essay on the origin of the program.

“Today, the Harvard Kennedy School is the world’s leading institution for educating leaders from many different nations at the highest academic level for tasks in the public sector,” says Mathias Risse, current Director of the McCloy Program (link to 2015 article on activities report). This native of Paderborn is a full professor of philosophy and public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, known as the Harvard Kennedy School, and knows the McCloys like no other. For around fifteen years, he has been giving advice and support to students on their way from their selection in Germany through their formative years at this Ivy League college.

German McCloy Fellows in their American gowns at the commencement ceremony in 2016
© Haniel Stiftung

German McCloy Fellows in their American gowns at the commencement ceremony in 2016

Thanks to the program’s great success, Harvard University assumed a major part of its funding following 1993. Another portion of the required funds has since come from the ERP Special Fund, a remnant of the Marshall Plan. A more fitting connection between the past and future of transatlantic exchange could hardly have been found. Apart from the McCloy Fund of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities in Germany), the Haniel Foundation has also provided a decisive portion of the funding since 2002. It supports the program because it feels obliged to promote those young people who want to become responsible citizens by serving society.

The German Academic Scholarship Foundation has headed and shaped the German side of the program from the very start. It is the largest and the leading scholarship organization in Germany. Dr. Annette Julius, a literature graduate who is Secretary General of the Academic Foundation, says looking back, “With its expertise in selecting excellent young academics and its outstanding position in the German educational system, the Academic Foundation was the right institution to handle the German aspects of the McCloy Program, whose positioning and significance was intended to correspond to those of the renowned Rhodes Scholars.”

Political Science Lecturer Prof. Dr. Dietmar Herz
© Dietmar Herz

Political scientist Prof. Dr. Dietmar Herz was one of the early McCloy fellows. He still engages in transatlantic exchange and topics.

So far, 230 Fellows have been promoted within the scope of the McCloy Program. One of them is the political scientist Prof. Dr. Dietmar Herz, who studied at Harvard from 1987 to 1989. “That was a whole new university experience: this American style of research, the direct contact with professors, the guest speakers.” Nearly twenty years later, Herz himself took a hand in helping to mold a university program, on whose board he still sits: the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, sponsored by the Haniel Foundation.

The future of the transatlantic relationship

Shortly after Herz graduated from Harvard, the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the entire shape of the transatlantic friendship. The threat the U.S. had seen in the communist Soviet Union was defused. Although reunited Germany remained an important economic partner, the question of collaboration became more a European concern. Since the Transatlantic Declaration of 1990, the EU Commission and the U.S. government have regularly discussed global conflicts and stability, as well as economic topics.

With the US Administration that has been in office since January 2017 openly expressing doubts concerning an alliance such as NATO or a retreat from the TTIP free trade agreement, these foundations seem to be showing cracks. “In the future, the US. will concentrate more strongly on domestic policy and cut back on its international involvement,” forecasts Herz the political theorist. It remains to be seen who will then step up to be the world’s new ruling power.

In order to get the transatlantic relationship through these troubled times, the contact between Germany and America is acquiring great significance on other levels. Think tanks and NGOs, such as the Aspen Institute, the Atlantik Brücke, or the German Marshall Fund, are taking a stand for this cause. They want to keep the exchange between Europe and the U.S. alive as a communication platform. Some support scholarship programs for high school and college students. “Transatlantic relations mean more than the Munich Security Conference or a meeting of the NATO Council. They also include interrelations in the area of sports, culture, and research. That is a basis that will even survive President Trump,” Herz believes. In his opinion, the greatest danger to relations between Germany and the U.S. would be a reciprocal loss of appreciation for the other country due to a lack of knowledge.

New generation of German-American ties

Each year, a total of about 6,000 German university students in various exchange programs are sharpening and broadening their view of the U.S. and can in this way help keep relations between the two countries from cooling off. “We McCloys are trying to keep the exchange alive and carry it over into a new generation,” explains Kirsten Rulf, who is fully aware of the importance of this task. The 36-year-old has been studying public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School as part of the McCloy Program since 2015.

The new generation of German students is conspicuously setting an example at Harvard to show that the heart of the transatlantic friendship is still beating strong. One example is the annual German American Conference at Harvard, a meeting of movers and shakers in business and politics from both sides of the Atlantic who spend several days discussing current challenges. It is gradually developing into a “serious transatlantic conference,” as noted by the German business newspaper Handelsblatt. This event is organized each year by German students at Harvard, including those on a Haniel scholarship and McCloy Fellows. This year, one of the lectures was entitled “Quo Vadis, Transatlantic Relations?” At the center are the students, who are not only gathering valuable contacts and knowledge, but are also adding the viewpoints of their generation.

“McCloys” like Kirsten Rulf take an active part in this event and others at Harvard. A task she accomplishes in addition to the challenging courses, homework, and examinations required for her master’s degree in public policy. Is it not a bit disheartening to take a stand for transatlantic understanding while this very issue is heading for a crisis at the highest political level? “Not at all. Germany and Europe are partners, and are made the center of attention at every opportunity here. The new government in the White House is seen as more of an exception.” Rulf says that being at Harvard during the U.S. election made a strong impression on her, “I saw a polarized country where an election emotionally defined people’s lives right down to the private sphere.”

McCloy fellow Kirsten Rulf
© Kirsten Rulf

“We McCloys are trying to keep the exchange alive.” states McCloy fellow Kirsten Rulf.

After the Republican Donald Trump was elected president, Angela Merkel tried to take a bit of the emotion out of the subject. Like Helmut Schmidt and many of her predecessors, she pointed to our shared values. “Germany’s ties with the United States of America are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union. Germany and America are bound by values – democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the individual,” the Chancellor said in November.

When it comes to shared values, we in Germany often tend to ignore the fact that our image of America as a country that appears very similar to ours is sometimes skewed. Dietmar Herz points out differing traditions and ways of thinking that would be disregarded. “We Europeans are quite familiar with the Civil War in the nineteenth century; but we forget that Andrew Jackson and the idea of the Frontier fundamentally molded America.” Jackson founded the Democratic Party and opposed a ruthless, elitist form of capitalism during his presidency from 1829 to 1837. He was considered a political upstart who refused to focus on the genteel east coast, but fought instead for the modest prosperity of the “common people”.

Germans also tend to keep overlooking differences in the use of language. When Americans call something “great” or “awesome”, we are quick to label the statement as an exaggeration. Herz illustrates this with a Jewish joke: “Two German Jewish emigrants meet in new York. The first says, ‘How are you?’ The other replies, ‘I am happy. Aber glücklich bin ich nicht.’” However, what seems insincere to us, Herz says, developed out of the politeness discourse of pioneer society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Understanding through exchange

While studying at Harvard, Kirsten Rulf also kept coming up against viewpoints she never would have expected. “In one course on corporate governance, we were talking about women on supervisory boards. Up to that time, I was not aware that a quota policy, as is being discussed in Germany, is a cultural, social, and political taboo here.” In another course, Rulf had to listen as a high-ranking NSA employee justified many infringements of the private sphere by invoking aspects of national security. “As a German, I found myself at first having to swallow hard – I was too quick to associate this with the wiretapping of the Chancellor’s cellphone and such. But it is a very valuable experience to have to think about why I disagreed, about the cultural differences underlying the two perspectives, rather than simply to propound a knee-jerk argumentation.”

The many talks she had at Harvard with teachers, guests, and fellow students about values, political style, communication, women in politics, and of course the election campaign, also made one thing perfectly clear to her. “There is no such thing as a single, unified America.” That is why Rulf wants to spend the summer following her graduation taking a trip through those states far from the east coast that are still rather unknown to her.

As a McCloy, you learn to understand the country.

Dietmar Herz, political scientist

Anyone who is aware of the historical roots of certain views and customs, and has had hands-on contact with the communication culture of a place, is going to get ahead better and with more confidence at transatlantic meetings. This holds especially for those exchange students who may end up in leadership positions where they have to deal with transatlantic issues. “As a McCloy, you learn to understand the country. That is of the utmost importance to transatlantic relations,” says Herz the political scientist, emphasizing the importance of the exchange program.

Actively involved in the maintenance of the German-American friendship: the young organizers of the German American Conference at Harvard
© David Elmes

Actively involved in the maintenance of the German-American friendship: the young organizers of the German American Conference at Harvard

The exchange program also gives rise to contacts among the McCloys themselves. “For me, the alumni network consists of close acquaintances, friendships, and many possibilities to call upon experts when questions arise,” explains Dietmar Herz. He frequently invites McCloy alumni to give talks at the university, especially when the topic is America or public policy. “It puts you in touch with entire generations of McCloys, some of whom live in the USA and others in Germany. The annual meeting is like a huge family get-together,” Kirsten Rulf reports. She tells how the current fellows founded a WhatsApp group with their successors to clarify practical aspects of studying and make it easier for them to get started at Harvard.

For Rulf, the exchange program will soon end, since she just turned in her master’s thesis. At the same place where, seventy years ago, George C. Marshall held his lecture, which at first seemed unremarkable but was later to change the world, she has been working on a topic that could be (considerably) abbreviated to “A Constitution for the Internet”. Particularly in matters digital, there are “typical American approaches that could easily be instituted in the context of Germany or Europe”. Rulf would like to bring to Germany a bit of that “casual startup culture, where it’s also perfectly okay to fail,” in order to get involved in simplifying digital public services. The future of transatlantic relations is also based on contributing ideas and transferring knowledge to each other. Harvard in 1947 was not the scene of a mere initial spark: thanks to a lively exchange, the understanding between Germany and the U.S. is still being strengthened there seventy years after the Marshall Plan.


Text: Julia Holzapfel

Von Haniel Stiftung

At a glance

Read more about the McCloy-Program

Information on requirements and benefits can be found in the leaflet on the McCloy Academic Scholarship Program (German).

Get to know current and former McCloy Fellows on their official website.

Further information on the website of Harvard Kennedy School.

More about the German American Conference.

German American Conference at Harvard

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