Truman Doctrine

Truman Doctrine2018-12-04T22:26:09+00:00

Truman Doctrine for APUSH

About the Author: Johnny Roy, PhD has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 9 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has actively been involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 4 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam. Dr. Roy has recently worked with the Ohio Department of Education to help revise the states Model Curriculum for American History. 

The Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine was the foreign policy of the United States from 1947-1953 under President Harry S. Truman following the end of WWII. As the Cold War with the Soviet Union (USSR) escalated, the Truman Doctrine was designed to contain the spread of communism and check Soviet advances throughout the world.  The policy of containment was the backbone of the doctrine and worked through economic and military aid programs in the hopes of supporting nation states before communist roots could take hold.

The policy of containing communism was the backbone of the Truman Doctrine and worked through economic and military aid programs in the hopes of supporting nation states before communist roots could take hold.

Initially envisioned as a financial aid program to Greece and Turkey in 1947, the doctrine was expanded to include economic and military assistance to Europe and Asia. The Marshall Plan and military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were designed with the hopes of gaining allies against the USSR due to the growing tensions of the Cold War.

Presidential foreign policy doctrines were not new to the office of the presidency when Harry Truman assumed the position after the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. Washington’s neutrality proclamation in 1796, Monroe’s protectionist approach over the western hemisphere in 1823, and Theodore Roosevelt’s Imperialism of the early 20th century were all presidential foreign policy doctrines that helped shape the United States’ interactions on the world stage. However, Truman faced a problem unlike any president before him…the Cold War and communism under the threat of nuclear war.

Truman faced a problem unlike any president before him…the Cold War and communism under the threat of nuclear war.

And Then There Were Two

Following the end of WWII in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves as the two remaining super powers in the world. Traditional European powers had been on the decline for the past half-century and the destructive nature of Hitler’s blitzkrieg had left them looking inward towards self-recovery rather than outward towards Imperialistic ventures. England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Turkey were not in any economic or military position to challenge the U.S. or the USSR for world influence. After the death of FDR in the waning months of the war, Harry Truman became America’s 33rd president and was tasked with guiding the United States and the worlds’ ambitions of democracy and freedom in the post-war world.

Harry Truman became America’s 33rd president and was tasked with guiding the United States and the worlds’ ambitions of democracy and freedom in the post-war world.

The United States emerged from WWII with a booming economy, a distinct military advantage having developed the atomic bomb after the success of the Manhattan Project, and a world yearning for a champion of democracy after the decline of traditional European powers. The Soviet Union emerged from WWII in ruins having suffered more than 13 million casualties along with the destruction of vital resources and farmland along their western border. However, the defeat of Germany and Japan left no power in the region to check their still formidable army and the Soviet Union was looking to rebuild at the expense of surrounding countries. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin introduced a series of 5-year economic plans intended to help rebuild and reshape the Soviet Union into a dominant nation. While European dependency on the economic support of the U.S. due to the Marshall Plan continued to grow, the USSR was rebuilding on the backs of conquered nations while spreading the oppressive system of communism. Successfully consolidating influence over numerous surrounding countries and spreading the communist teachings of Karl Marx, the USSR took shape behind an iron curtain of tyranny and oppression.

The defeat of Germany and Japan left no power in the region to check their still formidable army and the Soviet Union was looking to rebuild at the expense of surrounding countries.

Truman Takes Action

The spread of communism was seen as the most dangerous threat to world stability and Truman was determined to take a hard line with the Soviets.

Once a WWII ally of the United States, the Soviet Union was quickly becoming a real threat to democracy around the world. The spread of communism was seen as the most dangerous threat to world stability and Truman was determined to take a hard line with the Soviets. American diplomat and historian George Kennan proposed the idea of containment; this concept would become the center piece of the Truman Doctrine. Containment was the concept of applying counter pressure to every political, military, or economic advance wherever and whenever the Soviets tried to make them. While not an entirely new idea, it was never seriously envisioned as a foreign policy until March of 1947 after a presidential address to Congress by Truman.  Due to their own domestic hardships, England announced that they would be unable to continue to militarily and economically support the democratic and strategically located nations of Greece and Turkey.  Truman decided it was time for the United States to step into the role of world leader, a role left vacant by the declining British Empire.

Truman decided it was time for the United States to step into the role of world leader, a role left vacant by the declining British Empire.

The Truman Doctrine was based on the principle of containing communism where it already existed and not allowing it to spread to neighboring nations like an unstoppable virus.

The Truman Doctrine was based on the principle of containing communism where it already existed and not allowing it to spread to neighboring nations like an unstoppable virus. Economic prosperity was seen as the best way to halt the spread of communism to these vulnerable nations. As such, the United States decided to commit financial resources to help contain communism. Greece and Turkey were themselves embattled in civil wars and social unrest and the fear of their societies turning to communism was high. Due to escalating fears of a communist takeover of those nations, Truman asked Congress for $400 million dollars to help stabilize the Greek and Turkish economies and defeat their domestic foes in the hopes of blocking communist infiltration.  After the successful intervention in Greece and Turkey, many within the Truman administration wanted to expand the economic aid to nations around the world in the hopes of containing communism and wielding more influence to help shape the world.

“There is some risk involved in action, there always is. But there is far more risk in failure to act.” – Harry Truman

While originally aimed at Greece and Turkey, the Truman Doctrine and the policy of containment created a precedent of American assistance to anti-communist regimes throughout the world.  In June of 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined an extension of the Truman Doctrine when he described an economic aid program aimed at helping rebuilding Europe and surrounding nations.  The goal was to eliminate the economic conditions in which communism could thrive, much like what occurred in Greece and Turkey.  Marshall pledged the U.S. to billions of dollars in aid and invited all European nations to request assistance in helping to rebuild their economies. Even Cold War foe Russia was offered aid, which Stalin declined fearing the Soviet Union would become dependent on money from the west.

While originally aimed at Greece and Turkey, the Truman Doctrine and the policy of containment created a precedent of American assistance to anti-communist regimes throughout the world.

As money flowed to Europe, the American economy prospered as Europeans used most of the funds to purchase finished goods, food, and other services from American industries. This economic success helped the U.S. enjoy an economic boom throughout the late 1940s and 1950s.  American industries reaped the benefits of fulfilling European needs and eased domestic fears of a return to pre-WWII depression era conditions.  The Marshall Plan proved to be one of the most successful components of the Truman Doctrine for the United States. By the early 1950s, the Truman doctrine was proving highly successful: European economic output had surpassed pre-war levels, possible spread of communism had been halted, and European nations were growing increasingly dependent on American imports.

The Marshall Plan proved to be one of the most successful components of the Truman Doctrine for the United States.

The Rise of the Covert Military

Beyond economic support, the Truman Doctrine and containment called for ever growing military and political intervention.  Geo-political groups, such as the United Nations, formed in 1945 and were being used as recruiting grounds for Cold War allies by both American and Soviet delegations. New U.S. departments and agencies were created to gather intelligence and assess global threats. The National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were created in 1947 and have been fundamental aspects of U.S. defense and intelligence gathering ever since.  Covert and traditional military operations occurred all around the world as the U.S. continued to aid countries in resisting communism.

Covert and traditional military operations occurred all around the world as the U.S. continued to aid countries in resisting communism.

The Truman Doctrine would face a difficult task in West Berlin in June of 1948. Cutting off road access to the embattled city, Stalin hoped his former WWII allies would abandon the city to the Soviets and to communism. However, the U.S. saw Berlin as a symbol of the fight between democracy and communism. Truman was determined not to let the city fall. Following the road closures, the U.S., England, and France began to airlift supplies into Berlin for more than a year, much to the disdain of Stalin and the Soviet Union. More than 2.3 tons of supplies were flown into the city until September of 1949 when Stalin finally lifted the blockade. The Berlin Airlift became a symbol of defiance directed at the Soviet Union and showed the extent that Truman would go to contain communism. Yet, after the fall of China to communist leader Mao Zedong in 1949, the policy of Containment was dealt a serious blow. Republicans throughout the U.S. accused Truman of “having lost China” to communism and criticized his policies. Nevertheless, Truman and his administration would not be deterred from embracing their policy of containment.

Beyond the Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine committed the United States to financial and resource assistance in order to contain the spread of communism.

American interventionism around the world has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy since the end of WWII.  The Truman Doctrine committed the United States to financial and resource assistance programs like the Marshall Plan and Berlin Airlift in order to contain the spread of communism. The Truman Doctrine also committed the United States to a policy of military protectionism of nations all around the world in the hopes of containing communism. Due to the threat of nuclear war after the Soviet Union successfully detonated its first atomic bombs in 1949, military alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) were formed with the goal of deterring Soviet aggression towards its members and their regions.

The Korean War (1950-53) was another direct result of the Truman Doctrine. Containment of North Korean communist advances into South Korea led to U.S. intervention in the region. Increasing political and military tensions throughout the Cold War emphasized the importance of the Truman Doctrine’s philosophies. Containment and later policies of varying nuclear deterrence along with economic and military intervention became the foundations of U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War. These foundational principles became the bedrock of American foreign policy until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Truman Doctrine, and its principles, became the bedrock of American foreign policy until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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