The Truman Doctrine was a major anti-Communist American foreign policy that marked the start of the Cold War. President Harry S. Truman announced on March 12, 1947 that the U.S. would support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent their falling into the Soviet sphere. The Doctrine shifted American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union from Détente to, as George F. Kennan phrased it, a policy of containment of Soviet expansion. Historians often use it to mark the starting date of the Cold War.
Truman's decision, supported by Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg and the Republican-controlled Congress, came after Britain urgently informed Washington that it was no longer able to support the Greek government's efforts to fight its civil war against Communist insurgents. Aid was given to Turkey because of the historic tensions with Greece. It was an early response to political aggression by the Soviet Union in Europe and the Middle East, illustrated through the Communist movements in Turkey and Greece. The Truman Doctrine was the first in a succession of containment moves by the United States, followed by economic restoration of Western Europe through the The Marshall Plan and military containment by the creation of NATO in 1949. In Truman's words, it became "the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Truman reasoned, because these "totalitarian regimes" coerced "free peoples," they represented a threat to international peace and the national security of the United States.
President Truman made the proclamation in an address to Congress amid the crisis of the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Truman insisted that if Greece and Turkey did not receive the aid that they needed, they would inevitably fall to communism with consequences throughout the region.
Truman signed the act into law on May 22, 1947. It granted $400 million ($300 million to Greece and $100 million to Turkey) in military and economic aid. The economic aid was to be used in repairing the infrastructure of these countries and military aid came in the form of military personnel supervising and helping with the reconstruction of these countries while training soldiers. This aid was to help Greece and Turkey get back on their feet so they could both support and defend themselves from coercive forces. It should be noted however that this American aid was in many ways a replacement for British aid which the British were no longer financially in a position to give.
Events in Greece
Iatrides and Rizopoulos (2000) explain the three phases of the Greek civil war, beginning with the opposition that formed during the military dictatorship of General John Metaxas (1936–41) in the reign of King George II. The invasion by Italian and German forces in 1940-41 gave credence to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which served as the backbone of the resistance in the northern mountainous region under the banner of the National Liberation Front (EAM) and the Control Committee of the National Liberation Army (ELAS). However, Stalin's support for the KKE was never strong. The British, however, supported the return of the king immediately after the liberation of Greece. By the end of the war, however, little opposition to ELAS remained other than the royalist resistance band the National Republican Greek League (EDES). The second phase of the conflict began immediately after liberation, as the Greek Communists, believing that they had the upper hand, sought support from Moscow and Belgrade. The Soviets, however, were not particularly interested in Greece and were willing to grant the British influential control. After Truman became president, accommodation with the Soviets was replaced with a hard-line, anti-Communist policy. Greece now became an international political battleground, as British supported a policy of containment and opposition to communists. In early 1947 the British were financially exhausted and asked Truman to take over their role.
The Communists were defeated. Besides the Truman Plan money factors that played a role include the poor leadership and tactics of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the withdrawal of Yugoslav support for the leftists, the efforts of the Greek government, and public attitudes favorable to the U.S. The termination of the civil war was a victory for the United States, vindicating its policy in Greece while marking a defeat for the Communists who in the end failed to achieve their goals.
The doctrine also had consequences elsewhere in Europe. Governments in Western Europe with powerful communist movements such as Italy and France were given a variety of assistance and encouraged to keep communist groups out of governments. In some respects, these moves were in response to moves made by the Soviet Union to purge opposition groups in Eastern Europe out of existence. Historians usually portray the Marshall Plan as a large-scale expansion of the Truman Doctrine.
In 1950, Truman signed the top-secret policy plan NSC-68 which shifted foreign policy from passive to active containment. The document differed from George F. Kennan's original notion of containment outlined in his "X" article, containing much harsher anti-communist rhetoric. NSC-68 explicitly stated that the Communists planned for world domination.
The Truman Doctrine also contributed to and became rationale for America's first involvements in the Vietnam War. Starting shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, Truman attempted to aid France's bid to hold onto its Vietnamese colonies. The United States supplied French forces with equipment and military advisors in order to combat Ho Chi Minh and anti-colonial communist revolutionaries.
Merrill (2006) argues the statement was initially aimed at winning congressional support for aid to Greece and Turkey, but it ultimately underpinned American Cold War policy throughout Europe and worldwide. The doctrine addressed a broader cultural insecurity regarding modern life in a globalized world. The administration's concern over Communism's domino effect, its media-sensitive presentation of the doctrine, and its mobilization of American economic and military power to modernize unstable regions marked the advent of a modern foreign policy. In its maintenance of military preponderance, its nation-building activities, its organization of alliances, its advocacy of "regime change," and its resort at times to limited war against armed insurgencies, the Truman Doctrine foreshadowed the George W. Bush doctrine against international terrorism.
The Truman Doctrine has become a metaphor for emergency aid to keep a nation from communist influence. Truman used disease imagery not only to communicate a sense of impending disaster in the spread of communism but also to create a "rhetorical vision" of containing it by extending a protective shield around non communist countries throughout the world. It echoed the "quarantine the aggressor" policy Franklin Delano Roosevelt wished to impose on Germany and Japan in 1937--("quarantine" suggested the role of public health officials handling an infectious disease). The medical metaphor extended beyond the immediate aims of the Truman Doctrine in that the imagery combined with fire and flood imagery evocative of disaster provided the United States with an easy transition to direct military confrontation in later years with communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. By presenting ideological differences in life or death terms, Truman was able to garner support for this communism-containing policy.
Before the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, only British troops and money were blocking Soviet expansion in this region. The Truman Doctrine resulted in the end of passive American foreign policy to more aggressive containment.
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- Truman Library website with papers related to the Truman Doctrine
- Full text of the speech
- Text of Truman's Address to Congress