The Truman Doctrine
The Truman Doctrine was the impetus for the change in United States
foreign policy, from isolationist to internationalists; thus we were drawn
into two wars of containment and into world affairs. The Truman Doctrine
led to a major change in U.S. foreign policy from its inception - aid to
Turkey and Greece - to its indirect influence in Korea and Vietnam. The
aftermath of World War II inspired the U.S. to issue a proclamation that
would stem Communist influence throughout the world. However, our zeal
in that achievement sent our soldiers to die in Vietnam and Korea for a
seemingly futile cause.
It must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples. This is no
more than a frank recognitions that totalitarian regimes imposed on free
peoples . . .undermine the foundations of . . . peace and security of the
The Truman Doctrine would change the foreign policy of the United States
and the world. This policy would first go in aid to support the democratic
regimes in Turkey and Greece. These nations were being threatened by Soviet-supported
rebels seeking to topple the government and install a Communist regime.
The Soviets were also making extreme territorial demands especially concerning
the Dardanelles. A direct influence of this Doctrine was, of course, the
Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was designed to give aid to any European
country damaged during World War II. It tremendously helped ravaged European
nations such as Italy and France. By helping them economically, the Marshall
Plan indirectly helped to stem growing Communist sentiment in these countries.
The process whereby the Truman Doctrine came to fruition was a long
and arduous one. After World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States
stood at the pinnacle of world power. By the late '40's, the U.S.S.R. had
caught up to the United States' nuclear weapons programs. In addition,
they were very land-hungry. Throughout Russia's history, they have been
in search of a port - a quest advanced further by Peter the Great and Catherine
the Great. The Soviets in that respect were direct threats to their non-Communist
neighbors: Greece, Turkey, and Iran.
In Iran, the U.S.S.R. was not evacuating Iran's northern provinces despite
entreaties from the United States. In Turkey, the Soviet Union coveted
several naval bases along the Straits of Dardanelles. Further, they pressured
Turkey for border cessions that Turkey had taken from Russia after World
War I. In Greece, the Soviets encouraged the insurgent leader Markos Vafiades
with arms and economic support. The British troops helping the Grecian
government were strangled of supplies due to poor economic times in Britain.
Also, further territorial requisitions to Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria
were being made.
Seeing the deteriorating U.S. - Soviet relations, Truman issued two
statements about "agreements, violations, reparations, and Soviet actions
threatening U.S. security." "1. The Middle East is of strategic importance
to the U.S.S.R.(from which they are in range of an air attack.) 2. The
U.S. must be prepared to wage atomic and biological warfare." (Ferrel 247)
Soon after, he sent bombers to the Middle East. He desired the return of
all arms given to U.S.S.R. under the Lend-Lease Act.
There isn't a doubt in my mind that Russia intends an invasion of Turkey
and seizure of the Black Sea straits to the Mediterranean. Unless Russia
is faced with an iron fist and strong language another war is in the making,
How many divisions have you? Truman had his eye on the Soviets and on war.
However, The U.S.S.R. never made such invasions and thus quelled Truman's
paranoia. The Truman Doctrine was starting to develop during 1947 when
Truman issued several statements.
1. The present Russian ambassador . . . persona non grata . . . does
not belong in Washington.
2. Urge Stalin to pay us a visit.
3. Settle the Korean question give the Koreans a government of their
4. Settle the Manchurian question .. . support Chang Kai-Shek for
a strong China.
5. Agree to discussion of Russia's lend-lease debt to the U.S.
6. Agree to commercial air treaty.
7. Make it plain that we have no territorial ambitions. That we only
want peace, but we'll fight for it!
Truman also set several goals for questioned territories: The U.S. would
go to war if provoked. The Danube, Trieste, Dardanelles, Kiel Canal, and
Rhine-Danube waterway should by free to all nations. Manchuria should be
Chinese, Dairen should be a free port. Russia should have Kuriles and Sakhalin
. . . Germany should be occupied 'according to Yalta.' Austria should not
be treated as an enemy country. After these announcements the British disclosed
that they could no longer give aid to Turkey and Greece and that the U.S.
must pick up the slack. This left Greece in extreme danger of toppling
into Communist control. "If Greece fell . . . Turkey isolated in the Eastern
Mediterranean, would eventually succumb . . ."
Truman's plan for peacetime aid -- The Truman Doctrine -- was unprecedented
in history (a sum of more than $400 million) and he faced a hostile Republican
Congress through which to pass it. However, Truman informed the Congress
of the troubles facing Italy, Germany and France. They and small, fragile
Middle-eastern states faced direct threats from Communism. In retort, the
Congress had problems with Truman's plan that included: The Greek government
was corrupt and undemocratic; Turkey, too, was not a Democracy. Turkey
had been neutral during the war. Further, the President's plan for aid
gave no attention to Communism outside Europe. Nonetheless, two months
later the bill passed on May 15, 1947.
Truman added while signing the legislation into law: We are guardians
of a great faith. We believe that freedom offers the best chance of peace
and prosperity for all, and our desire for peace cannot be separated from
our belief in liberty. We hope that in years ahead more and more nations
will come to know the advantages of freedom and liberty. It is to this
end that we have enacted the law I have now signed.
It was brought to Truman's attention that Europe was by no means content
in their economic recovery. Britain was near bankruptcy, Italy, France,
and Germany were plagued by a terrible winter. More aid was needed to keep
their democratic governments afloat.
Thus, a direct result from the Truman Doctrine was the Marshall Plan.
This came about when Truman appointed General Marshall as Secretary of
State. In that position, he observed "Europe's economic plight." Marshall
proposed a plan that would offer aid to all nations "West of the Urals."
(Truman, 355) This included the U.S.S.R. and her Eastern European satellite
states. They, however, refused the aid. By March 1948, Congress had appropriated
the first installment. Truman signed it into law on April 3, 1948. By its
consummation in 1952 it would provide more than $13 billion in aid to war-ravaged
This was a grand change in U.S. Foreign policy. We had gone from isolationists
to internationalists. This Doctrine is in direct contrast to the Monroe
Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine served as the U.S. Foreign policy for well
over 150 years. It essentially stated that the U.S. would not intervene
in the World's affairs as long as no one interfered with hers. With the
Truman Doctrine, we completely reversed that role that had been only briefly
breached during the World Wars. Our new policy was one of Containment:
To contain the spread of Communism to the states in which it presently
Our relationship with the U.S.S.R. after Truman's declaration was in
continuing deterioration. A major threat to our relationship was the Berlin
Blockade of 1948. On June 24, 1948, the Soviets enacted a total blockade
on Berlin. The U.S. response was to airlift supplies into the cutoff West
Berliners. By its end 277,804 sorties delivered 2,325,809 tons of goods
to Berlin -- more than a ton a piece to every Berliner.
That threat brought Truman to prepare for war. He asked Congress for
two measures in addition to the Marshall Plan to fortify America: The first
was to temporarily enact the Draft. The Second was a long range plan called
Universal Military Training. This was designed to train all males graduating
from high school for combat. This idea never had a chance in Congress.
Truman also made a pact with Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark,
Iceland, and Brussels pact nations. This was all a prelude to the
upcoming conflict in the Korean War. We had not been able to assess the
relative strength of the U.S.S.R. However, what we did know was that we
had a far bigger atomic buildup than the Soviets -- nearly 300 bombs! However,
conventionally, we were far poorer.
On June 24, 1950 Truman was told that North Korea had invaded South
Korea or in Containment terms: Communism was spreading! The UN Security
took a unanimous vote to declare war on North Korea. Truman hastily sent
10,000 troops from Japan to combine with the weak South Korean Army. Even
together, they were hardly a match for the 90,000 battle- hardened and
strong North Koreans. General MacArthur was put in charge and ceded much
space in order to buy time for reinforcements. Meanwhile, the American
public was not seeing the value of killing their boys in Korea. "We demand
that you stop murdering American boys and Korean People . . ."
Truman increased military spending to finance the war reinforcements.
With newly received reinforcements, MacArthur brilliantly turned the tide
of war. MacArthur moved speedily up the Korean Peninsula until Chinese
intervention. They briefly provided a problem but they had no air force
with which to support their own troops. Truman fired MacArthur on insubordination
charges. The U.N. forces continued the war until a cease-fire was made
in 1953. This reestablished the border at the 38th parallel. During this
war, the U.S. lost about 60,000 troops. What results did we get? No border
changes, a minor containment of Communism that probably would not have
made much difference to the U.S. anyway. Only the death of Americans was
The next result of the Truman Doctrine was the Vietnam War. This was
another anti- Communist containment war. Ho Chi Minh had invaded South
Vietnam. It began with the Gulf of Tonkin incident in which Vietnam Torpedo
boats attacked U.S. destroyers. From there, more and more troops were poured
into Vietnam. U.S. began bombing raids in 1965. By the end of that year
more than 200,000 troops were in Vietnam. In 1968, 525,000 troops were
there. Several peace initiatives were given by the U.S. but were refused,
however by the Vietnamese. The Tet offensive renewed lagging conflict and
eventually led to the end of all-out U.S. involvement in 1973. In 1970,
the U.S. entered Cambodia due to a coup. However, in three months the U.S.
troops were withdrawn. At the end of our withdrawal nearly 60,000 troops
were killed and this time we had not even saved the country we were defending.
The veterans received nearly no welcome as the public was not interested
in fighting a war too far away to matter.
One great event that has caused the U.S. to escalate world aid and involvement
was the collapse of the Soviet Union. No longer are we fighting to contain
Communism, but instead to maintain Democracy any and everywhere.
Still, today the Truman Doctrine prevails in determining our foreign
policy. Most recently, we fought the stunning Gulf War. This was not a
war of containment but it served a similar purpose. It sought to prevent
an aggressor from overtaking a weaker neighbor. Luckily, we had minimal
casualties. This war was one different from Korea and Vietnam. It had a
significant impact on the United States. We fought for our oil supply.
Thus, this war did have a significant purpose.
The U.S. has also fought minor skirmishes in hot spots around the world.
In the Mideast we fought in Lebanon and Libya, not to mention our massive
aid to Israel. In Central America, we have given aid to Nicaragua, fought
in Panama, Grenada, and Haiti. All of these illustrate the impact of the
Truman Doctrine on our foreign policy. In Europe, we have not fought any
wars but have given massive aid. From the Marshall Plan to a World Monetary
Fund $10 billion grant to Russia, we have aided Europe throughout half
a century. We formed many alliances such as NATO to combat Communism and
preserve Independence there. And the most recent conflict of all is the
Balkan conflict. We are again in danger of being drawn into a war with
no clear purpose or advantage to the U.S. But in the continuance of the
Truman Doctrine, we have stationed troops there. Hopefully, no casualties
will come about but no one can prognosticate the future of such a hot spot
The Truman Doctrine has impacted everyone in the U.S. and nearly every
country in the world since its declaration in 1947. Some critics castigate
the Doctrine: "Critics blamed involvement in Korea and Vietnam on the Truman
Doctrine. Without the Doctrine . . . the U.S. might have minded its own
business." (McCullough, 571) While other critics argue: " Truman was trying
to restore the European Balance of Power and had neither the intention
nor the capability of policing the world." (McCullough, 571) He may have
not had that intention, but that is exactly the Doctrine's ramification.
All over the world U.S. troops sit waiting to protect Democracy. The Truman
Doctrine ensures that even without a valid threat to U.S. security we must
waste American lives to "protect the free peoples of the World." (McCullough,
571) Would the world have been a worse place if we had not acted to protect
South Korea and South Vietnam? Would the U.S.S.R. have fallen due to its
own economic instability and only fleeting control over its massive population?
These questions can be cogitated but never answered. One thing is certain,
people should not die for a cause that is nonexistent, or one that could
have destroyed itself.
Ferrel, Robert. Harry S.Truman, A Life. London: University of Missouri
Press, 1994. pp. 246- 268, 353-357.
McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. pp. 550-575
Truman, Margaret. Harry S.Truman. New York: William Morrow and Co.,
Inc., 1973. pp. 344- 372.
"The Truman Doctrine." Grolier Encyclopedia. 1993 ed.
"Vietnam War." Microsoft Encarta. 1994 ed.
Draper, Theodore. "American Hubris: From Truman to the Persian Gulf."
New York Review of Books, 16 Jul. 1987, pp.40-48.
"Truman Doctrine Speech." gopher://wiretap.spies.com:70/00/Gov/US-Speech/Truman.47
"The Truman Doctrine: The Unstoppable Boulder." Economist, 14 Mar. 1989,
Serfaty, Simon. "Lost Illusions." Foreign Policy, Spring 1988, pp. 3-19.