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 United States.
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
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 inhabits.
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
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
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
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
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 for
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.
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."
"The Truman Doctrine: The Unstoppable Boulder." Economist, 14 Mar.
Serfaty, Simon. "Lost Illusions." Foreign Policy, Spring 1988, pp.