Truman Doctrine


Truman Doctrine Essay, Research Paper

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

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 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

was gained.

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 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.

Primary Sources:

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.

1989, pp.19-22.

Serfaty, Simon. “Lost Illusions.” Foreign Policy, Spring 1988, pp.


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