Truman wanted to help free countries stay free

the white house

After World War II, the planet was in chaos, violence-filled the air and famine stalked most of the participating countries.

The Soviet Union had captured its neighbors in its communist web and was looking for others. The U.S. was faced with the necessity of finding a new approach to the problem of peaceful stabilization of international affairs.

The President Franklin D. Roosevelt concept of a postwar peace based on cooperation between the U.S. and Russia proved to be ineffective. Russia occupied most of Eastern and Central Europe and Stalin had made it clear at Yalta that the Soviet Union would not tolerate independent regimes there.

Stopping Soviet expansion

The protest of the U.S. and Great Britain did not alter the Russian control. In fact, the Soviet government attempted to expand into areas where it had no military control — Greece, Turkey and Iran.

In Iran, the U.S.S.R. refused to withdraw its occupation forces and made demands for exclusive oil and mineral rights. The U.S. and Great Britain joined in a strong note of protest. In March 1946, Soviet troops completed a withdraw, and the Iranian government succeeded in stabilizing its role.

In the case of Turkey, the Soviet Union sent several diplomatic notes in 1945 and 1946 which demanded the cession of border territory and a joint administration of the Dardanelles. This would provide for the leasing to the U.S.S.R. of naval and army bases in the Dardanelles to implement joint control.

The U.S. immediately sent a strong naval fleet into the Mediterranean. A week later, Great Britain joined in the crowd of ships in a rejection of Soviet demands on Turkey.

Meanwhile in Greece, only extensive British military and economic aid prevented a complete collapse of the war-torn country and a coup d’etat by communist guerrillas. It was obvious Russia wanted to establish her influence in the Mediterranean.

Churchill’s speech

In a speech at Fulton, Missouri, in early 1946, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill energized the foreign policy environment. With President Harry S. Truman on the platform, Churchill characterized the Soviet Union as an expansionist state which would react only to a strong counterforce.

He believed that only collaboration between the U.S. and Great Britain could preserve the independence of Europe. From the Baltic to the Adriatic, Churchill aptly said, an “iron curtain” had descended upon Europe, and behind it Russians could in secrecy consolidate their aims.

Churchill’s speech and other worldly events aroused much discussion within the Truman administration.

Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace commanded a small minority of followers who declared that only American-Soviet cooperation could prevent another war. He pointed out that the Soviet desire for control of its borders and the desire to have a yearly warm winter port was historically significant, understandable and reasonable.

Down the street, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes urged the U.S.S.R. to adopt a more cooperative diplomatic policy. He suggested that the U.S. should pursue a “policy of firmness and patience,” and wait for the Soviets to see the reasonableness of negotiation.

Truman and friends thought differently — it was the U.S. which was being reasonable and not the U.S.S.R.

Truman troubled

Truman was at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 and was dismayed about how Poland was being manipulated by the Soviets. He wanted to challenge Stalin, but his advisors urged him to keep the focus on Japan and not start a row with the Russian leader. This he did, but left the meeting with a mindset that Stalin was not an honest and trusted partner in world affairs.

In a letter to Byrnes, he laid it out: “there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the Russians intend an invasion of Turkey and the seizure of the Black Sea straits. Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist and strong language, another war is in the making … I’m tired of babying the Soviets.”

By 1947, the Truman team had adapted the position that the revolutionary postulates of the Soviet regime made traditional diplomacy impossible. The first step in the development of the new policy toward the U.S.S.R. appeared in response to the continuing threat to Greece and Turkey.

In February 1947, the British, in a retrenchment mode, announced that it would no longer afford to maintain a presence in Greece. Truman determined that the time had come for the U.S. to stop this Russian nonsense and declare that the independence of Greece and the recovery of Europe were crucial for the security of the U.S.

Truman Doctrine. On March 12, 1947, Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress and presented what became known as the Truman Doctrine. He outlined the desperate situation in both Greece and Turkey and stressed the point that such totalitarian aggression was a direct threat to the free world.

Congress appropriated $400,000,000 for economic aid to both Greece and Turkey. The legislation also authorized the president to dispatch civilian and military advisors to help both nations assert their sovereignty. This was a radical departure from traditional foreign policy of “nonentanglement” established during the presidency of George Washington.

The principles of the Truman Doctrine were not temporary, but a general principle of American foreign policy to help free people to maintain their national integrity and freedom. This was the first nail sealing the coffin of the Cold War.

The objectives of the Truman program were achieved slowly but surely. Greece was helped by the break between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia that occurred in 1948 and Marshal Josip Tito ceased to be a Stalin puppet.

He remained a small “c” communist but was a leading spokesman for nations that refused to take sides in the Cold War. He also closed the country’s borders to Russian guerrillas who filtered into Greece. The financial aid and military advisers soon brought the Greek army to a high degree of efficiency and restored order.

In Turkey, the American aid was used to rebuild the army so effectively that the danger of a Russian attack all but disappeared. In 1953, the Soviet government let the world know that it would no longer insist upon its earlier demands.

The next step in this new foreign policy was to bring the same consideration to bear upon West Europe and Asia. The future Marshall plans assisted the recovery of these areas. These plans set America on a course of containment wherever Soviet expansion threatened.

Containment became the official Cold War policy of the U.S. for at least two and a half decades and put a tremendous burden on American consistency and steadfastness.

That’s your history!


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Professor Emeritus Hugh Earnhart had a 32-year career in the history department at Youngstown State University, where he specialized in the Civil War and the South. Send suggestions, comments or questions to Hugh Earnhart in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via email to:



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