The Truman Doctrine Essay

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     On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman presented the policy that came to be known at the Truman Doctrine.  This doctrine was to alter and dominate the tone and direction of U.S. foreign policy1 over the next four decades until the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.  Many factors contributed to the creation of the Doctrine.  The world at the time and the atmosphere of the world were very different from what it is today.

Less than two years out of World War II, global suspicions and tensions at the time were thought to necessitate taking actions to prevent a third global conflict.  Although Hitler and Mussolini were dead and the leaders of wartime Japan except Emperor Hirohito had been tried, executed or removed, there was still great concern over the possibility that minor conflicts around the world could possibly lead to global alliances that would lead to war.  Premier Joseph Stalin, fear and suspicion of Stalin, concern for the spread of totalitarian regimes and the desire to take advantage of possible strategic military gains were the major contributors to the creation of the Truman Doctrine.

President Truman believed that it was necessary to stop the spread of Soviet domination.  It was widely believed that every country that fell to the coercion of totalitarian regimes would lead to a domino effect whereby other countries would do likewise.  Although this was largely fear of Stalinism, i.e., Stalins brand of communism, it was not viewed as such at the time nor in the decades that followed.2  It was eventually labeled as communism from the beginning of the Cold War until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Global Atmosphere after WWII

     The global atmosphere that existed after World War II was not conducive to mutual trust but no one desired another global conflict.  The world had endured two global conflicts in less than 40 years.  Although Hitler, Mussolini and other Axis leaders were gone, there were still great suspicions and mistrust about Soviet military activity and intentions and Stalin desired to create a buffer zone to protect Russia from foreign invaders.  His goal for protecting Russia during and after WWII was to surround Russias borders with friendly countries that would serve as a buffer against any invasion into Russia.  Stalins efforts to surround Russia with countries friendly to the Soviet Union played a major role in the creation of the Truman Doctrine.

     The Truman Administration did not accept that there was a Soviet threat after WWII, but Soviet refusal to compromise on peace settlements and their activities in Eastern and Western Europe irritated and worried the Administration.  Truman was contentious regarding concerns about the Soviet Union until late in 1945 when he became alarmed over Soviet failures to keep agreements and to act aggressively against weaker countries.

In 1945, the Soviets had armed a separatist movement in Azerbaijan and refused to allow the Iranian Shahs troops access into the province to suppress the movement.  Therefore, Truman had witnessed and recognized Soviet actions to interfere with the internal affairs of governments in the Middle East in an effort to exert its influence in the area.  The administrations view was that if left unchecked, Soviet influence would permeate and take over the entire region and thus pose a threat to U.S. national security.

     The crisis in Iran from 1945-46 was over whether the Soviet Union would withdraw troops that had been there since WWII or whether it would turn northern Iran into a province of Azerbaijan subject to Soviet control.  Soviet troops had been in place in Iran since 1942 to block against German aggression and to protect Iranian oil fields, but the Soviets troops were supposed to have been removed six months after the end of WWII.  After WWII, the Soviets agreed to withdraw from Iran and Azerbaijan no later than March 2, 1946, but that withdrawal date came and went without Soviet withdrawal and tensions increased as Soviet forces in Azerbaijan were actually reinforced.

     Throughout 1946, the US was rapidly demobilizing from WWII largely because Americans wanted to be free of the inconveniences they had endured during the war.  Stalin hoped that the withdrawal and demobilization of American troops from Europe after WWII would result in greater Soviet influence.  Both Russia and America viewed each others actions with suspicion and mistrust.  This prolonged atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust between East and West led to the tensions of the Cold War and the creation of the Iron Curtain. 3  In June 1946 Dean Acheson voiced his concerns about the U.S. demobilization by saying that bringing the troops home was not conducive to a free and tranquil world.

He believed that ¦the sensible way to strengthen a structure is not to weaken its most essential parts.  While some of the Soviet actions were overt, Acheson noted with concern that there were murkier methods by which Moscow was extending its control, always under the shadow of the Red Army.  During the 1945-46 Iranian crisis the Soviets armed a separatist movement in Azerbaijan that ultimately revolted against the Shah of Iran in November 1945 and denied the Shahs troops into the province to suppress the revolt.

This created an indirect crisis between the U.S. and Britain on one side backing Iran and the USSR on the other backing the separatists.  A confrontation between the US and the USSR was averted when Iranian troops finally entered Azerbaijan and the Soviet supported separatist regime collapsed.  On December 17, 1946, Iranian Ambassador George Allen, U.S. Ambassador to Iran from 1946 until 1948, stated in a cable the quick collapse of the separatist movement was due to the Russian, Iranian and Azerbaijani conviction that the United States solidly supported Iranian sovereignty.4,5

     President Truman felt that totalitarian regimes such as that in the USSR represented a threat to international peace and to the national security of the United States.  He insisted that Greece and Turkey needed aid to prevent them from falling to the Soviet sphere and that if they turned to the USSR, it would have consequences throughout the region.  As he viewed the situation, both Turkey and Greece were subject to pressure from the Soviet Union and to the prospect of outright Soviet aggression.

Of course, the situation was much more complex than Truman and Acheson described, but the Administration simplified the situation so as to generate public support for his unprecedented peacetime foreign-policy initiatives.  Privately, President Truman even admitted that he was faced with the greatest selling job ever facing a President, but Dean Acheson said that No time was left for measured appraisal, 6 so, on March 12, 1947, President Truman implemented the Truman Doctrine in an address to a joint session of Congress.

Of Trumans speech announcing the Truman Doctrine, Frazier7 states, His speech was an obvious declaration that the United States was embarking on a policy of active opposition to Soviet expansionism, although that country was never mentioned.  In that address, the President requested $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey because the fateful hour¦to choose between alternative ways of life had arrived.

Greek Civil War

     Greece played an important role in the Allied efforts during WWII, but its economy was wrecked during the Nazi occupation.  Greece, a British protectorate, was financially dependent on Britain for its survival but during the Greek Civil War.  Britain realized that it could not afford to continue providing needed aid to Greece, so Britain approached the U.S. for assistance.  Within four days after the British announced their withdrawal of aid from Greece, the State Department discussed the problem and ultimately took over the British economic burden providing the explanation that failure to assume that burden posed a danger to democracy and freedom and a threat to U.S. security. 8

The nature of the threat was never stated.  The Greek Civil war was an effort between communist insurgents and forces of the Greek government.  The Truman Doctrine was designed to provide aid to Greece in its efforts against communist insurgents and to prevent Greece from falling into the hands of the communists.  At the time, the U.S. intervention into the affairs of foreign countries where the U.S. had few direct interests was an unprecedented U.S. intervention.9

     The Greek Civil had its origins during the First World War when the venizelist movement of Eleftherios Venizelos clashed with royalists.  It was initiated around the beginning of the 20th Century as an opposition to the Greek Monarchy and continued to gather steam throughout the century up to and after the end of World War II.  Greek factions opposed to the Greek monarchy led by Eleftherios Venizelos clashed with those loyal to the monarchy who supported its continuation.  This ideological and political clash created conditions in Greece that were perfect for a Stalinist takeover after WWII.  The rise of the Communist party in Greece added to this division by creating an environment that was right for a right-wing dictatorship.

The Communists in Albania and Yugoslavia supported the one faction in the civil war, the KKE, but Stalin never gave strong support to the KKE.  Nazi occupation in Greece between 1941 and 1944 gave rise to a Greek Civil war from 1941 until 1944, but there was relative peace between 1945 and 1946.  By the end of World War II, Western Allied funds, military advisors and equipment were provided to the Greek civil war to defeat the Greek insurgents in the mountains of central Greece near the borders of Albania and Yugoslavia.  As had been true earlier in the century, this struggle was basically an effort for Venizelos and his supporters to end the Greek monarchy, a struggle between Venizelists against pro-monarchy conservatives in Greece.

     Although aspects of the Greek Civil War had their basis in the effort against a monarchy in Greece early in the twentieth century, the origins of the civil war around WWII (i.e., the reason it regained steam) were basically founded in the German occupation of Greece by Hitler and Bulgaria from 1941 until 1944.  The ruler of Greece fled to Egypt and established a Greek government in exile that the West Allies acknowledged but the Soviet Union did not.  The government in exile had little influence on the way Greece was run and thus was more or less irrelevant in Greece.

As a result of the existence of a government in exile with no influence in Greece, there was a power vacuum that resistance movements filled during German occupation in Greece.  Economic mismanagement and unreasonable German demands for reparation led to runaway inflation, acute food shortages and famine that added to Greek Civil War after the end of WWII.  During WWII, Germany established a collaborative Government in Athens that was equally as ineffective as the Greek government in exile.  The collaborative government established paramilitary forces to fight communist partisans.

     After World War II, relations between the Soviet Union the Western Allies deteriorated eventually leading to the Cold War.  In February, 1945, civil fighting in Greece stopped and the various Greek parties came to an agreement that was supported by Western Allies.  However, fighting resumed in March 1946.  Prior to 1947, Britain gave financial and military support to Greece in its civil war against Communist insurgents, but in that year, Britain could no longer afford to support Greece and its efforts to fight communist insurgents.

  Truman viewed his action as an effort to stop the political aggression of Stalinist Russia and the spread of a totalitarian regime.  As will be discussed later, Truman never viewed his efforts as an ideological struggle against Stalinism, Communism or Communist ideology.  His stated efforts were to stop totalitarian regimes from bullying smaller governments, but there was more to it than what appeared on the surface.

     Truman believed that providing aid to Turkey and Greece would stop them from falling into the hands of the Soviet Bloc and would deal with Soviet political aggression in Europe and the Middle East. 10  It was Trumans effort to support free peoples in their effort to resist armed subjugation by Soviet Russia.

Aid was also given to Turkey due to the historic tensions between Turkey and Greece and for U.S. strategic reasons so that the U.S. could take advantage of a favorable opportunity to enhance the U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.  U.S. policy makers did not expect an imminent Soviet attack on Turkey. 11  Rather, it was an effort to improve U.S. and Turkish efforts against the Soviet Union if military tensions should suddenly erupt.

     Although communist regimes in Yugoslavia and Albania supported the efforts to bring communism to Greece, Stalin was not interested in prosecuting a war against Western Allies in Greece.  He gave little direct support to communist insurgents in Greece, but Truman and Great Britain felt that he might do otherwise and lent their support to those fighting against Communist insurgents.  Yugoslavia and Albania were part of the Communist Bloc, but they were not Soviet puppets.

After the death of Vladimir Lenin on January 21, 1924, the world watched as Stalin consolidated his power in Russia.  Stalin consolidated his power by banishing party leaders from Russia and into Russian Gulag labor camps, executing them and outright murder such and the murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940.  Trotsky was the last of Stalins opponents.  This was the type of forceful control Truman expected Stalin to exert over the countries he controlled in the Soviet Bloc, not freedom but repression and coercion.

     After the Truman Doctrine, the anti-Communist forces of the Greek government won victory and set the ideological tone for Greece throughout the 1950s until the fall of the Berlin Wall.  During World War I and World War II, Greece maintained alliances with Britain, France and other democratic states in the West against Germany and against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Although a peace accord was reached in 1945, fighting reignited in 1946 under the Democratic Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Elladas, DSE) that infiltrated Greece from Yugoslavia and Albania after a year of relative peace.

By 1947, Communist insurgents decided to move away from guerilla tactics to a full-scale conventional war.  When full-scale fighting in Greece increased through 1947, Truman feared that the atmosphere was ripe for Stalinist aggression in Greece, so after Britain informed the U.S. that they could no longer afford the financial burden of support for Greece, Truman announced that the U.S. would increase its support to the government of Greece against Communist pressure.

Tension between Turkey and Greece: 

     Relations between Turkey and Greece have fluctuated between harmonious and unstable since the 19th century.  After WWI, leader of Turkey and Greece desired to establish good relations between the countries and renounced all claims to Turkish territory.  During Nazi occupation of Greece in 1941 Turkey sent humanitarian aid to Greece to relieve a famine in Athens.

After WWII, the economy of both Turkey and Greece was in shambles.  As a British protectorate, Greece received aid from England, but providing aid was a great financial strain on England.  The Truman Doctrine resulted when the British approached the U.S. to take over providing financial assistance to Greece so as to relieve the strain on England.  Trumans fears were that Turkey and Greece might fall to communist insurgents in the country if financial aid was not provided and that the turn to communism would spread to Turkey and throughout the region.

     In 1945 and early 1946, the Soviets emphasized their need to enhance Soviet security in the Turkish Straits, the Dardanelles and in the Black Sea.  The Truman Doctrine included aid to Turkey not so much because of past tension between Turkey and Greece, but because Russia had expressed an interest in establishing military bases in Turkey.  In discussions with Turkey in 1945 and early 1946, Soviet diplomats indicated their desire to have better security in the Dardanelles and in the Black Sea, but they were vague about exactly what they wanted and implied that they might be satisfied with bases in the Turkish Straits that were not permanent.

However, knowledge of the Soviet desire caused a furor in Washington.  U.S. diplomats interpreted the Soviet proposals as a smoke screen for destroying Turkeys independence.12,13,14  The U.S. reaction to Soviet efforts to enhance its security was far out of proportion to the apparent threat.  However, at Potsdam Soviet diplomats were flexible on the territorial issue and made it only of secondary importance.  After the spring of 1946, the matter disappeared.15

     In light of Soviet activities in the Middle East, George F. Kennan and others argued for a policy to contain Soviet expansion.  Kennans idea of containing Soviet expansion as later expressed in NSC-68 was to coerce the USSR by making significant peacetime military spending.  He called for defending the West by increasing their war-making capabilities.  His idea was also to provide and protect base mobilization, to destroy vital Soviet war-making abilities, to defend and maintain lines of communication and bases for containment and to provide aid to those allies essential in achieving these efforts at containment.

Policy makers in the Truman Administration did not actually expect an imminent Soviet attack on Turkey, but they wanted to take advantage of a favorable opportunity to enhance the strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.  Greece was in the middle of a civil war and Turkey was stable, but the President felt that both were subject to pressure from the Soviet Union and to the prospect of outright Soviet aggression.16

     At the beginning of 1947, the State Department recognized and accepted that the Soviet Union had initiated and supported the Greek communists in the Greek Civil War.  While most scholars do not believe that the civil war in Greece fit into the category of potential Soviet aggression, historians have paid much less attention to the developments in Turkey at the time.  Dean Acheson warned that three continents could fall prey to Soviet domination if the U.S. failed to act.  Dean G. Acheson, the Undersecretary of State at the time, warned that three continents could fall prey to Soviet domination is the U.S failed to act.17

Truman Announces His Policy

     The Truman Doctrine was an early response to political aggression by the Soviet Union in Europe and the Middle East.  It was designed to improve the military capabilities of Turkey and the U.S. to wage war against the Soviet Union if such a conflict should unexpectedly arise.  The U.S. gave aid to Greece to assist in its civil war against Communist insurgents and gave aid to Turkey because of its historic tensions with Greece in an attempt to prevent them from turning to the USSR for aid.  The President felt that the U.S. had to support free peoples and stated that it would be ¦the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

His efforts were designed to stop totalitarian regimes from coercing free peoples around the world.  Ultimately, the Truman Doctrine initiated a series of United States efforts to contain Soviet political aggression.  Subsequently, The Marshall Plan was set in place to assist Western Europe in its economic recovery from the war and NATO was formed in 1949 to contain Soviet military expansion.  Neither the Truman Doctrine nor NSC-68 (below) which followed in 1950 were ever intended to be a struggle against communism as their policy came to be portrayed in subsequent administrations.

     On April 14, 1950, the National Security Council Report 68, NSC-68, was issued stepping up initiatives first put in place by the Truman Doctrine and outlining the national security strategy of the United States.  NSC-68 analyzed the military, economic, political and psychological status of the US and the USSR at the time.  It argued for a military buildup to protect the US from an enemy unlike previous aspirants to hegemony¦ animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own.

The document viewed the Soviets as a totalitarian regime that desired to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.  The US was painted as the center of power in the free world and was given the task of building an international community where American society would survive and flourish by containing Soviet aggression.  While some might argue that NSC-68 displaced the Truman Doctrine, it was more of a continuation of the policy, a document that re-enforced the policy and took it a step further.18

     President Truman desired to curb military spending even after the Soviets became a nuclear power.  Some in the Truman Administration believed that Soviet leaders felt too weak to risk a general war by engaging in military aggression.  Furthermore, many in the Truman Administration didnt believe that the Soviet Union was closing the economic gap between the USSR and the US.  Willard Thorpe stated, I do not feel that this position is demonstrated, but rather the reverse.  The actual gap is widening in our favor.

When initially introduced, NSC-68 was faced with much opposition and some in the Truman Administration all but gave up on it.  However, when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, NSC-68 took on added significance which led many Americans to conclude that the Soviet Union sought to dominate the world and so there were increased efforts to counter the perceived Soviet threat.  Acheson commented, ¦(Korea) created the stimulus which made action.  The Korean invasion increased support for the mobilization of significant resources to counter the perceived Soviet threat.

     The Truman Doctrine is largely viewed as being responsible for the U.S. taking on the role as the policeman of the world and establishing the basis for the U.S. economic and Cold War diplomacy.19  It has always been viewed as an attack on Soviet communism and eventually came to be viewed to mean that Soviet aggression was driven by Marxism-Leninism although there is every reason to believe that President Truman and Under Secretary Acheson never intended this to be the case, may actually have objected to such a view and the State Department subordinates who felt that way made no effort to include that view as part of the argument to accept the doctrine.13=20  President Trumans attitude toward the Soviet Union was almost entirely based on the Soviets failure to keep agreements and its aggression against weaker countries.

     In his speech, President Truman never mentioned the Soviet Union by name and those who prepared the doctrine were told not to make reference to communism as an ideology.  During the Congressional hearings on what came to be known as The Truman Doctrine, the administration denied any intended aggressive attitude toward communism as an ideology.  Yet, the beginning of the ideological crusade against Communism grew out of the perceived threat of communism as a political movement.  The eventual Crusade against Communism that marked the period of the Cold War may have come about because senior officials of the State Department such as George Kennan, Loy Henderson, and Charles Bohlen believed that Soviet actions were at least partially based on Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

  By contrast, President Truman, Secretary of State James Francis Byrnes and Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson were skeptical and Truman never intended this interpretation of his actions/policy.  This perceived threat against communism which Truman only called totalitarian regimes was used by the U.S. to justify the Cold War and was used as the basis of U.S. foreign policy beginning from the Truman Doctrine until the fall of the Berlin Wall except during the Nixon years when the U.S. established dtente with China. Thus, the Truman Doctrine and subsequently NSC-68 combine to form the underlying ideological and policy basis for the Cold War.

     Although cloaked in subtlety, Trumans speech marked an obvious announcement of active opposition to Soviet expansionism even though no country was mentioned at all, no aggressive policies or actions against the U.S. were named, and no mention as to how American interests were endangered were laid out.

The belief in communist pressure to dominate the world and the view that the Soviet Union was intransigent and would not compromise on its goal of world domination sustained support for the Cold War and the military build-up throughout the Cold War even though President Truman never intended that and his successor, former General turned President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial buildup.  During the time between the Truman Administration until the fall of the Berlin Wall, only President Nixon moved against efforts at containment back towards dtente although he secretly continued to bomb Vietnam.

The Doctrine Itself: 

     The Truman Doctrine formulated during the Greek Civil War is often credited with giving rise to the Cold War.  Although of concern to the Truman Administration, the Greek civil war was not as intimately involved in matters of Soviet aggression as the U.S. response might have indicated.  Truman and his closest advisors orchestrated a selling job for the public that simplified the situation so as to generate public support for his unprecedented peacetime foreign-policy initiatives.21  Even so, his request did not receive prompt approval in Congress.22

     Truman insisted that Turkey and Greece would fall to the Soviets if the U.S. did not receive aid from the U.S. and that their fall would have dire consequences throughout the region.  The edict of the doctrine allowed for a two fold strategy to provide 1) military and 2) economic assistance basically focused in Europe to contain the spread of communism by giving aid to Turkey and Greece.  Truman felt that strong language and a strong hand were required to prevent another global conflict over the spread of a totalitarian regime.  Truman was concerned that the war in China between Communist Mao Tse Tung and nationalist Chiang Kai-Shek was an example of what would occur around the world.

  The Truman Doctrine was intended to contain the Soviets which he felt was a threat to international peace and to U.S. security.  Truman believed that by providing economic and military aid to free countries around the world, smaller countries would be less likely to fall prey to totalitarian aggression and ideology and be more cordial and friendly towards the U.S.  Financial aid would help countries deal with their economic problems and military aid would assist them in fighting foreign aggression and military aggression from within.  The civil war in Greece and tensions between Turkey and Greece served as the litmus test for the doctrine.

     Although the Greek Civil War arose from ideology at the turn of the century to move away from a monarchy, by the end of WWII individuals involved in the conflict had adopted Marx-Lenin style communist ideology.  Although not large in number, there were enough people involved that Truman was concerned about Stalin using them as a means to become involved in the Greek Civil War and that Stalin would seek to turn Greece into a Soviet Bloc nation.

  Although Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and the leader of Albania, both communist countries but neither Stalin puppets, did become involved in the Greek Civil War giving assistance to factions in Greece, Stalin was ambivalent and uninterested in being involved.  Even so, President Truman believed that a domino effect would follow whereby the fall of Turkey and Greece would have consequences throughout the entire region if the U.S. failed to act.  This general philosophy set the tone for U.S. foreign policy right up to the present.

     The Domino Theory is an idea based on the domino effect whereby a small change in one place causes a similar change in the surrounding areas until the change eventually becomes widespread similar to what happens when dominoes are stood close together on end.  It is based on the belief that political states are attracted to power and credibility and tend to follow or fall prey to powers or coalitions that attract and retain allies.  States desire military power and strength and avoid political and military weakness, so they join (align) with powerful states and avoid weak states.

Truman initially used the Domino Theory to justify his involvement in Turkey and Greece, but the theory has been used since the Truman years to justify American involvement in countries around the world.  Although popular in political and diplomatic circles and often used by politicians to justify U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts, the idea is only a theory and is not based in research or fact.  It is a simplistic model that generally fails to take into account the nature of widespread civil opposition and unrest in the various countries around the world.

Supporters of the Domino Theory point to the communist rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as evidence of the validity of the theory, but the failure of communism to become established in other parts of Southeast Asia stands as argument against it.  In fact, the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and the Shah of Iran stand as evidence that the U.S. has, at times, used the Truman Doctrine in ways that ultimately resulted in the establishment and support of very types of governments that the U.S. sought to deter from coming into existence.

U.S. involvement in both Iran and the Philippines were designed for strategic, U.S. military purposes.  President Eisenhower believed that if communism succeeded in Vietnam, the Communist Bloc would spread around Southeast Asia, but actually, the opposite has happened.

Communism has not been established in Southeast Asia and even China has moved away from the communist ideology towards a more democratic ideology.  Perhaps it could be argued that the domino effect acted in favor of the U.S. rather than the Soviet Bloc countries, but it is more likely that the various situations and forces at play in each individual country served to achieve the ultimate goal and there was no domino effect involved at all.

Use of Funds: 

     Before 1947, Britain provided financial and military aid to Turkey and Greece to oppose the Communists in Greece.  In 1947, the Truman Doctrine granted $300 million to Greece and $100 million to Turkey in the form of military and economic aid.   The roads and basic infrastructure in both countries were in need of repair.  Funds provided by the Truman Doctrine were earmarked to deal with those situations.  The aid included military advisors to assist with the repairs and train Greek soldiers.  The basic idea was to allow Turkey and Greece to create and maintain a military force sufficiently strong to defend against any military and/or political coercion from Stalinist Russia.

Consequences of the Doctrine:

     The Truman Doctrine had many consequences in Europe and elsewhere around the world that are still being felt today.  It earmarks the start of the Cold War and the creation of the Iron Curtain.  As a result of the Doctrine, European governments with influential and powerful communist movements received various forms of assistance from the U.S. to encourage them to keep communists governments out of their country.  After WWII, Stalin made efforts to rid Eastern Europe of groups opposed to communism.

Up to that time, the U.S. maintained a policy of passive containment up to 1950, but in a secret policy in 1950, Truman altered that policy and shifted from dtente and a policy of passively containing communism to active containment.  The secret document specifically stated that the Communists planned to take over the world; Truman believed that Stalin and Communists planned world domination.

Although no direct conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western allies ever took place, indirect conflicts were common such as in Korea and Vietnam and direct conflicts came much too close, particularly in the 1960s. Perhaps Americans were not fully convinced of a real Soviet threat when the Truman Doctrine was first announced, but the advent of the Czech Coup between 1945 and 1948 and the Berlin Blockade beginning in 1948 combined with accusations regarding the American Communist Party appeared to validate the myth of a Communist threat.

     The Truman Doctrine was used as justification for U.S. involvement in China, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and throughout Africa and the Middle East and has essentially failed in each area despite some successes as well.  Each of these conflicts were portrayed as an effort to stop the spread of Communism, an unintended ideological concept that grew out of the Truman Doctrine and the subsequent NSC-68.  Today perhaps, efforts like the Truman Doctrine are viewed by those in some countries as a U.S. attempt to buy favors and influence with arms and money.

Those efforts have failed in Cuba, Vietnam, Iran and elsewhere, perhaps due in part to U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of other countries as it sought to exert its influence around the world.  Stalin was not interested in exerting his influence everywhere.  His focus was to exert influence over the countries around his borders so as to protect Russia from an outside attack by creating a buffer zone as a cushion from foreign invasion, 23 but Russia is a huge country that spans nine time zones, so success in his efforts would give him a global influence.

U.S. Policy before and after the doctrine

     Before the Truman doctrine, the U.S. policy towards Soviet Russia was one of Dtente; that is, the U.S. made an effort to ease tensions between the two countries, de-escalate any possibility of military conflict and seek cordial, friendly relations.24

    Although the U.S. and Russia had been allies during WWI and WWII, the Allies had suspicions about Stalin that made dtente necessary and ultimately led to the switch in strategy away from dtente.  Despite the disdain for communism in the West, much of the suspicions surrounding the cold war were due to Stalinism and the previous mistrust of Stalin rather than communism, mistrust that was not entirely uncommon in Russia itself after the Stalinist purges.  When Stalin died, suspicions among Western leaders about those who replaced him remained in place due in part to the political system Stalin left behind.  It was still Stalinism but without Stalin.

     The Truman Doctrine altered the U.S. policy towards Russia and the Soviet block.  It was designed to quarantine or contain communism so as to prevent its spread.  Truman threw his support towards Greece and Turkey in a effort to prevent them becoming part of the Soviet Bloc.  Truman believed that a domino effect would occur if Greece became part of the Soviet Bloc.  Basically, it was his belief if Greece fell into the hands of the Soviet Bloc, other countries in the region would do likewise.

This ultimately became the basis for U.S. policy throughout the Cold War.  It was his goal to extend a protective shield around non communist countries around the world that would quarantine them from communist aggression.  Truman, who the extremes of the resultant anti-communist movement, did not foresee that his request for aid would later become a polarizing factor in the emerging Cold War, but the concept of Saving the World for Democracy served as justification for the anti-Soviet policy announced by the Truman Doctrine. 25,26

Truman Doctrine and Vietnam

     The U.S. policy in the Vietnam War was largely due to the Truman Doctrine, NSC-68 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelts idea to quarantine aggression.  Historically, Vietnam was a part of China.  After it gained independence from China, Vietnam experienced many periods of aggression until the French gained control of Indochina in the nineteenth century.  At the Versailles Conference in 1919, Há» Ch­ Minh urged that a Vietnamese delegation be present to work toward independence for Vietnam from France but after the Conference nothing had changed.

During the Second World War, Vietnam, still a French colony, was under de facto Japanese control because the French government cooperated with the Imperial Japanese forces.  Briefly under the control of China and Britain, Vietnam returned to French hands after WWII.  In his struggle to gain independence for Vietnam, Há» Ch­ Minh requested assistance from President Truman, but his request was ignored.  Há» Ch­ Minh eventually received assistance against the French from Mao Tse Tung in China. 27

     In 1950 China and North Vietnam recognized each other and President Truman countered by recognizing the French puppet government of Vietnam.  Again, Truman was concerned about Vietnam turning towards a totalitarian regime as a result of the domino effect.  In 1950, the U.S. became involved in giving aid to France for Vietnam and by 1954, the year Vietnam was temporarily partitioned until planned elections in 1956, that aid included small arms and financial support for the French military effort and about 80 percent of the cost of the war.  President Diem of South Vietnam refused to hold elections in 1956.

Eventually, concern about the domino theory came into play and U.S. leaders argued that if South Vietnam fell to communist forces, all of Southeast Asia would do likewise.  So, during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon years, the war in Vietnam escalated due to the ideological concern that if South Vietnam fell to communism, all of Southeast Asia would follow.

The U.S. policy makers always presented these ideological differences in life or death terms.  U.S. participation in the Vietnam war was an attempt to quarantine communist aggression by using ideological differences in life and death terms.  Although the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, the rest of Southeast Asia did not fall to communism and even communist Vietnam moved towards a Western style government.  The Truman Doctrine and its effort to contain communism so as to stop its spread set the stage for the military confrontation in Korea and Vietnam.

Summary and Conclusion

     The Truman Doctrine has been one of the most fundamental U.S. foreign policies of the 20th Century and is credited for causing the Cold War and having the U.S. become the policemen of the world.28,29  Instituted to combat the global spread of Communism during the Greek Civil War in 1947, it rendered economic and military aid to Turkey and Greece.  The aid was earmarked to repair the Greek infrastructure and support the military training of soldiers in Turkey and Greece.  Since put in place, the doctrine has been used to prevent the spread of communism and totalitarian regimes in countries around the world.

Although it has met with some successes, it has also met with failures.  Today, there is no firm evidence to prove that the domino theory that serves as the basis for the Truman Doctrine is valid or that the doctrine actually mad a significant contribution to preventing the spread of communism.  However, it certainly caused an unwanted and unbearable financial burden on both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  The doctrine shifted the U.S. policy and approached about dealing with communism from dtente towards containing communism.  Although initially used to assist in the Greek Civil War, the Truman Doctrine contributed to the Korean War and is largely responsible for U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Today, the central concepts behind the Truman Doctrine are still popular with politicians and diplomats.  The doctrine set the tone for U.S. foreign policy from its inception in 1947 right up to and beyond the fall of communism in Russia.  Whether or not the doctrine actually prevented the spread of communism or the collapse of the communist system in Russia is debatable, but the policy was clearly the central tactic used to combat communism during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan administrations.

Although Nixon followed the doctrine, he relied more or less on dtente and the U.S. was not embroiled in any major military conflicts during the Carter years.  Today, there is every reason to believe that the U.S. would resort to the Truman Doctrine if necessary, but the spread of communism is no longer a political concern and the doctrine seems useless in combating the spread of terrorism although a recent article suggests that the Truman Doctrine foreshadow(s) the contemporary Bush Doctrine against international terrorism.1

For now, we can view the Truman Doctrine as a central and important approach to U.S. foreign policy of another day and time that may have little value in todays world and climate of terrorism and terrorist threats.  Whether right or wrong at the time, the Truman Doctrine had a function and served its purpose.


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