On March 12, 1947, in an address to Congress, President Harry S. Truman declared it to be the foreign policy of the United States to assist any country whose stability was threatened by communism. His initial request was specifically for $400 million to assist both Greece and Turkey, which Congress approved. The Truman Doctrine was followed by the Marshall Plan later that year.
When Harry Truman became president, on the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was little known to the American public and had little experience in foreign affairs. He quickly learned the ropes and took Potsdam Conference in July. It was on Truman`s orders that the atomic bombs on Hiroshima were dropped in August.
The wartime bipartisanship at home frayed soon after the arrival of peace, along with the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. On October 27, 1945, Truman delivered an address in New York City, in which he spelled out the outline of his foreign policy. It differed little from that of FDR, and asserted that the United States sought no territorial expansion or selfish advantage, the right of self-determination, freedom of the seas, and the necessity of a United Nations organization. It made no specific reference to communism. This soon changed.
In the period immediately preceding World War I, Great Britain ruled the world`s greatest empire, which it maintained with the unquestioned supremacy of the British Navy. The great physical and financial costs of the two world wars reduced British power so much that it could no longer maintain its former role on the world stage.
Two other countries that emerged weakened from World War II were Greece and Turkey. On February 21, 1947, the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.], informed the U.S. government that the British could no longer provide financial aid to the Greece and Turkey governments. Greece was in the middle of a civil war, and Turkey needed assistance with modernizing their society. It seemed possible that both countries might fall into the Soviet sphere of influence.
Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson met with members of Congress to explain the gravity of the situation. At that meeting, Acheson presented the idea that would later become known as the Domino Theory, which held that when one nation falls to communism, neighboring states are weakened and eventually fall themselves. The legislators were sufficiently concerned, but they wanted Truman to present his message to the American people. Truman agreed to address a joint session of Congress, which would be nationally broadcast.
On the evening of March 12, 1947, Truman delivered his address. He began:
The gravity of the situation which confronts the world today necessitates my appearance before a joint session of the Congress. The foreign policy and the national security of this country are involved. One aspect of the present situation, which I present to you at this time for your consideration and decision, concerns Greece and Turkey. The United States has received from the Greek Government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance. Preliminary reports from the American Economic Mission now in Greece and reports from the American Ambassador in Greece corroborate the statement of the Greek Government that assistance is imperative if Greece is to survive as a free nation.
The speech outlined the situation specifically in Greece and Turkey and noted that both were close to the Soviet Union. Although he admitted the government of Greece was not perfect and had made mistakes, Truman nevertheless endorsed the right of the people of Greece and their neighbors in Turkey to determine their own national destinies. Thus began a policy that the United States has carried out all over the world.
He felt deeply about the responsibility that the United States had in aiding other countries against communism, stating,
“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”
By asking for $4 million to support their resistance to communism, Truman noted that the amount represented was little more than a tenth of a percent of the amount that America had spent to win World War II. He described it as simply common sense to spend that amount as an investment in world peace and world freedom.
Congress approved Truman`s request, and it was signed into law on May 22, 1947. American support was delivered to both Turkey and Greece. Turkey was able to resist Soviet pressure over the Dardanelles and the Greek government largely eliminated the communist rebellion by October 1949. Thus began the policy of containment that was followed by other presidential administrations during the Cold War. Both Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952. The Truman Doctrine also aided the French in their effort to maintain their Indochinese colonies, leading eventually to American involvement in the Vietnamese war.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes regarding Truman Doctrine.
By Harry S. Truman
I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.
Speech to Congress, March 12, 1947, laying out what became the Truman Doctrine
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