Presidential portrait of U.S. President Harry Truman

The Truman Doctrine is an American foreign policy that pledges American "support for democracies against authoritarian threats."[1] The doctrine originated with the primary goal of countering the growth of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. It was announced to Congress by President Harry S. Truman on March 12, 1947,[2] and further developed on July 4, 1948, when he pledged to oppose the communist rebellions in Greece and Soviet demands from Turkey. More generally, the Truman Doctrine implied American support for other nations threatened by Moscow. It led to the formation of NATO in 1949. Historians often use Truman's speech to Congress on March 12, 1947 to date the start of the Cold War.[3]

Truman told Congress 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."[4] Truman contended that because totalitarian regimes coerced free peoples, they automatically represented a threat to international peace and the national security of the United States. Truman argued that if Greece and Turkey did not receive the aid, they would inevitably fall out of the United States' sphere of influence and into the communist bloc, with grave consequences throughout the region.

The Truman Doctrine was informally extended to become the basis of American Cold War policy throughout Europe and around the world.[5] It shifted U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union from a wartime alliance to containment of Soviet expansion, as advocated by diplomat George Kennan.

Turkish Straits crisis

Main article: Turkish Straits crisis

The Turkish Straits

At the conclusion of World War II, Turkey was pressured by the Soviet government to allow Russian shipping to flow freely through the Turkish Straits, which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. As the Turkish government would not submit to the Soviet Union's requests, tensions arose in the region, leading to a show of naval force on the site of the Straits. Since British assistance to Turkey had ended in 1947, the U.S. dispatched military aid to ensure that Turkey would retain chief control of the passage. Turkey received $100 million in economic and military aid and the U.S. Navy sent the Midway-class aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.[6]

Greek crisis

Main articles: White Terror (Greece) and Greek Civil War

King George II of Greece (r. 1922–24, 1935–47), whose rule was opposed by a communist insurgency in the Greek Civil War

Seven weeks after the Axis powers abandoned Greece in October 1944, the British helped retake Athens from the victorious National Liberation Front (EAM), controlled effectively by the Greek Communist Party (KKE). This began with a mass killing of largely unarmed EAM supporters known as the Dekemvriana on December 3, 1944.[7] The left-wing attempted to retaliate, but was outgunned by the British-backed government and subjected to the White Terror.[8] With the full outbreak of civil war (1946–49), guerrilla forces controlled by the Greek Communist Party sustained a revolt against the internationally recognized Greek government which was formed after 1946 elections boycotted by the KKE. The British realized that the KKE were being directly funded by Josip Broz Tito in neighboring Yugoslavia. In line with the Churchill-Stalin "percentages agreement", the Greek communists received no help from the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia provided them support and sanctuary against Stalin's wishes.[9] By late 1946, Britain informed the United States that due to its own weakening economy, it could no longer continue to provide military and economic support to royalist Greece.[10]

In 1946–47, the United States and the Soviet Union moved from being wartime allies to Cold War adversaries. The breakdown of Allied cooperation in Germany provided a backdrop of escalating tensions for the Truman Doctrine.[5] To Truman, the growing unrest in Greece began to look like a pincer movement against the oil-rich areas of the Middle East and the warm-water ports of the Mediterranean.[11]

George F. Kennan (1904–2005) proposed the doctrine of containment in 1946

In February 1946, Kennan, an American diplomat in Moscow, sent his famed "Long Telegram", which predicted the Soviets would only respond to force and that the best way to handle them would be through a long-term strategy of containment; that is, stopping their geographical expansion. After the British warned that they could no longer help Greece, and following Prime Minister Konstantinos Tsaldaris's visit to Washington in December 1946 to ask for American assistance,[12] the U.S. State Department formulated a plan. Aid would be given to both Greece and Turkey, to help cool the long-standing rivalry between them.[citation needed]

American policy makers recognized the instability of the region, fearing that if Greece was lost to communism, Turkey would not last long. Similarly, if Turkey yielded to Soviet demands, the position of Greece would be endangered.[13] A regional domino effect threat therefore guided the American decision. Greece and Turkey were strategic allies important for geographical reasons as well, for the fall of Greece would put the Soviets on a particularly dangerous flank for the Turks, and strengthen the Soviet Union's ability to cut off allied supply lines in the event of war.[14]

Truman's address

President Truman's 1947 Message to Congress, Recommending Assistance to Greece and Turkey

To pass any legislation Truman needed the support of the Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress. The chief Republican spokesman Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg strongly supported Truman and overcame the doubts of isolationists such as Senator Robert A. Taft.[15]: 127  Truman laid the groundwork for his request by having key congressional leaders meet with himself, Secretary of State George Marshall, and Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson. Acheson laid out the "domino theory" in the starkest terms, comparing a communist state to a rotten apple that could spread its infection to an entire barrel. Vandenberg was impressed, and advised Truman to appear before Congress and "scare the hell out of the American people."[15]: 127–128  On March 7, Acheson warned Truman that the communists in Greece could win within weeks without outside aid.[2]: 545 

When a draft for Truman's address was circulated to policymakers, Marshall, Kennan, and others criticized it for containing excess "rhetoric." Truman responded that, as Vandenberg had suggested, his request would only be approved if he played up the threat.[2]: 546 

On March 12, 1947, Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress. In his eighteen-minute speech, he stated:

I believe 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.[2]: 547 

The domestic reaction to Truman's speech was broadly positive, though there were dissenters. Anti-communists in both parties supported both Truman's proposed aid package and the doctrine behind it, and Collier's described it as a "popularity jackpot" for the President.[2]: 548 [15]: 129  Influential columnist Walter Lippmann was more skeptical, noting the open-ended nature of Truman's pledge; he felt so strongly that he almost came to blows while arguing with Acheson over the doctrine.[2]: 549 [16]: 615  Others argued that the Greek monarchy Truman proposed to defend was itself a repressive government, rather than a democracy.[16]: 615 

Despite these objections, the fear that there was a growing communist threat almost guaranteed the bill's passage.[16]: 616  In May 1947, two months after Truman's request, a large majority of Congress approved $400 million in military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey.[2]: 553–554 [15]: 129  Increased American aid assisted the Greek government's defeat of the KKE, after interim defeats for government forces from 1946 to 1948.[16]: 616–617  The Truman Doctrine was the first in a series of containment moves by the United States, followed by economic restoration of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan and military containment by the creation of NATO in 1949.[citation needed]

Long-term policy and metaphor

See also: Cold War and Foreign policy of the United States

Historian Eric Foner writes that the doctrine "set a precedent for American assistance to anticommunist regimes throughout the world, no matter how undemocratic, and for the creation of a set of global military alliances directed against the Soviet Union."[17]

The Truman Doctrine underpinned American Cold War policy in Europe and around the world. In the words of historian James T. Patterson:

The Truman Doctrine was a highly publicized commitment of a sort the administration had not previously undertaken. Its sweeping rhetoric, promising that the United States should aid all 'free people' being subjugated, set the stage for innumerable later ventures that led to globalisation commitments. It was in these ways a major step.[15]: 129 

The doctrine endured, historian Dennis Merill argues, because it addressed broader cultural insecurity regarding modern life in a globalized world. It dealt with Washington's concern over communism's domino effect, it enabled a media-sensitive presentation of the doctrine that won bipartisan support, and it mobilized American economic power to modernize and stabilize unstable regions without direct military intervention. It brought nation-building activities and modernization programs to the forefront of foreign policy.[5]

The Truman Doctrine became a metaphor for aid to keep a nation from communist influence. Truman used disease imagery not only to communicate a sense of impending disaster in the spread of communism but also to create a "rhetorical vision" of containing it by extending a protective shield around non-communist countries throughout the world. It echoed the "quarantine the aggressor" policy Truman's predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had sought to impose to contain German and Japanese expansion in 1937 ("quarantine" suggested the role of public health officials handling an infectious disease). The medical metaphor extended beyond the immediate aims of the Truman Doctrine in that the imagery combined with fire and flood imagery evocative of disaster provided the United States with an easy transition to direct military confrontation in later years with the Korean War and the Vietnam War. By framing ideological differences in life or death terms, Truman was able to garner support for this communism-containing policy.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "The Truman Doctrine, 1947". Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, United States Department of State. Archived from the original on May 16, 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 547–549. ISBN 978-0671456542.
  3. ^ "The Truman Doctrine's Significance". History on the Net. November 10, 2020. Archived from the original on May 1, 2021. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  4. ^ Michael Beschloss (2006). Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents From The National Archives. Oxford University Press. pp. 194–199. ISBN 978-0-19-530959-1. Archived from the original on June 30, 2023. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Merrill 2006.
  6. ^ Barın Kayaoğlu, "Strategic imperatives, Democratic rhetoric: The United States and Turkey, 1945–52." Cold War History, Aug 2009, Vol. 9(3) pp. 321–345
  7. ^ Gerolymatos, André (2017). An International Civil War: Greece, 1943–1949. Yale University Press. pp. 100–111. ISBN 978-0300180602.
  8. ^ Gerolymatos, André (2017). An International Civil War: Greece, 1943–1949. Yale University Press. pp. 194–203. ISBN 978-0300180602. Archived from the original on June 30, 2023. Retrieved November 3, 2020.
  9. ^ Bærentzen, Lars, John O. Iatrides, and Ole Langwitz. Smith. Studies in the History of the Greek Civil War, 1945–1949. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 1987. 273–280. Google Books. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. online Archived 2023-04-06 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (1983) ch 8
  11. ^ Painter 2012, p. 29: "Although circumstances differed greatly in Greece, Turkey, and Iran, U.S. officials interpreted events in all three places as part of a Soviet plan to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Mention of oil was deliberately deleted from Truman's March 12, 1947, address before Congress pledging resistance to communist expansion anywhere in the world; but guarding access to oil was an important part of the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine was named after Harry S. Truman. This doctrine stated that the United States would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces."

    One draft, for example, of Truman's speech spoke of the "great natural resources" of the Middle East at stake (Kolko & Kolko 1972, p. 341).

  12. ^ Freeland, Richard M. (1970). The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. pp. g. 90.
  13. ^ Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards (2006). The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism. The University Press of Kentucky. p. 64.
  14. ^ McGhee, George (1990). The US-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine Contained the Soviets in the Middle East. St. Harry's Press. pp. g. 21.
  15. ^ a b c d e Patterson, James T. (1996). Grand Expectations. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507680-6.
  16. ^ a b c d Herring, George C. (2008). From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195078220.
  17. ^ Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History (2nd ed., 2008) p. 892
  18. ^ Ivie 1999.


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