World History: Truman Doctrine

The American declaration of cold war came about on March 12, 1947, when President Harry Truman went before a joint session of Congress to deliver a truly epochal speech in American history. President Truman was provoked by the British who shocked Washington by declaring that an economically burdened Britain could no longer sustain a pro-western government in Greece.

Great Britain further warned that once they withdrew from Greece, communist guerrillas there would receive help from their communist patrons in the Soviet Union which would probably seize control of Greece. Greece would then gravitate within the Soviet orbit; the position of neighbouring Turkey which was already unstable would become untenable, leading to the strategically vital eastern Mediterranean falling into Soviet hands with dangerous consequences for the western world. It was imperative therefore, on the part of the United States as the champion of democracy, to intervene in Greece and Turkey to not only save these countries from communist infiltration, but also to safeguard western interest in the Mediterranean zone.

Enunciation of the Doctrine

After hurried consultations with military and congressional leaders, President Truman outlined the situation in Greece, and spelled out what was to become known as the Truman Doctrine. What he said in essence was – “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.” A bolder statement, far more elaborate in scope could be interpreted when he said – “wherever aggression, direct or indirect, threatens the peace, the security of the United States was involved.” The President asked congress to appropriate $400 million for economic aid and military supplies for Greece and Turkey and to authorize the dispatch of American personnel to assist with reconstruction and to provide their armies with proper instruction. Thus, United States began the policy of containment and its initial implementation was to be witnessed in Greece and Turkey.

Justification of the Doctrine

President Truman justified his position by emphasising that Soviet expansionist efforts left the United States with no choice but to adopt a countervailing policy. It was further stated that anti-communism had never been a major American policy during the Second World War, but hostile Soviet behaviour and words were the reasons for the gradual shift of American policy and public opinion from amity to enmity. Truman declared that despite, the universalism of the Truman Doctrine, its application was intended to be specific and limited, not global. In other words, containment was to be implemented only ‘where the Soviet state appeared to be expanding its power.

Critical Analysis of Truman Doctrine

Despite all the show of morality and democratic pretensions, the Truman Doctrine was far from being flawless. With all talk of democratic purposes, Truman Doctrine’s first application was to Greece and Turkey, neither of which was democratic. One had to shut off one’s reasoning capacity to call Greece of the day or Turkey as “free” countries – both had unpopular, fascist regimes against which the United States had so recently fought World War-II. Their strategic location was considered more important than their domestic problems. The doctrine had the impact of over simplifying issues by conveniently dividing the world into two hostile camps -the one free, and the other totalitarian and declared that every nation must now choose between the two. This was tantamount to drawing the battle lines. Henceforward, the American policy all over the world was geared to defining this split – ‘one who is not with me is against me.‘ The United States firmly rejected the existence of a third and middle course and in its anxiety to isolate the Soviet bloc, included all reactionary, undemocratic and unpopular regimes in the ‘free’ camp.

At home, the Truman Doctrine came in for severe criticism. It was stated that the scheme would cost too ‘much since communism could not be fought with dollars. Rich though America was, it would bankrupt herself by helping bankrupt governments all over the world. Americans by poking their noses into the internal affairs of foreign governments might unite the world against them. Although Truman had been careful not to mention Soviet Russia by name, there could be no doubt that he was aiming his doctrine at Russia, with the imminent danger of provoking her into war. Nevertheless the Truman Doctrine was approved in the House on May 15, 1947.

The Truman Doctrine was of incalculable significance. Through it the United States seized the tactical offensive in the cold war to contain communism. Although limited for the present to Greece and Turkey the new policy was actually general in scope and led by direct steps to the vastly more important Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Pact.