The Truman Doctrine was the impetus for the change in United States foreign policy,
isolationist to internationalists; thus we were drawn into two wars of containment and into
world affairs. The Truman Doctrine led to a major change in U.S. foreign policy from its
inception – aid to Turkey and Greece – to its indirect influence in Korea and Vietnam. The
aftermath of World War II inspired the U.S. to issue a proclamation that would stem
Communist influence throughout the world. However, our zeal in that achievement sent our
soldiers to die in Vietnam and Korea for a seemingly futile cause.
It must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples. This is no more than a
frank recognitions that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples . . .
undermine the foundations of . . . peace and security of the United States.
The Truman Doctrine would change the foreign policy of the United States and the world.
This policy would first go in aid to support the democratic regimes in Turkey and Greece.
nations were being threatened by Soviet-supported rebels seeking to topple the government
and install a Communist regime. The Soviets were also making extreme territorial demands
especially concerning the Dardanelles.
A direct influence of this Doctrine was, of course, the Marshall Plan. The Marshall
was designed to give aid to any European country damaged during World War II. It
tremendously helped ravaged European nations such as Italy and France. By helping them
economically, the Marshall Plan indirectly helped to stem growing Communist sentiment in
The process whereby the Truman Doctrine came to fruition was a long and arduous one.
After World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States stood at the pinnacle of world
power. By the late ’40’s, the U.S.S.R. had caught up to the United States’ nuclear weapons
programs.In addition, they were very land-hungry. Throughout Russia’s history, they have
been in search of a port – a quest advanced further by Peter the Great and Catherine the
Great. The Soviets in that respect were direct threats to their non-Communist neighbors:
Greece, Turkey, and Iran.
In Iran, the U.S.S.R. was not evacuating Iran’s northern provinces despite entreaties
the United States. In Turkey, the Soviet Union coveted several naval bases along the
Straits of Dardanelles. Further, they pressured Turkey for border cessions that Turkey had
taken from Russia after World War I. In Greece, the Soviets encouraged the insurgent leader
Markos Vafiades with arms and economic support. The British troops helping the Grecian
government were strangled of supplies due to poor economic times in Britain. Also, further
territorial requisitions to Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria were being made.
Seeing the deteriorating U.S. – Soviet relations, Truman issued two statements about
“agreements, violations, reparations, and Soviet actions threatening U.S. security.” “1.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the U.S.S.R.(from which they are in range of
an air attack.) 2. The U.S. must be prepared to wage atomic and biological warfare.”
(Ferrel 247) Soon after, he sent bombers to the Middle East. He desired the return of all
arms given to U.S.S.R. under the Lend-Lease Act.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Russia intends an invasion of Turkey and
seizure of the Black Sea straits to the Mediterranean. Unless Russia is faced
with an iron fist and strong language another war is in the making, How many
divisions have you?
Truman had his eye on the Soviets and on war. However, The U.S.S.R. never made such
invasions and thus quelled Truman’s paranoia.
The Truman Doctrine was starting to develop during 1947 when Truman issued several
1. The present Russian ambassador . . . persona non grata . . . does not belong
in Washington. 2. Urge Stalin to pay us a visit. 3. Settle the Korean question . .
. give the Koreans a government of their own. 4. Settle the Manchurian question .
. . support Chang Kai-Shek for a strong China. 5. Agree to discussion of Russia’s
lend-lease debt to the U.S. 6. Agree to commercial air treaty. 7. Make it plain
that we have no territorial ambitions. That we only want peace, but we’ll fight
Truman also set several goals for questioned territories:
The U.S. would go to war if provoked. The Danube, Trieste, Dardanelles, Kiel
Canal, and Rhine-Danube waterway should by free to all nations. Manchuria should
be Chinese, Dairen should be a free port. Russia should have Kuriles and Sakhalin
. . . Germany should be occupied ‘according to Yalta.’ Austria should not be
treated as an enemy country.
After these announcements the British disclosed that they could no longer give aid to Turkey
and Greece and that the U.S. must pick up the slack. This left Greece in extreme danger of
toppling into Communist control. “If Greece fell . . . Turkey isolated in the Eastern
Mediterranean, would eventually succumb . . .”
Truman’s plan for peacetime aid — The Truman Doctrine — was unprecedented in history
(a sum of more than $400 million) and he faced a hostile Republican Congress through which
to pass it. However, Truman informed the Congress of the troubles facing Italy, Germany
and France. They and small, fragile Middle-eastern states faced direct threats from
Communism. In retort, the Congress had problems with Truman’s plan that included: The Greek
government was corrupt and undemocratic; Turkey, too, was not a Democracy. Turkey had been
neutral during the war. Further, the President’s plan for aid gave no attention to
Communism outside Europe. Nonetheless, two months later the bill passed on May 15, 1947.
Truman added while signing the legislation into law:
We are guardians of a great faith. We believe that freedom offers the best chance
and prosperity for all, and our desire for peace cannot be separated from our
belief in liberty. We hope that in years ahead more and more nations will come
to know the advantages of freedom and liberty. It is to this end that we have
enacted the law I have now signed.
It was brought to Truman’s attention that Europe was by no means content in their
economic recovery. Britain was near bankruptcy, Italy, France, and Germany were plagued by
a terrible winter. More aid was needed to keep their democratic governments afloat.
Thus, a direct result from the Truman Doctrine was the Marshall Plan. This came about
when Truman appointed General Marshall as Secretary of State. In that position, he observed
“Europe’s economic plight.” Marshall proposed a plan that would offer aid to all nations
“West of the Urals.” (Truman, 355) This included the U.S.S.R. and her Eastern European
satellite states. They, however, refused the aid. By March 1948, Congress had appropriated
the first installment. Truman signed it into law on April 3, 1948. By its consummation in
1952 it would provide more than $13 billion in aid to war-ravaged Europe.
This was a grand change in U.S. Foreign policy. We had gone from isolationists to
internationalists. This Doctrine is in direct contrast to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe
Doctrine served as the U.S. Foreign policy for well over 150 years.It essentially stated
that the U.S. would not intervene in the World’s affairs as long as no one interfered with
hers. With the Truman Doctrine, we completely reversed that role that had been only briefly
breached during the World Wars. Our new policy was one of Containment: To contain the
spread of Communism to the states in which it presently inhabits.
Our relationship with the U.S.S.R. after Truman’s declaration was in continuing
deterioration. A major threat to our relationship was the Berlin Blockade of 1948. On June
24, 1948, the Soviets enacted a total blockade on Berlin. The U.S. response was to airlift
supplies into the cutoff West Berliners. By its end 277,804 sorties delivered 2,325,809
tons of goods to Berlin — more than a ton a piece to every Berliner.
That threat brought Truman to prepare for war. He asked Congress for two measures in
addition to the Marshall Plan to fortify America: The first was to temporarily enact the
Draft. The Second was a long range plan called Universal Military Training. This was
designed to train all males graduating from high school for combat. This idea never had a
chance in Congress. Truman also made a pact with Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark,
Iceland, and Brussels pact nations.
This was all a prelude to the upcoming conflict in the Korean War. We had not been
to assess the relative strength of the U.S.S.R. However, what we did know was that we had a
far bigger atomic buildup than the Soviets — nearly 300 bombs! However, conventionally, we
were far poorer.
On June 24, 1950 Truman was told that North Korea had invaded South Korea or in
Containment terms: Communism was spreading! The UN Security took a unanimous vote to
declare war on North Korea. Truman hastily sent 10,000 troops from Japan to combine with
the weak South Korean Army. Even together, they were hardly a match for the 90,000 battle-
hardened and strong North Koreans. General MacArthur was put in charge and ceded much space
in order to buy time for reinforcements. Meanwhile, the American public was not seeing the
value of killing their boys in Korea. “We demand that you stop murdering American boys and
Korean People . . .”
Truman increased military spending to finance the war reinforcements. With newly
received reinforcements, MacArthur brilliantly turned the tide of war. MacArthur moved
speedily up the Korean Peninsula until Chinese intervention. They briefly provided a
problem but they had no air force with which to support their own troops. Truman fired
MacArthur on insubordination charges. The U.N. forces continued the war until a cease-fire
was made in 1953. This reestablished the border at the 38th parallel. During this war, the
U.S. lost about 60,000 troops. What results did we get? No border changes, a minor
containment of Communism that probably would not have made much difference to the U.S.
anyway. Only the death of Americans was gained.
The next result of the Truman Doctrine was the Vietnam War. This was another anti-
Communist containment war. Ho Chi Minh had invaded South Vietnam. It began with the Gulf
of Tonkin incident in which Vietnam Torpedo boats attacked U.S. destroyers. From there,
more and more troops were poured into Vietnam. U.S. began bombing raids in 1965. By the
end of that year more than 200,000 troops were in Vietnam. In 1968, 525,000 troops were
there. Several peace initiatives were given by the U.S. but were refused, however by the
Vietnamese. The Tet offensive renewed lagging conflict and eventually led to the end of
all-out U.S. involvement in 1973. In 1970, the U.S. entered Cambodia due to a coup.
However, in three months the U.S. troops were withdrawn. At the end of our withdrawal
nearly 60,000 troops were killed and this time we had not even saved the country we were
defending. The veterans received nearly no welcome as the public was not interested in
fighting a war too far away to matter.
One great event that has caused the U.S. to escalate world aid and involvement was the
collapse of the Soviet Union. No longer are we fighting to contain Communism, but instead
to maintain Democracy any and everywhere.
Still, today the Truman Doctrine prevails in determining our foreign policy. Most
recently, we fought the stunning Gulf War. This was not a war of containment but it served
a similar purpose. It sought to prevent an aggressor from overtaking a weaker neighbor.
we had minimal casualties. This war was one different from Korea and Vietnam. It had a
significant impact on the United States. We fought for our oil supply. Thus, this war did
have a significant purpose.
The U.S. has also fought minor skirmishes in hot spots around the world. In the
we fought in Lebanon and Libya, not to mention our massive aid to Israel. In Central
America, we have given aid to Nicaragua, fought in Panama, Grenada, and Haiti. All of these
illustrate the impact of the Truman Doctrine on our foreign policy. In Europe, we have not
fought any wars but have given massive aid. From the Marshall Plan to a World Monetary Fund
$10 billion grant to Russia, we have aided Europe throughout half a century. We formed many
alliances such as NATO to combat Communism and preserve Independence there. And the most
recent conflict of all is the Balkan conflict. We are again in danger of being drawn into a
war with no clear purpose or advantage to the U.S. But in the continuance of the Truman
Doctrine, we have stationed troops there. Hopefully, no casualties will come about but no
one can prognosticate the future of such a hot spot for combat.
The Truman Doctrine has impacted everyone in the U.S. and nearly every country in the
world since its declaration in 1947. Some critics castigate the Doctrine: “Critics blamed
involvement in Korea and Vietnam on the Truman Doctrine. Without the Doctrine . . . the
U.S. might have minded its own business.” (McCullough, 571) While other critics argue: “
Truman was trying to restore the European Balance of Power and had neither the intention nor
the capability of policing the world.” (McCullough, 571) He may have not had that intention,
but that is exactly the Doctrine’s ramification. All over the world U.S. troops sit waiting
to protect Democracy. The Truman Doctrine ensures that even without a valid threat to U.S.
security we must waste American lives to “protect the free peoples of the World.”
(McCullough, 571) Would the world have been a worse place if we had not acted to protect
South Korea and South Vietnam? Would the U.S.S.R. have fallen due to its own economic
instability and only fleeting control over its massive population? These questions can be
cogitated but never answered. One thing is certain, people should not die for a cause that
is nonexistent, or one that could have destroyed itself.