Truman’s Response to the Communist Expansion
President Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, during his tenure found himself dealing with a controversial post-World War II battle, the Cold War. The Cold War was as a result of political and military strains existing between the Western bloc (The USA and her allies) and the Eastern Bloc (The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact). Truman’s reign as president perceived the Cold War as a consequence of the spread of Communism totalitarianism and sought a way to deal with its spread. Communism, at that time, was perceived by various scholars, policy-makers, and government advisors as the greatest threat to global peace and stability. Truman’s government, therefore, sought several response options to the spread of Communism to hinder its expansion and influence.
Among the measures chosen to deal and counter the expansion of Communism found their expression in the Truman Doctrine. By 1946, as European economies remain shattered, the Soviets proposed that capitalism rule was in a devastated state and would soon come to an end. They, therefore, sought to expand their influence in Germany, France, and Trieste. In addition to aiding in the fall of the capitalists governments, the USSR further attempted to gain grounds in nations that were not in the capitalists’ camps including Korea, Japan, Turkey, and Iran.
Not so long after, in 1947 the British forces slowly withdrew from Greece leaving the nation vulnerable to the influence of the Soviets and Communists. Besides, the Soviets continued to press on to gain control over Turkey and her straits. Truman realised the threat posed by the loss of either Turkey or Greece in favor of the Soviets. In one of his speeches, he noted, “If Greece were lost, Turkey would become an untenable outpost in a sea of communism. Similarly, if Turkey yielded to Soviet demands, the position of Greece would be extremely endangered.”[footnoteRef:2] He, therefore, proposed the series of containment plans to protect both Greece and Turkey from the influence of the Soviets, letting the opponent choose a location and time for any form of confrontation. [2: Bryan Ferald, “ George C. Marshall at Harvard: A Study of the Origins and Construction of the “Marshall Plan” Speech,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 21(3) (1991): 489-502.]
Containment, according to Truman, was a necessary plan of action to thwart the spread of Communism in both Greece and Turkey. Even though many of his critics spoke against him for standing up for Greek and Turkish regimes then considered “not democratic,” he continued to push forward for the containment plan of action. This plan called for either ending or averting Communist aggression, for example in Iran, or encouraging a ruling regime that was considered more democratic and one that repelled Communism, for example in Greece. The Truman Doctrine together with the containment plan would combine strategic, economic, and political elements to curb the expansion of Communism in Europe and other parts of the world.
The use of the Marshall Plan by the Truman government was an additional measure to counter Communism. President Truman appointed George Catlett Marshall as his Secretary of State on February 21, 1947. He did so despite numerous criticism of military personnel serving and assuming a position in a “high” civilian office, defending his actions through the long history they both had together.[footnoteRef:3] As a Senator, Truman had often received resourceful briefings from Marshall regarding military conduct in the Second World War. Truman had asked Marshall to summarize all commendations for the Greek-Turkish aid. Such recommendation included critiques from various congressional leaders. He realized further that if minimal or no support at all was offered to either Turkey or Greece, their fall to Communism would be eminent, in turn leading to the fall of Iran, Hungary, Italy, France, and other countries in Europe. [3: Danielle L. McGuire and John Dittmer, Freedom Rights, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011). ]
After the Second World War, the majority of Western Europe had been left devastated with minimal resources including food, shelter, and clean water. The Marshall plan created by the Secretary of State, Marshall, proposed offering assistance to its allies in Western Europe for recovery. This aid included $17 billion that would be sent over the course of the next years to Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, France, Britain, and West Germany. The funds would assist in the recreation of industries, increasing trade between American firms and the mentioned European countries, reducing the influence of the Soviet Union over them. Ultimately, the funds sent to these European countries during the implementation of the Marshall Plan were able to deter Communists influence while enforcing the continued effects of the Truman Doctrine.
The combined effects of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the containment strategy was one that gradually encouraged post-war liberal internationalism. National security within the nation’s borders and internationally was important, according to Truman, to create the necessary condition for other countries and the United States to conduct “a way of life free from coercion.”[footnoteRef:4] He advocated for liberal internationalism through indivisibility of freedom that was successful within a diversity of cultures. His approaches not only encouraged economic prosperity promoted freedom, and political liberty, they further challenged tyranny. [4: Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, The First Cold Warrior, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006).]
The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the containment strategy, though criticised by various policy makers, were fundamental for hindering the expansion of Communism. The ideas behind the Truman Doctrine influenced future regimes in the United States on the categorical ways of deal with the effect of Communism in Europe and other parts of the world. They made freedom centrepiece in establishing America’s post-war foreign policies. Ultimately, Truman’s strategies assisted in the rehabilitation of global economies with minimal reliance on Communism influence.
Ferald, Bryan. “George C. Marshall at Harvard: A Study of the Origins and Construction of the “Marshall Plan” Speech.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 21(3) (1991): 489-502.
McGuire, Danielle L., and John Dittmer. Freedom Rights. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards. The First Cold Warrior. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 2006