The immediate concern was Greece. The British supported the restoration of the monarchy after World War II, but opposition came from numerous groups, including the Greek Communist Party. Fighting had broken out in Athens in late 1944, which resulted in an uneasy truce in February 1946; but in August, Greek guerrillas raided a number of villages and towns, and soon received assistance from the Communist regimes in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria. By the spring of 1947, the U.S. government regarded Greece as the supreme test of the free world.
Turkey was also crucial. Located along the Soviet border, it controlled the Dardanelles and was vital to the Soviets' push for a warm‐water link to the Middle East. By early 1947, Soviet troops had amassed along the common border, causing a war of nerves that forced the Turkish government into military preparations.
The crisis in the Mediterranean became an American problem in February 1947, when the British government declared itself financially incapable of maintaining long‐standing commitments in Greece and Turkey. Secretary of State George C. Marshall had already instructed his undersecretary, Dean Acheson, to prepare an economic and military assistance plan for Greece. Congressional members from both parties received invitations to the White House to join the administration in halting a Communist drive allegedly engineered by the Kremlin. Because of traditional American isolationism, what lay ahead, President Harry S. Truman remarked, was “the greatest selling job ever facing a President.”
The result was the Truman Doctrine. Before a joint session of Congress on 12 March 1947, the president outlined the dangers in Greece and Turkey. “I believe,” he emphasized, “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.” To save Greece and Turkey, he called on Congress to authorize a military and economic aid program of $400 million.
Widespread resistance arose against this policy. Marshall and State Department adviser George F. Kennan thought the anti‐Communist tone of the message too severe. Isolationist Republican senator Robert Taft argued against assuming Britain's responsibilities, and columnist Walter Lippmann warned that the administration had not distinguished which areas were vital to U.S. interests and was heading toward a worldwide ideological crusade. Containment, Lippmann asserted, was a “strategic monstrosity.” Acheson insisted that the Truman Doctrine applied specifically to Greece and Turkey, and that the administration would consider aid to other countries only on their “individual merits.”
The arguments continued for weeks, but in May 1947 Congress approved the Greek‐Turkish aid bills by a wide, bipartisan margin, and American aid was soon en route to both countries.
The Truman Doctrine stabilized Greece and Turkey, thereby appearing to establish the credibility of containment. Nearly 300 U.S. military and civilian personnel provided advisory assistance to the Greek Army in its war against the guerrillas. American weaponry also proved essential to the government's victory, although the growing rift between Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito (Josip Broz) and the Soviet Union played an important role. A year after his defection from the Cominform in July 1948, Tito closed the border and effectively denied the Greek guerrillas further refuge and assistance. In October 1949, the royalist army scattered them into the northern mountains of Greece and into Albania, and the fighting came to an end. The crisis in Turkey likewise passed as America's military assistance and advice bolstered the country against Soviet pressure.
Containment brought mixed results. It yielded a monumental triumph in the Near East, and hence in the Cold War. Yet the administration's rhetoric and emergency tactics encouraged a Red Scare during the 1950s, known as McCarthyism. More far‐reaching, American policymakers later ignored the restraints implanted in the Truman Doctrine to launch the global crusade Lippmann had warned against. Indeed, containment became heavily military in orientation, as exemplified by the establishment of NATO in 1949 and the later U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
[See also Cold War: External Course; Cold War: Domestic Course.]
John L. Gaddis , The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947, 1972.
Bruce R. Kuniholm , The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East: Great Power Conflict and Diplomacy in Iran, Turkey, and Greece, 1980.
Lawrence S. Wittner , American Intervention in Greece, 1943–1949, 1982.
Howard Jones , “A New Kind of War”: America's Global Strategy and the Truman Doctrine in Greece, 1989.
Peter J. Stavrakis , Moscow and Greek Communism, 1944–1949, 1989.
Melvyn P. Leffler , A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, 1992.
Randall B. Woods and and Howard Jones , Dawning of the Cold War: The United States' Quest for Order, 1991.
More clearly than any earlier act, the Truman Doctrine proclaimed that the United States had embarked on a new foreign policy. This new policy of containment would have profound effects on American society and culture. Its immediate aim was to prevent the Soviet Union from moving beyond the line it had reached in Eastern and Central Europe. By 1947 the Truman administration viewed the Soviet Union as powerful, totalitarian, and aggressive, much like Germany and Japan in the 1930s, and believed it must be contained by a policy of firmness and strength.
Two developments appeared to stand in the way. First, the nation had reduced its military force to well below two million people, less than a sixth of those in uniform in 1945. Second, the nation seemed to be slipping back into isolationist attitudes that had prevailed in the 1930s, including hostility toward spending money on foreign affairs. Elections in 1946 had turned control of Congress over to Republicans determined to slash the federal budget.
crisis in greece, 1947
At this juncture, the regimes in Greece and Turkey were in trouble. Communist-led revolutionaries in Greece, aided by Communist-controlled Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania, challenged the recently restored monarchy. Turkey's problems stemmed directly from the Soviet Union, which was pressuring the Turks for a share in control of the outlet from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. These two situations threatened to become a crisis, as the British, weakened by the war and their collapsing empire, informed the U.S. State Department in late February that they could no longer help the Greek and Turkish regimes. The British government asked the United States to step in so that the Soviets would not gain control. American diplomats on the scene as well as State Department and military leaders in Washington feared that Communist victories in Greece and Turkey would open the door for Soviet expansion into the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Western Europe.
With his White House staff eager to improve his image, Truman moved quickly. Meeting with leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress, he and his foreign policy team argued for an American response. Concerned about a hostile reaction to new spending, Arthur Vandenberg, the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advised the president to explain the administration's position to Congress and the public in a dramatic way. Truman agreed, as did Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, his top adviser on the issue.
On March 12, 1947, the president made a strongly worded speech to Congress. He described the world situation as grave but maintained that the Greek government could win its civil war if it received aid. He argued that the United States was the only nation that could supply it. Linking his proposal with World War II, he portrayed world history as now dominated by a struggle between free and unfree ways of life. American policy, he declared, should "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure." Suggesting that this could be done "primarily through economic and financial aid," he asked for $400 million for Greece and Turkey. These ideas were the main elements of what was quickly labeled the Truman Doctrine.
Truman encountered opposition but triumphed over it. Critics, some of them still confident that the United States and the Soviet Union could be friends, decried the departure from a policy of opposition to intervention in remote places and doubted that the threat justified the move. Some charged that the doctrine would weaken the United Nations and prop up weak, undemocratic regimes in Greece and around the world. These critics warned that the costs would be greater than American resources could support and would damage the American economy. Some warned also that the new policy would lead to war with the Soviet Union. Responding effectively, the administration worked closely with leaders in Congress, including Vandenberg, who argued that the doctrine was "worth trying as an alternative to another 'Munich' [the surrender in 1938 by the leaders of Great Britain, France, and Italy to Adolf Hitler's demand for a portion of Czechoslovakia] and perhaps another war." Acheson promised that the United States would appraise each situation as it arose, not automatically intervene. In April and May, Congress went along, with nearly all Democrats and most Republicans voting for what the president had proposed. Mounting fears of Communism had overwhelmed concerns about government spending.
success and its aftermath
The doctrine soon achieved its immediate objectives. The Greek government defeated the rebels, and Turkey built up its military forces and effectively resisted Soviet pressure. These successes offered encouragement for later interventions.
The three months from February to May 1947 were a pivotal moment in American history. During this time the United States, by developing and accepting the Truman Doctrine, made a large and significant change in its role in the world. "The epoch of isolation and occasional intervention is ended," The New York Times declared during the national debate. "It is being replaced by an epoch of responsibility." Truman's leading biographer, Alonzo Hamby, noted a half-century later: "What Truman promised was a long engagement with the wider world in the interest of defending democracy against totalitarianism…. The Truman Doctrine had been the call to arms of the Cold War" (pp. 387, 401). The United States had entered a new kind of conflict, marked by an arms race, a Red Scare, major wars in Korea and Vietnam, global polarization, and, ultimately, the defeat of Communism.
Hamby, Alonzo L. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Isaacson, Walter, and Thomas, Evan. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made—Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.
Jones, Howard. "A New Kind of War:" America's Global Strategy and the Truman Doctrine in Greece. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Offner, Arnold A. Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 194–193. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.
Wittner, Lawrence S. American Intervention in Greece, 1943–1949. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
TRUMAN DOCTRINE. The 12 March 1947 announcement of the Truman Doctrine marked the beginning of a new, aggressive American posture toward the Soviet Union. The administration of President Harry S. Truman abandoned efforts to accommodate the Soviet Union, which had emerged as America's principal rival after World War II. Now the two superpowers engaged in the Cold War. The doctrine called on Congress to approve $400 million in military assistance for Greece, which was fighting communist insurgents, and neighboring Turkey, also believed to be threatened by Soviet subversion. The doctrine was formulated after Britain indicated it no longer had the wherewithal to support the royalist Greek government. But during the previous year, the Truman administration had grown increasingly suspicious of Soviet intentions as the nations of Eastern Europe disappeared behind what the former British prime minister Winston Churchill had termed the "iron curtain."
Although it was specifically targeted to Greece, the Truman Doctrine was envisioned to have a much broader reach. Truman made this clear when he framed his request as part of a general policy to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The doctrine was to be the first step in a strategy of containment of the Soviet Union, designed to prevent communist influence throughout Western Europe. The United States subsequently agreed to launch the massive recovery plan for Europe known as the Marshall Plan and entered its first peacetime military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The eruption of the Korean War in 1950 prompted a further expansion of the Truman Doctrine and the containment policy. The United States was committed to fighting communism in Asia and around the world.
In February 1947, Great Britain announced that it could no longer provide financial aid to Greece or Turkey. The governments of both of those countries were weak, and America had been monitoring the political situation in each. The main concern was that Communists would take over either or both countries. Communism is an economic theory in which all goods and services and their distribution are government-owned and controlled. A Communist government has total control of its citizens.
The domino theory
American Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971) pointed out that the concern was not limited to Greece and Turkey. Should those two countries fall to Communism, it would likely spread to Iran and possibly as far east as India. This train of thought became known as the domino theory : If one falls, they all fall.
On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) asked for and received from Congress $400 million in military and economic aid for Greece and Turkey. In addition, he outlined what became known as the Truman Doctrine, a plan that would guide American diplomacy for the next four decades. Truman explained that the United States had a responsibility to protect free people from being subjugated by outside pressures.
This international financial assistance was broadened in scope a few months later when Secretary of State George C. Marshall (1880–1959) announced the Marshall Plan , which offered assistance to sixteen European nations.