| Questions to Consider
Harry S. Truman
As they analyze this document, help students understand how the Truman Doctrine expanded the U.S. role in checking the spread of communism in the postwar era. In the early months of the Cold War, as the atmosphere of wartime cooperation disintegrated, the British began propping up the Greek government against communist guerrillas believed to be receiving support from Moscow. In February 1947, facing financial problems and the end of its empire, Great Britain announced its plans to withdraw from Greece, prompting American fears that Greece and perhaps Turkey would fall under Soviet control. Truman met with military and congressional leaders to formulate what became the Truman Doctrine.
Before students read this document, you might want to remind them of the uneasy world situation that resulted from the growing distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. To better place this document in the context of the Cold War, you may want to discuss with students the role the Truman Doctrine played in setting the stage for the European Recovery Program known as the Marshall Plan. You might also want to discuss the evolution of George F. Kennan's containment theory that formed the backbone of U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War. You can find related documents on this CD by searching for "containment" or "communism."
In the aftermath of World War II, communists attempted to seize power in Greece and Turkey. Those governments, backed by the British, resisted with military force. But in 1947, Britain informed the U.S. government that it could no longer maintain the expense of aiding those nations. President Harry Truman personally appeared before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, to request that the United States abandon its historic commitment to nonintervention in Europe during peacetime and extend full aid to Greece and Turkey. Congress approved what became known as the "Truman Doctrine" by huge majorities. Think about the role of the United States in the world political order as you analyze this document.
Questions to Consider
- Describe Truman's beliefs about the primary objectives of U.S. foreign policy.
- Define totalitarian. What countries is Truman referring to when he discusses "totalitarian regimes"?
- Compare and contrast democracy and totalitarianism.
- Why does Truman consider Greece and Turkey so crucial? Do you agree with his assessment?
- Why does Truman frame his request in the context of an international conflict?
The gravity of the situation which confronts the world today necessitates my appearance before a joint session of the Congress.
The foreign policy and the national security of this country are involved. . . .
One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.
. . . We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed upon free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.
The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. . . . At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.
One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.
The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.
I believe 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.
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. . . .
It is necessary only to glance at a map to realize that the survival and integrity of the Greek nation are of grave importance in a much wider situation. If Greece should fall under the control of an armed minority, the effect upon its neighbor, Turkey, would be immediate and serious. Confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East.
Moreover, the disappearance of Greece as an independent state would have a profound effect upon those countries in Europe whose peoples are struggling against great difficulties to maintain their freedoms and their independence while they repair the damages of war. . . .
Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East.
We must take immediate and resolute action. . . .
The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died.
We must keep that hope alive.
The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedom.
If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world—and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this Nation.
Great responsibilities have been placed upon us by the swift movement of events.
I am confident that the Congress will face these responsibilities squarely.