On This Day

harry s truman, president truman, truman public domain photograph
Edmonston Studio/Library of Congress
Harry S. Truman

On This Day: President Truman Establishes Truman Doctrine

March 12, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On March 12, 1947, in a speech asking for aid to Greece and Turkey, President Harry Truman proposed the U.S. “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures,” a policy that became known as the Truman Doctrine.

The Truman Doctrine

The U.S. and Soviet Union had been allies during World War II, but their relationship had quickly deteriorated in the post-war years. In 1946, explains the Miller Center of Public Affairs, “the Soviets tightened their control over eastern Europe and attempted to extend their influence into Turkey and Iran.”

Turkey was under pressure from the Soviets to relinquish partial control of the Dardanelles strait. Meanwhile, the U.S. believed that the Soviet Union was aiding Greek communists against the pro-Western Greek government in the Greek Civil War, though its support was actually limited.

In February 1947, Britain announced that it was ending its economic aid to Greece and Turkey effective March 31. The Truman administration feared that the loss of aid would weaken the governments to the point where they would succumb to Soviet or communist influence.

“In a meeting between Congressmen and State Department officials, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson articulated what would later become known as the domino theory,” according to the National Archives’ Our Documents. “He stated that more was at stake than Greece and Turkey, for if those two key states should fall, communism would likely spread south to Iran and as far east as India. Acheson concluded that not since the days of Rome and Carthage had such a polarization of power existed.”

Truman expressed the importance of helping Greece and Turkey in a speech before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, in which he asked for $400 million in funding for the two countries. “It would be an unspeakable tragedy if these countries, which have struggled so long against overwhelming odds, should lose that victory for which they sacrificed so much,” he declared. “Collapse of free institutions and loss of independence would be disastrous not only for them but for the world. Discouragement and possibly failure would quickly be the lot of neighboring peoples striving to maintain their freedom and independence.”

In what would become the basis of the Truman Doctrine, the president stated, “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.”

Truman’s announcement marked a distinct shift in U.S. foreign policy. “The Truman Doctrine effectively reoriented U.S. foreign policy, away from its usual stance of withdrawal from regional conflicts not directly involving the United States, to one of possible intervention in far away conflicts,” write the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.

The Truman Doctrine would form the basis of U.S. policy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union (many historians say the Cold War began with the Truman Doctrine). Over the next several years, the Truman organization would strengthen its policy of containment through the Marshall Plan to provide economic aid to Europe, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect against the Soviet Union, and the National Security Council’s top-secret NSC-68 paper, which supported a military build-up to combat the Soviets.

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