Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
President Harry S. Truman outlined the reasons for U.S. Cold War policies in a speech to a joint session of Congress, March 12, 1947. Here are key excerpts:
"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 aspect of the present situation, which I present to you at this time for your consideration and decision, concerns Greece and Turkey.
"...assistance is imperative if Greece is to survive as a free nation... I am fully aware of the broad implications 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. ...We shall not achieve 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,... in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. 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.
"... 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.
"The world is not static, and the status quo is not sacred. But we cannot allow changes in the status quo in violation of the Charter of the United Nations by such methods as coercion, or by such subterfuges as political infiltration. In helping free and independent nations to maintain their freedom, the United States will be giving effect to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
"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 independence...
"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."
"Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as the East. We must take immediate and resolute action."
(Go here for complete text)
Analysis: More than a month later, on April 22, 1947, the Senate passed Truman's emergency aid package by a 67 to 23 vote; the House concurred (by voice vote) on May 15. The initial steps were small, and the means used were measured carefully: four hundred million dollars in aid, and a mere 350 US military advisors were sent to train the Greek Army; it ultimately prevailed over Greek Communist rebels (October 1949). In terms of the ends sought, however, the Truman Doctrine of Containment was a momentous crossing, for the US committed itself to "contain" the growth not just of Soviet power. The U.S. pledged more than resistance to direct Soviet influence extended through their Red Army. Both direct and indirect efforts to extend the influence of the ideals of communism now were to be resisted. Since this ideology was embraced by armed (and unarmed) men and women of many nationalities, and since the advocates of communism were not just in Europe but in many countries, in time the US commitment to contain communism would be extended around the globe.
Subsequent Major Actions: The institutions making US foreign policy changed substantially as America reoriented to the role assigned in the Truman Doctrine of Containment. Major parts of this transformation were authorized by the National Security Act of 1947. This act for the first time in US peacetime history created a permanent intelligence capability in the US government, the CIA, and authorized secret activities by it. The 1947 National Security Act also did much more: it permitted keeping secret the budget of this agency; it created an advisory panel to assist the president in foreign policy formulation, the National Security Council; and, more mundanely, it separated the Army Air Corps from that service, creating a new military service, the US Air Force.
Henceforth, Congress' role in shaping U.S. foreign policy correspondingly would diminish.
return to Prof. Bowen's homepage
return to PolS 128 U.S. Foreign Policy main page