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When President Harry S. Truman issued what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine in March 1947, he was outlining the basic foreign policy that the United States would use against the Soviet Union and Communism for the next 44 years.
The doctrine, which had both economic and military elements, pledged support for countries attempting to hold back Soviet-style revolutionary Communism. It symbolized the United States' post-World War II global leadership role.
Countering Communism in Greece
Truman formulated the doctrine in response to the Greek Civil War, which itself was an extension of World War II.
German troops had occupied Greece since April 1941, but as the war progressed, Communist insurgents known as the National Liberation Front (or EAM/ELAS) challenged Nazi control.
In October 1944, with Germany losing the war on both the western and eastern fronts, Nazi troops abandoned Greece. Soviet General Secretary Josef Stalin supported the EAM/LEAM, but he ordered them to stand down and let British troops take over Greek occupation to avoid irritating his British and American wartime allies.
World War II had destroyed Greece's economy and infrastructure and created a political vacuum that Communists sought to fill. By late 1946, EAM/ELAM fighters, now backed by Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz Tito (who was no Stalinist puppet), forced war-weary England to commit as many as 40,000 troops to Greece to ensure it did not fall to Communism.
Great Britain, however, was also financially strapped from World War II, and on February 21, 1947, it informed the United States that it was no longer able to financially sustain its operations in Greece. If the United States wanted to halt the spread of Communism into Greece, it would have to do so itself.
Halting the spread of Communism had become the United States' basic foreign policy.
In 1946, American diplomat George Kennan, who was minister-counselor and chargé d'affaires at the American Embassy in Moscow, suggested that the United States could hold Communism at its 1945 boundaries with what he described as a patient and long-term "containment" of the Soviet system.
While Kennan would later disagree with some elements of American implementation of his theory (such as involvement in Vietnam), containment became the basis of American foreign policy with Communist nations for the next four decades.
On March 12, Truman unveiled the Truman Doctrine in an address to the United States Congress.
"It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure," Truman said. He asked Congress for $400 million in aid for Greek anti-communist forces, as well as for the defense of Turkey, which the Soviet Union was pressuring to allow joint control of the Dardanelles, the narrow strait forming part of the division between Asia and Europe.
In April 1948, Congress passed the Economic Cooperation Act, better known as the Marshall Plan. The plan was the economic arm of the Truman Doctrine.
Named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall (who had been United States Army chief of staff during the war), the plan offered money to war-torn areas for the rebuilding of cities and their infrastructures. American policy-makers recognized that, without quick rebuilding of war damage, countries across Europe were likely to turn to Communism.
While the plan was technically open to Soviet-allied Eastern European nations as well, it touted a free market as the best way to rebuilding a shattered post-war economy. That was something Moscow wasn't interested in buying.
Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Truman Doctrine generally succeeded in containing Communism to its pre-1945 borders with exceptions in southeast Asia, Cuba, and Afghanistan.
That said, both Greece and Turkey ended up led by repressive right-wing regimes, and the the Truman Doctrine marked the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
- The Truman Doctrine, 1947 U.S. Department of State.
- The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, U.S. Department of State