Harry S. Truman
Most Americans in the 1950s did not expect that Harry Truman would become one of their most highly regarded presidents. By 1952, just before he announced his decision not to run again, only 25% of the people thought he was doing a good job. Within a decade, however, most American historians regarded him as one of the nation’s greatest presidents.
Obviously, Truman was not so effective in domestic affairs as his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, had been in the 1930’s.
Truman’s record in foreign affairs, while also flawed, was more significant. He effectively developed a larger role for the nation in world affairs than it had played before World War II. Trumans policy helped the recovery and reconstruction of western Europe, but more importantly they help contain the rapid spread of Communism, such policies were the hallmark of the cold war.
Seeking to carry out Roosevelt’s policies, Truman brought to fruition the plans for the unconditional surrender of Germany, which came on May 8, 1945 and the establishment of the United Nations. He attended the UN founding conference in San Francisco in late April. Truman made the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan, believing that they would end the war quickly, save lives, and place the United States in a position to revolutionize Japanese life. Two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, coupled with Russia’s declaration of war against Japan, brought the war to an end on August 14, 1945.
Some persons have argued that Truman used the bomb to influence the Russians rather than the Japanese, but they have demonstrated only that he and some of his aides hoped that this new evidence of American power would restrain the Russians at the same time that it accomplished American objectives in Japan. By August 1945, Truman had become more critical of the Russians than Roosevelt had been. As time passed in 1945, Russian efforts to dominate eastern Europe became more obvious and alarming to American officials, and the need for Russian help, which had influenced Roosevelt so much, significantly declined as Germany and Japan were defeated and the United Nations was established.
Given the Russian military presence and determination in Eastern Europe, Truman had little opportunity to be effective there, but he found larger opportunities in southern and western Europe. Economic and political weaknesses seemed to give the Russians a chance to extend their influence into the region, but a series of American moves from 1947 to 1949 promoted economic improvements, strengthened non-Communist governments, and contributed to the containment of Communist groups.
The first significant application of the containment doctrine came in the Easter Mediterranean. Great Britain had been supporting Greece, where communist forces threatened the ruling monarchy in a civil war, and Turkey, where the Soviet Union pressed for territorial concessions and the right to build naval bases on the Bosporus. In 1947 Britain told the United States that it could no longer afford such aid. Quickly, the U.S. State Department devised a plan for U.S. assistance. But support for a new interventionist policy, Senate leaders such as Arthur Vandenberg told Truman, was only possible if he was willing to start scaring the hell out of the country Truman was prepared to do so. On Wednesday, March 12, 1947 President Truman addressed the Congress.
One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guaranties 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.
Then came the dramatic sentence that set forth what was to become known as the Truman Doctrine. The president said, I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. The immediate objective of the policy was to send U.S. aid to anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey, but it was later expanded to justify support for any nation that the United States government believed was threatened by Communism during the Cold War period.
Containment also called for extensive economic aid to assist the recovery of war-torn Europe. With many of the regions nations economically and politically unstable, the United States feared that local communism parties, directed by Moscow, would come to power. On June 5, 1947, George C. Marshall presented at the Harvard commencement exercises the European Recovery Program. Built on the Truman Doctrine, the program provided the economic foundation for the recovery of Europes war-shattered nations. Marshalls speech offered aid to all the countries of Europe, East as well as West, program was directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. The Soviets participated in the first planning meeting, then departed rather than share economic data on their resources and problems, and submit to Western controls on the expenditure of the aid. The remaining 16 nations hammered out a request that finally came to $17 thousand million for a four-year period. The Marshall Plan, as it came to be know, has been generally regarded as one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy initiatives in history.
Postwar Germany was divided into U.S., Soviet, British and French Zones of occupation, with the former German capital of Berlin (it self divided into four zones), near the center of the Soviet zone. The United States, Britain and France had discussed converting their zones into a single, self-governing republic. But the Soviet Union opposed plans to unite Germany and ministerial-level four-power discussions on Germany broke down. When the Western powers announced their intention to create a consolidated federal state from their zones, Stalin responded. On June 23, 1948, Soviet forces blockaded Berlin, cutting off all road and rail access from the West. President Truman feared that losing Berlin was but a prelude to losing Germany an subsequently all of Europe. Therefore, in a successful demonstration of Western resolve known as the Berlin Airlift, allied air forces took to the sky, flying supplies into Berlin. U.S., French and British planes delivered nearly 2,250,000 tons of goods, including food and coal. Stalin lifted the blockade after 231 days and 277,264 flights. President Truman wrote in his book, Memoirs, The longer the blockade continued, the more the technical efficiency of the airlift improved and the more people of Germany looked toward the West to strengthen them in their determination to remain free. Berlin had become a symbol of Americas and the Wests..dedication to the cause of freedom.
In 1949, Marshalls successor as Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, together with the foreign ministers of eleven other nations, signed the North Atlantic Treaty, the third great turning point in American foreign policy. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance created a military buffer around the people of Western Europe. There was no point in supporting Europe economically and then having it fall to a military attack from the East Europeans satellite nations or the Soviet Union. Although NATO troops never reached the goals imagined, the organization did present a point of resistance to an Eastern enemy, and eased the fears of Westerns Europeans so they could get on with planning their economic futures.
In January, 1949, Truman addressed an estimated 100,000 persons gathered outside the Capitol building. Foreign policy was the main subject of Trumans inagural address. He used to introduce a proposal for sharing Americas vast scientific and industrial experience with the many underdeveloped nations emerging from colonialism into freedom. He summed up the plan-which was shortened to Point Four because it was the fourth point in the foreign program he outlined- with these words: I believe we should make available to peace-loving people the benefits of our store of technical knowledge, in order to help them realize their aspiration for the better life. Truman saw Point Four as a continuing program of helping the less-developed nations help themselves through the sharing of technical information.(little)
The momentous new steps included the Truman Doctrine, which granted aid to Greece and Turkey and promised assistance to other nations threatened “by armed minorities or by outside pressure”; the Marshall Plan, which used American economic resources to stimulate the recovery of European economies outside the Soviet sphere; the Berlin airlift, designed to maintain the Western presence in that city, which was surrounded by the Russian-occupied zone of Germany; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the nation’s first peacetime military alliance. Truman’s Point Four program helped new nations develop economically.
These steps, which added up to a policy of “containment” of communism, constituted unprecedented U.S. involvement in Europe during peacetime. Truman not only made the decisions but used all his power to get the policies accepted.