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10-08-2015, 17:13

The Truman Doctrine and the Beginnings of Containment

In the United States, the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe represented an ominous development that threatened Roosevelt’s vision of a durable peace. Public suspicion of Soviet intentions grew rapidly, especially among the millions of Americans who still had relatives living in Eastern Europe. Winston Churchill was quick to put such fears into words. In a highly publicized speech given to an American audience at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946, the former British prime minister declared that an “Iron Curtain” had “descended across the continent,” dividing Germany and Europe itself into two hostile camps. Stalin responded by branding Churchill’s speech a “call to war with the Soviet Union.” But he need not have worried. Although public opinion in the United States placed increasing pressure on Washington to devise an effective strategy to counter Soviet advances abroad, the American people were in no mood for another war. A civil war in Greece created another potential arena for confrontation between the superpowers and an opportunity for the Truman administration to take a stand. Communist guerrilla forces supported by Tito’s Yugoslavia had taken up arms against the pro-Western government in Athens. Great Britain had initially assumed primary responsibility for promoting postwar reconstruction in the eastern Mediterranean, but in 1947, continued postwar economic problems caused the British to withdraw from the active role they had been playing in both Greece and Turkey. U.S. President Harry S Truman (1884 –1972), alarmed by British weakness and the possibility of Soviet expansion into the eastern Mediterranean, responded with the Truman Doctrine (see the box above), which said in essence that the United States would provide money to countries that claimed they were threatened by Communist expansion. If the Soviets were not stopped in Greece, the Truman argument ran, then the United States would have to face the spread of communism throughout the free world. As Dean Acheson, the American secretary of state, explained, “Like apples in a barrel infected by disease, the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all the East . . . likewise Africa . . . Italy . . . France. . . . Not since Rome and Carthage has there been such a polarization of power on this earth.”2 The U.S. suspicion that Moscow was actively supporting the insurgent movement in Greece was inaccurate. Stalin was apparently unhappy with Tito’s promoting of the conflict, not only because it suggested that the latter was attempting to create his own sphere of influence in the Balkans but also because it risked provoking a direct confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The proclamation of the Truman Doctrine was soon followed in June 1947 by the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan. Intended to rebuild prosperity and stability, this program included $13 billion for the economic recovery of wartorn Europe. Underlying the program was the belief that Communist aggression fed off economic turmoil. General George C. Marshall noted in a speech at Harvard, “Our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” 3 From the Soviet perspective, the Marshall Plan was nothing less than capitalist imperialism, a thinly veiled attempt to buy the support of the smaller European countries, which in return would be expected to submit to economic exploitation by the United States. The White House indicated that the Marshall Plan was open to the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states, but they refused to participate. The Soviets, however, were in no position to compete financially with the United States and could do little to counter the Marshall Plan except to tighten their control in Eastern Europe.