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Harry S. Truman, “Truman Doctrine” Address, March 1947

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On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman addressed the U.S. Congress, proposing immediate economic and military aid to governments threatened by Communist insurrections in the aftermath of World War II. This was in direct response to the Soviet expansion into Greece and Turkey, which ultimately laid the foundation for the Cold War. Congress responded to Truman’s proposal by authorizing the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was a four-year program intended to help rebuild the economies of Western Europe after the war. Congress approved the plan, which was aimed at rebuilding industry, removing trade barriers, and restoring prosperity as quickly as possible in the region. One objective was to restore U.S. trade partners, but equally important was blunting the appeal of communism in the war-torn nations.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Explain why President Truman used an address to Congress to declare his plan to reconstruct Western Europe after World War II.
  2. What were the goals of this document?

Vocabulary Text
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 wish to present to you at this time for your consideration and decision, concerns Greece and Turkey.
corroborate(v): to confirm or give support The United States has received from the Greek government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance. Preliminary reports from the American Economic Mission now in Greece and reports from the American ambassador in Greece corroborate the statement of the Greek government that assistance is imperative if Greece is to survive as a free nation.
I do not believe that the American people and the Congress wish to turn a deaf ear to the appeal of the Greek government. . . .
The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries. . . .
The British government, which has been helping Greece, can give no further financial or economic aid after March 31. Great Britain finds itself under the necessity of reducing or liquidating its commitments in several parts of the world, including Greece.
We have considered how the United Nations might assist in this crisis. But the situation is an urgent one requiring immediate action and the United Nations and its related organizations are not in a position to extend help of the kind that is required.. . .
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. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will and their way of life upon other nations. . . .
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.
One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees 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.
subjugation(n): domination 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.
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.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Explain the role Truman thought the United States should play in Greece and Turkey.
  2. According to Truman, why should the United States take the place of Great Britain in supporting Greece?
  3. What are the primary objectives laid out by the Truman Doctrine?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Explain why Truman believed it was the responsibility of the United States to support free people who were resisting subjugation.
  2. Did the policy set out by Truman in this speech mark a continuity or a change from U.S. involvement in Europe? Explain.

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