The Cold War Begins

Harry Truman declares U.S. policy towards communism, March 12, 1947

Prior to World War II, the United States pursued a policy of isolationism as the world became a more dangerous place.  But world events quickly got out of control and the United States found itself in the middle of the War.  After World War II and the defeat of the Nazis and Japanese imperialism, communism became the greatest threat to world peace.  The United States had no choice but to confront the threat.  The result was the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Although arguable, many historians consider the start of the Cold War to be a speech given by President Harry Truman in March 1947.  A speech known as the Truman Doctrine.

In 1947, Greece and Turkey were both struggling to resist communist forces within their countries.  Great Britain, suffering from the aftermath of two world wars in a 21 year period, announced in February 1947 that it could no longer provide the assistance it had been giving to Greece and Turkey since the end of World War II.  In Greece, communist forces had been battling for control of the country against the Greek government since the end of the War.  In Turkey, a dispute arose when the Soviet Union announced it was seeking greater control over the Dardanelles, a strategic waterway from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

So what did the United States do?  President Truman gave a speech before a joint session of Congress that set in place American policy for years to come.  He declared America would assist other nations struggling to resist anti-democratic forces, whether that support came via economic, military or other forms of support.  This policy was aimed at stopping the Soviet Union and the spread of communism throughout the world.  Truman realized communism was a totalitarian ideology that suppressed the individual freedoms and property rights of people and stood in complete contrast to American values.  Truman declared with a clear voice that the United States would fight against tyranny around the world.

In the end, Congress approved $400 million in assistance for Greece and Turkey.  Neither nation became communist.  The policy behind the Truman Doctrine led to another important program.  By 1948, the United States began implementation of the Marshall Plan, an economic aid program designed to bolster the economies of Western European nations recovering from World War II.  By 1952, the Marshall Plan had delivered approximately $13 billion in aid to sixteen countries, rebuilding those countries while at the same time strengthening them against communist threats.

Here are parts of the speech given by Truman in March 1947:

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.

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…

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want.  They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife.  They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died.  We must keep that hope alive.

The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world – and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.

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