Study Guide

Truman Doctrine Historical Context

By Harry Truman

Historical Context

The Good

When Truman stood at the front of the House Chamber to give his statement on March 12, 1947, things were pretty okay for most Americans—or at least, they were more okay than they'd been in almost twenty years.

Let's rewind for a second.

Back in 1929, the stock market crash and resulting super-depressing Great Depression had left thousands out of work, out of food, and out of faith in their government. Then, after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, concerns over jobs were replaced with concerns over the future of the country as a whole. Instead of unemployment, World War II brought rationing, the threat of a major attack on U.S. soil, and a general uncertainty over whether or not we could actually defeat our enemies.

So, comparatively, yes—1947 was a good year. The past was in the past and better times were ahead.

Americans were still riding high on the successful outcome of the war. The entire country had participated in securing the Allied victory, and no one was going to forget it any time soon. A sense of optimism and opportunity could be felt for the first time in recent memory.

Even better, the U.S. had emerged as one of the most powerful nations in the country. Not only were we in sole possession of an atomic bomb, but we also had the economic and industrial capacity needed to surpass the productivity of war-torn Europe.

Superpower = super possibilities.

The Bad

However, the sense of relief brought by "peace" was short-lived. (Bet you saw that coming.)

A new enemy and threat emerged in the form of communism and the Soviet Union. Europe had literally been torn apart by war, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin saw major territories in Eastern Europe like Poland and Czechoslovakia ripe for communist picking.

Even worse, Britain was facing a serious economic crisis and would have to pull troops out of Greece and stop providing financial support to countries recovering from war. The Middle East, politically and economically unstable, would become increasingly vulnerable to Soviet influence.

Oh, and the Soviets had also begun work on constructing their own atomic bomb—not good.

By 1947, the Cold War was well under way.

The Ugly

And as if all that bad wasn't bad enough, things started to get ugly. The U.S. had just fought two world wars and been through a major depression—couldn't we all just get along?

Nope.

Turns out, the sense of optimism and celebration mentioned above was more of a cultural thing, and even that had its own set of contradictions (segregation was still legal and film noir was one of Hollywood's most popular genres, to name two noteworthy examples).

American politics especially were less than pretty.

For starters, the 80th Congress hated Truman's guts. The 1946-midterm elections had given Republicans control of Congress for the first time in sixteen years. Let's just say this new Congress had had enough with FDR and his New Deal and were not about to cooperate with the late president's successor. Result: Truman could kiss almost any type of Congressional support for plans and policies goodbye (unless, of course, he phrased it the right way—but more on that in our rhetoric section).

Plus, the Second Red Scare was gaining momentum and rumors of communist infiltration in the government were spreading fast. Panic, mass hysteria, lies, deceit—DC's response to Batman v Superman reviews, or everyday markers of postwar anti-communism?

Either way, this was the world Truman was trying to address.