Study Guide

Truman Doctrine Main Idea

By Harry Truman

  • Main Idea

    The U.S. Should Send Aid to Strategically Located Foreign Countries to Keep Those Mean Ol' Soviets in Check

    If there's one law that governs both foreign policy and real estate, it's location, location, location. Invest your hard-earned $$$ in property that seems like it's going to go up in value (so, like, not near a toxic waste dump) and invest your government aid in countries that are strategically important.

    Harry S Truman gave a speech in 1947 describing a new approach in foreign policy that said the U.S. would provide government aid to countries resisting communist takeovers. Greece and Turkey were the two politically unstable countries Truman wanted to help first, and they got a lot of airtime during the speech because their locations were important for maintaining peace—a.k.a. Western control—in the Middle East.

    Truman wanted to extend his policy to any country fighting or dealing with the Big Bad Communist Threat and believed that we were living in an era in which countries would have to choose between two ways of life: totalitarian control and communism or freedom and democracy.

    In the Truman Doctrine, the U.S. finally squared up with the Soviet Union and Truman decided it was time for the U.S. to start blowing down the Soviet Union's houses before they blew down ours.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why, according to Truman, should a policy like the one he is proposing be the U.S.'s responsibility?
    2. Why is Greece so important? And what's the strategy behind extending this aid proposal to other countries?
    3. The TD made front-page news and was covered in almost every major newspaper and magazine after Truman spoke. Think of the tone, content, and policies outlined in the speech—why all the fuss? What was going on in 1947 and what had happened to get there?

    Chew on This

    "The Truman Doctrine" was a big deal because it changed the tone and direction of U.S. foreign policy from one of avoiding permanent, entangling alliances to a strategy that emphasized allying with and providing aid to foreign countries.

    Thanks to "the Truman Doctrine" and its emphasis on engaging in worldly affairs, the Cold War became "hot."

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    The minute World War II ended, the Soviet Union stopped playing nice and took control of several Eastern European countries. By 1947, Soviet expansion had gotten way out of hand, the British were pulling troops and supplies from the Middle East, and the U.S. needed a revised direction in foreign policy to assert its global position in a new Cold War.

    The Text

    Truman makes the case for his foreign policy recommendation by describing the civil war between communist and anti-communist factions in Greece. Then he describes the developing threat of a communist insurgency in Turkey. If just one of these countries is lost to communism, he says, then other countries in the Middle East will follow (like a line of dominoes) until the entire region is donezo. This will affect the West just as much as it will affect the East, and seriously might happen, considering the British are about to dip from the Middle East.

    Along the way, Truman takes some jabs at the Soviet Union (without ever mentioning them by name), brings up WWII, and uses a lot of patriotic and democratic language to suggest that it is up to the U.S. to save both itself and the rest of the world from the Soviet threat.

    The speech ends with an official declaration of foreign policy that says the U.S. will provide military and economic support to countries fighting totalitarian—a.k.a. communist—forces. Oh, and he says that we need to get on all of this ASAP.

    TL;DR

    Harry S Truman, one of our sassiest presidents to date, took the U.S.'s stance against communism from "not in my house" to "not in anyone's house."

      
  • Questions

    1. Do you agree with the statements and policies outlined in "the Truman Doctrine?" Does the U.S. have an obligation to aid foreign countries? What would your [insert your name here] Doctrine say?
    2. Truman does a lot of switching between facts, rhetoric, numbers, and metaphors. What are some examples where this is particularly effective? Why take such an approach?
    3. Who would you pick to play Truman in a movie and give this speech?
    4. Fun fact—over half of the men Truman was speaking to were Republicans and, for the most part, couldn't stand his Democratic-party guts. (Just as they do today, both parties clashed over money and government spending, and here was Truman requesting to send millions of dollars to a foreign country.) What do you think was going through his mind when he spoke? What would have been going through your mind if you were the President?
    5. What if the Truman Doctrine had been a big failure and had not become a major policy of the U.S.? Do you think this sort of policy was inevitable? How might the Cold War have played out differently?