Study Guide

Truman Doctrine Themes

By Harry Truman

  • Good vs. Evil

    The most classic theme out there:

    • Jedi vs. Sith.
    • Throwing away your gum in the trash vs. spitting it on the ground for an innocent pedestrian to step on.
    • The U.S. vs. the U.S.S.R.

    Truman has a very particular understanding of who/what is "good" and who/what is "evil" in the world he is describing. The picture he paints in the Truman Doctrine of international good vs. international evil will be a lasting picture defining the Cold War.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. So who/what is good and who/what is evil, according to Truman? How are the two sides defined?
    2. Is there a bias associated with these labels?
    3. What's supposed to happen if "good" wins over "evil"? What happens if things end up the other way around?
    4. How does the tone or writing style reflect this good vs. evil theme?

    Chew on This

    The way the Truman Doctrine pits totalitarianism and the U.S.S.R. against democracy and the U.S. defines the ideological basis of the Cold War.

    Truman is being kind of rude when he says everything about communism is bad. He clearly has a cultural bias.

  • Fear

    Fear is a natural human instinct. It was also a natural "national" instinct/response to the growing threat of the Soviet Union. By 1947, the Soviet threat was real—they were adding new sections of the world map at an alarmingly fast rate and were already in the process of building their own atomic bomb.

    This was a frightening time in world history, and Truman not only knows it, but also describes it in the Truman Doctrine.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Where can you pick up on a sense of fear in Truman's speech?
    2. This is diving a little bit into the Cold War of the 1960s, but have you ever heard of MAD (the acronym for mutually assured destruction, not the magazine)? How does it connect to the theme or idea of fear?
    3. Let's do a little roleplaying—would you be scared if you were an American living in 1947? What if you were Greek or Turkish?

    Chew on This

    The Truman Doctrine was a strong, declarative statement on foreign policy that stemmed from an increasingly tense and frightening situation.

    The Truman Doctrine was a strong, declarative stance on foreign policy that ultimately added more fear of communism in America than the threat it was meant to contain.

  • Responsibility

    You know what Uncle Ben said: "Perfect every time."

    Oops—wrong Uncle Ben. Spiderman's uncle said: "With great power comes great responsibility."

    The allied victory in World War II saw the emergence of the United States as a global super power defined by a strong military, economy, and international political presence. "Responsibility" is a major theme in the Truman Doctrine: Truman tries to make the case that, because we are a new world leader with abundant resources, the U.S. is directly responsible for protecting countries fighting communism / making sure democracy's sworn enemy doesn't spread.

    Questions About Responsibility

    1. What sort of American ideals and values come to mind when you're reading about Truman's interpretation of U.S. "responsibilities" towards the people of the world?
    2. Why can't someone else take care of some of the stuff Truman is describing? Why does America have to be the adults?
    3. Would (Spiderman's) Uncle Ben agree with Truman's statements?

    Chew on This

    Truman's emphasis on upholding the global responsibilities of the U.S. line up pretty well with the "responsibilities" he believed in upholding as president, such as accountability, honesty, and equality.

    The idea of "taking on too many responsibilities" can be used to describe the U.S.'s foreign policy approach during the Cold War.