Many presidents face international problems that challenge our nation and yet they manage to steer our country in the right direction. No president has done this better than Harry S. Truman. He became president after Franklin Roosevelt died and was triumphant in winning the war and bringing peace to the world. Truman was able to successfully win the war and bring peace to the world. After the war, the totalitarian and communist government of the Soviet Union began a long process of spreading communism and setting up satellite governments throughout the world. Harry S. Truman created and maintained successful a foreign policy that managed to prevent the spread of communism throughout the world.
Immediately after the end of World War II, Truman presented the Truman Doctrine in order to help in the fight against communism and the Soviet Union. This document was the first of the United States’ many attempts to contain the outbreak of communism in Eastern Europe. The Truman Doctrine was created in 1947 to help the Greek and Turkish governments fight Soviet backed rebels who were fighting for control of the countries. (Burnes 175) Truman hoped that Greece and Turkey would not fall under communist control and communism in Western Europe would come to an end by giving $400 million dollars in military and economic aid to these governments. The United States sent money since they did not want to send troops over to Turkey and Greece and risk starting an all out war with the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine also gave money to other countries, such as Italy and France, which had communist movements threatening to destroy their existing government. (Spalding 87) This helped to aid Greece in the Greek Civil war which ended with the victory of the U.S. backed government. The goal of this doctrine was to contain the spread of Soviet influence. This was known as the Policy of Containment and this policy was important in Truman’s presidency because it guided many of his decisions regarding the spread of communism. With the creation of this doctrine, Harry Truman took the first crucial steps in the nation’s battle against communism.
Harry Truman was determined not to allow the Soviets to pursue their goals of global communism. One such event was when the Soviet Union closed off all the roads and railroads leading to West Berlin in hope of being able to take it over. After World War II, Berlin was split into four different sectors and divided among France, Great Britain, The United States, and the Soviet Union. (Spalding 104) The three Allied powers controlled the western side while the Soviet Union controlled the east. Since Berlin was located in eastern Germany which was under Soviet control after World War II, the Soviets closed East Germany and cut off West Berlin from necessary supplies. It looked as though the Soviets had outsmarted the Allies at this point because West Berlin only had enough food for a week. Although his adviser told Truman to give into the Soviets, he refused and instead he organized a huge operation that would airlift supplies into West Berlin. This operation was called the Berlin Airlift, involving 278,228 flights and 2,326,406 tons of food being dropped. (Wikipedia Online) After 324 days of airlifting supplies, the Soviet Union finally gave up and opened the roads back up for the allies. By fighting against Soviet aggressions Truman showed that the United States was ready and willing to meet communist expansions with force. This kind of mind set helped create a foreign policy that Truman would use for the rest of his presidency as well at lay the ground work for the next presidents.
Not only did Harry Truman prevent the rise of communism, he also hoped to restore the economy in Western Europe through the goals of the Marshall Plan. Shortly after the Truman Doctrine the president enacted the Marshall Plan. This plan called for $13 billion dollars to be given in aid to Western Europe over four years in hope of improving the economies. (Axelrod 218) In order to persuade congress to pass this bill, Truman gave a speech to congress where he stated that “Communism flourishes in deprived areas.” (Wikipedia Online) Truman reasoned that of the U.S. helped rebuild the weak economies in Western Europe, that these countries would be grateful enough to side with the United States during the Cold War. After its completion, the Marshall Plan proved to be successful in greatly improving the economies of the participating nations with industrial production increasing by 35% in Western Europe. (McCullough 137) The trade relationships created by the Marshall plan helped enable the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and allowed lasting alliances through the entire Cold War.
Harry Truman sent American troops to other countries in order to help the ruling power fight communist rebels and he did this on multiple occasions. In 1949, the communist party under the leadership of Mao Zedong forced Chaing Kai-shek from China and Zedong took power. (Ferrel 213) Kai-shek and his followers fled to Taiwan to escape persecution from the communists. A few months later Truman ordered the seventh fleet of the United State’s navy to the Strait of Formosa in order to prevent further attacks on Taiwan. Truman was not willing to let communism spread throughout the world so he created a barrier between China and Taiwan. Truman wanted to protect Kai-shek so when Mao Zedong was overthrown, he could return back to power. Although this never happened, Truman remained ready to reinstall the proper leader to peacefully rule China. On June 25, 1950, the communist government of North Korea invaded the democratic government of South Korea igniting the Korean War. Truman promptly responded by requesting to the United Nations that General Douglas MacArthur be to South Korea with an army to repel the North Koreans. (Spalding 254) Permission was granted and a United Nation’s force made up primarily of U.S. soldiers was sent in. Truman chose to enter the war so that democratic governments could govern themselves without the fear of communist interventions. In October of 1950 China entered the war to help their communist North Korean allies. The Chinese were able to push the United States deep into South Korea but they later retaliated and managed to push the Chinese back. The war ended in a stalemate in 1953 under Eisenhower’s presidency. (McCullough 236) Sending U.S. troops to Korea was part of Truman’s plan to contain the spread of communism. Eastern Europe and China were already under the control of communism, so Truman hoped to have South Korean as democratic government. Truman was not about to allow the Soviet Union to have control over all of the Asia and Europe so he make the correct decision by sending over a force to repel the North Koreans back into the North. By doing so, he was able to protect a democracy and deny the Soviets the ability to set up a satellite government in South Korea like it did in the north.
Truman was very innovative in writing laws and creating treaties to combat the overwhelming communist forces. Truman signed the National Security bill into law in 1947, which created the Department of Defense to oversee the United States Air Force and Army. (White House Online) It also created the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, which was responsible for keeping tabs on known communist that were operating inside the United States. Spying on the Soviet Union, the CIA learned their secrets and was able to discover communist spies. Without the CIA, the United States would not have been able to catch the Rosenburgs who passed the Soviet Union secrets about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. Without Truman creating the CIA to investigate this sort of activity, the Soviet Union would have been able to steal secrets about the Hydrogen Bomb. Harry Truman also helped with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, created in 1949, involving 12 countries including the United States, Great Britain, and France as the more prominent members. The objective of the NATO charter was that if any of the member, were attacked, all of the others would lend their support to them and all of NATO would fight together. (Burnes 141) NATO was a mechanism to create an allied group to fight against communism in the event of an all out war. When Vietnam declared independence and asked for help from China and the Soviet Union Harry Truman did not falter and he promptly authorized $150 million dollars in aid to France. Even though the Soviet Union and China recognized Vietnam as an independent country immediately, the United States remained to recognize the French as the proper leaders. The United States also sent over 123 non-combat troops to Vietnam to help the French fight the Vietnamese communist forces. (Axelrod 109) The use of the containment policy by President Truman allowed the United States to easily sent foreign aid to countries. This policy created under Truman was one of the key pieces of foreign policy that enabled Truman to be so successful at stopping the spread of communism. Had Truman not created these laws and alliances the Soviet Union would have had a free ticket to the expansion of communism throughout the globe.
Harry Truman’s legacy can still be seen today by the many government agencies that he created which are still up today. Truman’s influence was so great that in Turkey and Greece he is still considered a hero. In fact, there are even statues created in his honor for the help that he sent them with the Truman Doctrine. Truman’s reputation was so great that the band Chicago wrote about him. The lyrics of this song include the following:
“We’d love to hear you speak your mind
In plain and simple ways
Call a spade a spade
Like you did back in the days
You would play piano
Each morning walk a mile
Speak of what was going down
With honesty and style
Harry Truman” (Wikipedia Online)
Without Truman, communism still might be a major threat today and the United States might even be controlled by a communist government. Thanks to Truman’s foreign policy the U.S. was able to survive and eventually win the Cold War and emerge as the only major world power.
1. Axelrod, Alan. When the Buck Stops With You : Harry S. Truman on Leadership. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2004.
2. Wikipedia: Harry S. Truman. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. 4/03/06 Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_S_Truman.
3. Burnes, Brian. Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times. Kansas City: Kansas City Star Books, 2003.
4. McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
5. Spalding, Elizabeth. The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005.
6. Ferrel, Robert. Harry S. Truman: A Life. St. Louis: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
7. “Harry S. Truman.” The White House. 4/14/06 2006. http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/ht33.html.