President Harry S. Truman's Foreign Policy

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the foreign policy approaches of American President Harry S. Truman. We will understand the broad context of the Cold War, and identify how Truman believed the U.S. should interact with communist states like the Soviet Union.

Harry Truman and the Coming of the Cold War

It's V-E Day: May 8, 1945. Crowds gather in New York's Times Square to celebrate the end of the war in Europe. Everyone is ecstatic. People are kissing and hugging. America and the Allies have been victorious against Hitler's Nazis, and there is a sense that Japan's surrender is only a matter of time.

For many Americans, the future looked bright on that May day. Soon, ''the boys'' would be coming home. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had passed away just a month before, and hopes ran high that new President Harry S. Truman would guide the nation into a period of peace and prosperity. Yet there were signs of tension, and possibly even the eruption of another conflict. Indications of the impending Cold War were on the horizon. As president, Harry Truman would play a decisive role in setting the foundations for American-Soviet interactions for the next half century.

V-E Day was a momentous celebration, but tension loomed on the geopolitical horizon.
ve day

Before we go any further, what exactly is the Cold War? The Cold War refers to the period of tension and competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that took place between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was not a ''hot war'' fought with tanks, planes, and armies, but a ''war'' of ideas and threats. Both countries tried to outdo one another in terms of influence and power. After World War II, American foreign policy was conducted within the context of the Cold War.

Communism: Its Spread and Containment

After World War II, the countries of Eastern Europe found themselves under the occupation and influence of the Soviet Union. Most of these countries became communist satellite or ''puppet'' states of the Soviet Union. Basically, all of Eastern Europe was allied with the Soviet Union, while most of Western Europe was allied with the United States. In a famous speech, Winston Churchill used the term, ''Iron Curtain,'' to describe the boundary between the Western democracies and the Eastern communist states.

The spread of communism throughout Eastern Europe (and to other parts of the globe) was alarming to the U.S. and its allies. President Harry Truman (who served from 1945 until 1953) believed it had to be stopped. In 1947, he delivered a famous speech in which he announced what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine stated that the United States would act to support free states resisting communist aggression or interference.

The Truman Doctrine marked the official implementation of the American foreign policy of containment. Containment is easy to understand because its meaning is wrapped up in the word itself. Containment policy meant that the U.S. would act to contain, or quarantine, the spread of communism, but not act to combat it where it already existed. Containment policy served as the backbone of American foreign policy during much of the Cold War.

President Harry Truman announced that the U.S. would support countries resisting communist aggression. This became known as the Truman Doctrine.

Overseas Intervention: Economic Aid and Military Action

Harry Truman was president during several important moments of the early Cold War. During his administration, the Marshall Plan went into effect. Named after Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, this plan was a massive economic aid package to help rebuild war-torn Europe. The U.S. gave away $13 billion to countries like West Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, and many others. This money was used to help revive industry, buy food, repair damages, etc. The Marshall Plan was in effect from 1948 until 1951.

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