The Truman Doctrine: Definition, Summary & Purpose

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  • 0:49 Historical Background
  • 1:59 Mr. X
  • 2:42 The Truman Doctrine
  • 3:27 What Was Containment?
  • 4:01 Legacy
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.

The Truman Doctrine called for the containment of communism worldwide. We'll look at its historical background and central ideas as well as its effect on American and world history.

Purpose of the Doctrine

In the Hollywood movie Bride Wars, the relationship of two best friends turns sour after both have their weddings booked on the same day at the same venue. In the film, each bride pulls out all the stops to ruin the wedding of the other.

Surprisingly, this plot is actually similar to what happened with the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine was issued by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. In this doctrine, President Truman said that the United States would go to whatever lengths possible to contain the spread of communism and stop the United States' former ally, the Soviet Union. So, just like in the movie, the Truman Doctrine said the United States would pull out all the stops to ruin the plans of its former friend.

Historical Background

The United States and Soviet Union were allies during World War II. But after the defeat of Germany, the Soviet Union moved quickly towards Japan. Although the United States was winning the war against Japan, President Harry Truman deeply distrusted the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. Although superficially it seemed that Stalin was trying to support the United States, Truman suspected that Stalin was going to come in at the last second to claim victory over Japan for the Soviet Union.

Because of the Soviet Union's rapid shift, Truman accelerated the American attack on Japan. Truman eventually authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs in order to end the war quickly, and perhaps to show military might to the Soviet Union.

After Japan finally conceded defeat, tensions quickly rose between the Soviet Union and United States. The Soviet Union began to position its troops in Eastern Europe, actively seeking to install communist regimes in these Eastern bloc countries. The aggressive movements of the Soviet Union led Winston Churchill to argue that a 'steel curtain' had fallen over Eastern Europe.

Mr. X

In response to these moves by the Soviet Union, different scholars began developing ideas for how the United States should respond. The most famous suggestion came in a 'Foreign Affairs' magazine article titled 'The Sources of Soviet Conduct.' The famous article was written under the pseudonym 'X,' but we now know that it was written by George F. Kennan, a diplomat and political scientist. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union's sole goal was to spread communism worldwide. As a result, the United States had to create a policy of 'containment' in which it did not allow the Soviet Union to spread communism worldwide. This policy paper would become the basis of the Truman Doctrine.

The Truman Doctrine

Given the recommendations of Kennan, President Truman made a special speech to a joint session of Congress. At the time, Great Britain had decided to stop aiding the countries of Greece and Turkey, making them susceptible to Soviet-supported communist revolutions. Truman urged Congress to provide aid to the two countries so that they would not become Communist countries.

In his 1947 speech, Truman said that the world was being divided into two ways of life - a democratic lifestyle full of freedom, and an autocratic, communist lifestyle 'full of terror, oppression and controlled press.' Truman urged that the United States should do whatever it took to help countries become democratic and not communist.

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