Americans believe that if Franklin D. Roosevelt would have lived longer, that he would have been able to stem the tide of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. His successor lacked greatly the Talent of FDR. The new president, who was more comfortable with machine politicians than with polished New Dealers, liked to talk tough and act defiantly. Truman complained that the U.S. Negotiations had been a “one way street” just ten days after he took office. He then vowed to not “baby” the Soviet no longer.
A crisis in the Mediterranean prompted President Truman to show his colors. On February 21, 1947, amid a civil war in Greece, Great Britain informed the U.S. State Department that it could no longer afford to prop up the anti-Communist government there and announced it’s intention to withdraw all aid. Truman concluded, Greece, Turkey, and perhaps the entire oil-rich Middle East would fall under Soviet control, without U.S. Intervention.
On March 12, 1947, the President made his argument before Congress in bold terms: “At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life… One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished be free institutions…and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed on the majority… And the suppression of personal freedoms.” Never mentioning the Soviet Union by name, he appealed for all-out resistance to a “certain ideology” wherever it appeared in the world. The preservation of peace and the freedom of all Americans depended, the president insisted, on containing communism.
Congress approved a $400 million appropriation in aid for Greece and Turkey, which helped the monarchy and right-wing military crush the rebel movement. Truman’s victory buoyed his popularity for the upcoming 1948 election. It also helped to generate popular support for a campaign against communism, both at home and abroad.
The significance of what became known as the Truman Doctrine far outlasted the events in the Mediterranean: the United States had declared it’s right to intervene to save other nations from communism. As early as February 1946, foreign-policy adviser George F. Kennan had sent an 8,000-word “long telegram” to the State Department insisting that Soviet fanaticism made cooperation impossible. The USSR intended to extend it’s realm not by military means alone, he explained, but by “subversion” within “free” nations. The Truman Doctrine described the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union as absolute and irreconcilable, as an ideological breach that resonated far beyond foreign policy. It was now the responsibility of the United States, Truman insisted to safeguard the “Free World” by diplomatic, economic, and, if necessary, military means. He had, in sum, fused anti communism and internationalism into an aggressive foreign policy.
The Truman Doctrine complemented the European Recovery Program, commonly known as the Marshall Plan. On June 5, 1947 the plan was introduced in a commencement speech at Harvard University by secretary of state and former army chief of staff George C. Marshall. The plan sought to reduce “hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” and to restore “the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole.” Although Marshall added that “our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine,” the plan that bore his name additionally aimed to turn back both socialist and Communist electoral bids for power in northern and western Europe while promoting democracy through an economic renewal.
The most successful postwar U.S. Diplomatic venture, the Marshall Plan supplemented the Bretton Woods agreements by further improving the climate for a viable capitalist economy, in western Europe and in effect bringing recipients of aid into a bilateral agreement with the United States. Western Europe nations, seventeen in all, ratified the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which reduced commercial barriers among member nations and opened all to U.S. Trade and investment. The plan was costly to Americans, in it’s initial year taking 12 percent of the federal budget, but effective. Industrial production in the European nations covered by the plan rose by 200 percent between 1947 and 1952. Although deflationary programs cut wages and increased unemployment, profits soared and the standard of living improved. Supplemented by a multimedia propaganda campaign, the Marshall Plan introduced many Europeans to American consumer goods and lifestyles.
The Marshall Plan drove a deeper wedge between the United States and the Soviet Union. Stalin was invited to participate but he denounced the plan for what it was, an American scheme to rebuild Germany and to incorporate it into and anti-Soviet bloc that encompassed all western Europe. The president readily acknowledged that the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine were “two halves of the same walnut.”
The policy of containment depended on the ability of the United States to back up it’s commitments through military means, and Truman invested his faith in the U.S. Monopoly of atomic weapons. The U.S began to build atomic stockpiles and to conduct tests on the Bikini Islands in the Pacific. By 1950, as a scientific adviser observed, the U.S. “Has a stockpile capable of somewhat more than reproducing World War II in a single day.”
The U.S. Military analysts estimated it would take the Soviet Union three to ten years to produce an atomic bomb. In August 1949, the Soviet Union proved them wrong by testing it’s own atomic bomb. “There is only one thing worse than one nation having the atomic bomb,” Noble prize-winning scientist Harold C. Urey said, “that’s two nation’s having it.”
The United States and Soviet Union were now firmly locked into the Cold War. The nuclear arms race imperiled their futures, diverted their economies, and fostered fears of impending doom. Prospects for global peace had dissipated, and despite the Allied victory in World War II, the world had again divided into hostile camps.