Truman And The Cold War Essay Research

Truman And The Cold War Essay, Research Paper

Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president from 1945-1953 greatly exaggerated Russia s power and scared the U.S. citizens and government into a Cold War and power struggle. After World War II it was inevitable there would be a power struggle, as the two most powerful yet completely different countries, Russia and the US emerged as the world leaders. Russia and the US were allies during the war, but with their entirely different government structures, and the power-hungry Stalin and the anti-isolationist Truman, Russia and the US clashed heads.

The Cold War controversy was initially publicly ignited by Churchill s public speech at Westminster college on March 5, 1946. Churchill stated that, From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength and there is nothing for which they have less respect than military weakness.

Truman was urged by his cabinet not to endorse Churchill s statements, but Truman, being bitter from Stalin s broken promise of letting the Polish people determining their own form of government that he promised at the meeting at Potsdam, Truman publicly endorsed the speech. Truman was also wary if Stalin s comments in his February 9th speech that stated, another war was inevitable since the American and Soviet systems were fundamentally incompatible. (Feinberg p. 81).

Truman s public backing of Churchill s opinions came as a shock to the American public, because fresh off World War II, Russia was still considered a loyal ally to the US. These comments caused a lot of hostility and Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace urged Truman to treat Stalin with the same respect. Truman, taking Wallace s advice invited Stalin to Missouri to express his viewpoints, but Stalin coldly rejected the offer.

It was like a domino effect, because on March 2, 1946, Russian troops were supposed to withdraw from Iran as a promise of the Teheran conference of 1943. They were not removed, however, as Stalin wanted to gain as much oil as possible, and it took a stern demand from Truman for Stalin to hold true to his word, which he did so slowly as troops finally withdrew in May.

At first, Truman tried to avoid the inevitable conflict with Stalin, but due to these events Stalin apparently struck a nerve, and Truman shed the American isolationist policy that they contained for almost 200 years. America and Russia couldn t co-exist as world powers as they were soon to find out.

At Potsdam Stalin had made a request to control the Turkish straits, stating the Soviets needed a warm-water ports, but the U.S. and Britain rejected his offer fearing Communism would influence Turkey. It didn t stop Stalin, and in mid-1946 he marched into Turkey and setup a Turkey-Soviet defense barrier across the waterway much against Turkey s request. He also set it up so that bordering countries- Romania and Bulgaria controlled the Straits. This setup Truman s new foreign policy as the public was shown Stalin s new ferocity and drive for power.

The U.S. and Britain responded to Russia with disapproval messages and the U.S. sent a naval task force to the Mediterranean to enforce the U.S. disapproval. Stalin backed down and decided it wasn t worth the trouble, but the Turks fearing an invasion from their borders were forced to maintain a big army they could barely afford. The first American-Russian direct competition happened in late 1946.

In Greece a civil war broke out and Soviet controlled countries, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria supported the revolution movement and Britain supported the government. Britain had to withdraw from Greece, because they couldn t afford to support due to the massive war damage costs. Truman decided to take over Britain s responsibilities in order to prevent Communism influence in yet another European country. This direct competition clearly showed Truman had shed the United State s fickle isolationist policy, as Truman defended US interference by stating that, This was a time to align the United States clearly on the side, and the head, of the free world.

It was clear now to the American citizens that Russia actually posed a threat and were no longer considered a valiant ally, they also backed Truman as they realized he meant business. Although most of the public supported Truman s new foreign policy, many people led by Henry Wallace, thought the President overreacted to Stalin s empty threats, and wondered whether it was in the best interest of the United States to spend the money and resources to protect free nations around the globe. Secretary of Commerce Wallace s outward resentment of Truman s dealings with the situations dealing with Russia caused a stir among the cabinet, Congress and American public. Truman forced Wallace to resign on September 20, 1946. The slate was cleaner for Truman to carry out his new foreign policy and build up the United States defense in what was known as the Arms Race.

Truman was hesitant to shed the United States isolationist policy but felt it was necessary. In his memoirs Truman admitted, I know that George Washington s spirit would be invoked against me, and Henry Clay s, and all the other patron saints of the isolationists. But I was convinced that the policy I was about to proclaim was indeed as much required by the conditions of my day as was Washington s. (Hillman-p.130)

Was this truly Truman s own conclusion, or was he programmed into thinking this by his defense specialist cabinet? The military began taking over the government, the former Army Chief of Staff was Secretary of State, 10 of the 20 executive officers of the State Department were brought in from military service, General Hilring was named Assistant Secretary, and the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council were formed. This militarization of the American government affected the way Truman carried out his foreign policy.

Truman created the Truman Doctrine on March 12, 1947, it was an anti-communist plan that revolved around Truman s new containment policy. Truman went before Congress with his Truman Doctrine: I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. Containment as explained by State Department planner and specialist George Kennan was Applying military and economic pressures to confine the Soviet Union within its borders and to prevent its further expansion. (Feinberg-p.84)

The Truman Doctrine was Harry Truman s official statement to the public and to Russia that the United States would help out countries around the world to be free, and resist communism. The Truman Doctrine persuaded Congress to grant $400 million in military and economic aid for Greece anti-revolutionary movements, and Turkey in order to protect its borders from leaking communism. The main point of the Truman Doctrine was propaganda as it helped to sway American approval of a cold war with Russia.

Truman s strategists realized that the United States would need help from its Western European allies if they went to war with Russia, but European recovery from World War II was going extremely slow. In 1947 Truman came up with the Marshall Plan, named after respected Secretary Of State George C. Marshall. The Marshall Plan consisted of giving financial aid to Western European countries in order to speed up their economic recovery. Truman chose to name it the Marshall Plan for propaganda circumstances, because George C. Marshall was a very established man, and was very respected across the country and in the Congress as well. (Feinberg-p.88) The European countries asked for $21.7 billion, but Congress was very reluctant to be so generous, and followers of Henry Wallace saw this as an Anti-Russian plan. When the Czechoslovakia coup occurred and communism took over, the opposition to the Marshall Plan decreased. In April 1948, Congress granted $5.1 billion the first year and an additional $12 billion for the next three years. The main recipients of the aid were France, Britain (not surprisingly), and West Germany.

Truman made a mistake as he deliberately showed that he wanted to help and beef up United States allies Western countries only. Stalin responded with his COMECON, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, his own recovery plan for Eastern Europe. Not only did the Marshall Plan heighten tensions between the United States and Russia, it heightened tensions between Western and Eastern Europe as well.

Truman and Stalin showed off their muscle as they competed for power in Germany. In the spring of 1948, the Soviet Union slowed down Western European recovery by flooding the economy with counterfeit money. It was obvious that Stalin felt threatened by the Western-Eastern conflict that was rising. The Soviet Union and the United States argued as to how to control Germany after the war, so they divided it into two different parts: West Germany, controlled by the Western Europeans and East Germany, controlled by Communist Russia. Stalin wanted to slow the recovery even more, so the Soviets occupied Berlin and closed it off, making all Americans have to be checked at the border, also all cargo and trains had to be checked. Stalin did this in order to apply the Soviet currency in Berlin to counter the Western circulation of the Deutsche Mark. Stalin ordered a blockade of all highway, rail, and water traffic to Berlin. The citizens of Berlin began to starve due to the lack of resources brought in. Truman saw this as a golden opportunity to show Berlin that the United States was an ally and came up with the Berlin Airlift. The Airlift consisted of 2,243,315 tons of food and coal at a total cost of $224 million. Truman stated to the American public that, The Berlin blockade was a move to test our capacity and will to resist. This action and the previous attempts to take over Greece and Turkey were part of a Russian plan to probe soft spots in the Western Allies positions all around the perimeter. (Feinberg-p.92)

Was all this generosity on the part of the United States necessary? Were human rights in that much danger? Truman really exaggerated the power of Russia, and invested a ton of American money into defense build up, and lifted the military budget from $15 billion to $50 billion. (Cochran-p.273) In the long run, the huge military buildup was unnecessary, but at the time it seemed like the logical common theory was to stop communism before it leaked all over the world.

It is clear that Truman overestimated the influence of communism, as it seemed only a trial government for those countries in need of revolution and reform, just as the way communism was formed in Russia. It is also clear that Truman exaggerated Russia s power, and he increased the military so much that Russia was forced to do the same. Truman sent spies to the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union sent spies to the United States. Both countries overestimated each other, and they spent a ridiculous amount maintaining a huge army, so that if they did go to war, both countries would be decimated, which is why they didn t go to war. Truman and Stalin set the tone for the Cold War and their actions combined with their overestimation s started a power struggle and world conflict that lasted for about forty years. Truman felt enormous pressure when he inherited the Post World War II burden of being a world leader, especially since he was faced with the huge decision of shedding the Isolationist policy the United States had maintained since its birth.


1. Barbara Feinberg, Harry S. Truman (New York: Impact Biography, 1994), 81-92.

2. Bert Cochran, Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1973), 271-273.

3. William Hillman, Harry S. Truman In His Own Words(New York: Bonanza Books, 1974), 130.


1. Cochran, Bert. Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1973.

2. Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. Harry S. Truman. New York: Impact Biography, 1994.

4. Fleming, Thomas. Harry S. Truman, President. New York: Walker and Company, 1993.

5. Hillman, William. Harry S. Truman In His Own Words. New York: Bonanza Books, 1984.

6. Jenkins, Roy. Truman. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

7. Truman, Harry S. Memoirs: Years of Trial and Hope. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1956.


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