Truman’s 1947 Speech and the Truman Doctrine (Analysis)

Truman 1947 Speech and Truman Doctrine of Containment
Harry Truman used the principle of containment to oppose communism in his 1947 speech to Congress.

Harry Truman’s speech to Congress on March 12, 1947 focused on U.S. efforts in opposing the spread of communism. The Truman Doctrine was declared to support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid. However, Truman’s declaration had strong undertones of anti-Communist agenda, pointing to the aim of the containment of communism. The anti-communist undertone of the speech was especially directed at the USSR. Truman’s speech shows that his intent in asking Congress to provide economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey was based on his anti-communist and anti-Soviet agenda, which emphasized containment of communism.

This article analyzes quotes from Truman’s 1947 speech to show his anti-communist agenda.

Quotes from Truman’s Speech (Analysis)

In his speech, Truman stated, a “primary [objective] of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions […] of life free from coercion.” In mentioning the foreign policy of the U.S., Truman’s aim was to make the U.S. intervene in the affairs of other nations, such as Greece and Turkey in this particular request from Congress. The emphasis on foreign policy shows that Truman had the intent of making such intervention via economic aid. It was important for him to establish such intent in order for the U.S. to initiate international efforts directed against communism, especially the USSR.

In referring to the “creation of conditions […] of life free from coercion,” Truman pointed to the conditions of Greece and Turkey, which at that time were marked by disorder due to World War II. He emphasized intervening in the affairs of Greece and Turkey via economic aid to prevent coercion, which was the main characteristic of the rebellious communist forces tearing apart the fabric of Greek democracy.

Truman used his speech to get the approval of Congress to authorize economic aid to Greece and Turkey. The focus on Greece is especially important, as he mentioned Greece many times. However, Greece and Turkey were not the only countries in disorder in the aftermath of the Second World War. This leads to the question of whether or not the focus on Greece and Turkey had any underlying agenda. For instance, why did Truman instill a sense of urgency in Congress for the approval of economic aid to Greece and Turkey? Was it really just for helping these countries’ economies?

In the bigger picture, Truman’s main reason is that the “existence of the Greek state [was] threatened by the terrorist activities […] led by Communists […] along the northern boundaries.” In stating that the threat was from communists, he made his anti-communist agenda clear in his speech. The mention of threat coming from communists, and the request for economic aid for Greece shows that Truman’s true intent was to oppose communists in the region.

Truman mentioned the northern boundaries of Greece, which referred to the countries of “Albania, Bulgaria, and [the former] Yugoslavia.” These three countries supported the communist rebel group fighting against the right-wing group of the Greek military. It is what Truman additionally said about these three countries that clarified his intent in opposing the USSR as well. He said that the countries to the north of Greece were “in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria.”

The Yalta Conference led to an agreement between the U.S., the U.K. and the USSR that they would support the restoration of the original governments of two of the three countries that were bordering Greece to the north: Romania and Bulgaria. Truman argued that there was a violation of the Yalta agreement because the USSR was supposed to withdraw its forces from Romania and Bulgaria to restore the governments of these two states. However, Soviet forces remained in these states.

This violation of the Yalta agreement enabled Romania and Bulgaria to support the communist rebels in Greece. According to Truman, the communist actions of these two states, combined with the activities of communist rebels in Greece, created a desperate situation that required intervention from the United States. Truman believed that the enemy was not just the communist rebel group in Greece, but also the main country that violated the Yalta agreement: the USSR.

Truman wanted Congress to approve economic aid to support Greece’s restoration, and also to support the Greek efforts in fighting the communist rebels. These communist rebels were partly supported by the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania, which were then still under the control of the USSR. Thus, the economic aid to Greece was part of America’s aim to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading its control onto Greece via Yugoslavia, Romania and Albania.

Truman also noted that, “if Greece should fall under the control of [the communist rebels] the effect upon […] Turkey would be serious [and] disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East.” This spread of disorder refers to the spread of communism. The speech highlights the activities of the communist rebels, along with the support of the three states to the north of Greece. Truman compared the spread of communism to the spread of disorder. He wanted to prevent communist disorder by way of economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey to help defend against communists and Soviet influence.

Final Note on Truman’s Speech on Containment

Truman’s 1947 speech to Congress showed the importance of economic support to prevent the spread of communism coming from the Soviet Union. This communist expansion, via Romania, Albania and the former Yugoslavia, threatened Greece and Turkey. Truman’s speech had a clear anti-communist undertone that emphasized the principle of containment. He pushed for Congress to support efforts to contain communism and prevent its spread.

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