It was stated that the rationale for the policy developed in the Truman Doctrine drew heavily upon American ideological support of the principle of self-determination. However, the new interpretation changed America’s early historic role of merely expressing sympathy to one of active and official economic and military support of the self-determination of “free peoples” who were “resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. ”
For the first time, President Harry S. Truman officially endorsed the necessity of actually assisting “free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”
From this point on, official American policy held that international communism violated the principle of self-determination and was irreconcilable with the right of each state to develop its own political, economic, and cultural life. Nevertheless, Washington supported the efforts of Marshal Josip Broz Tito to hold together a unified federal Yugoslavia as an effective counterweight to the influence of the Soviet Union.
The official pursuit of anticommunism raised pertinent questions concerning the nature and use of America’s commitment to self-determination.
For example, in the Western Hemisphere the Monroe Doctrine had been used by the United States to bar undesirable outside influence while securing the dominance of its own influence. Within ten years after World War II, the Monroe Doctrine—extended, supplemented, and reinterpreted by the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) in 1947 and the Declaration of Caracas in 1954—gave the United States a claim to keep communism, now clearly accepted as incompatible with the concept of self-determination, out of the American states. In furtherance of this policy the United States intervened in Guatemala in 1954 to unseat the incumbent government.
The invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 was an abortive attempt to unseat the socialist and populist government of Fidel Castro. When disturbances broke out in the Dominican Republic in 1965, the United States occupied the capital, Santo Domingo. President Lyndon Johnson justified this action in May 1965 by asserting that what had begun as a popular revolution committed to democracy and social justice had fallen into “the hands of a band of communist conspirators.”
Moreover, such policies were implemented and elaborated by the formation of pacts like the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 and proposals like the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957.
Such a response was typical of the apparent inability of the United States to understand the unique social and political nature of the struggles for self-determination of Asia and the Middle East. In the attempt to contain communism and thus maintain its new concept of self-determination, the United States became committed to the domestic, social, and political status quo throughout the world.
Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in the farm community of Lamar, Missouri, to John Truman (1851-1914), a livestock trader, and Martha Young Truman (1852-1947). (Truman’s parents gave him the middle initial S to honor his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young, although the S didn’t stand for a specific name.) In 1890, the Trumans settled in Independence, Missouri, where Harry attended school and was a strong student.
Truman’s family could not afford to send him to college, so after graduating high school in 1901 he worked as a bank clerk and held various other jobs. Starting in 1906, he spent over a decade helping his father manage the family’s 600-acre farm near Grandview, Missouri. During this time, Truman also served in the Missouri National Guard.
In 1917, when America entered World War I, Truman, then in his early 30s, reenlisted in the National Guard and was sent to France. He saw action in several campaigns and was promoted to captain of his artillery unit.
In 1919, after returning from the war, Truman married Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace (1885-1982), his childhood classmate. That same year, Truman and a friend opened a men’s clothing store in Kansas City; however, the business closed in 1922 due to a poor economy. The Trumans had one daughter, Mary Margaret Truman (1924-2008), who grew up to become a professional singer and author of biographies and mystery novels.
In 1934, Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, he supported President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, designed to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 and lasted about a decade.
Additionally, Truman was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, which established government regulation of the burgeoning aviation industry, and the Transportation Act of 1940, which established new federal regulations for America’s railroad, shipping and trucking industries.
From 1941 to 1944, Truman headed the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which worked to reduce waste and mismanagement in U.S. military spending. Commonly known as the Truman Committee, it saved American taxpayers millions of dollars and propelled Truman into the national spotlight.
In 1944, as Roosevelt sought an unprecedented fourth term as president, Truman was selected as his running mate, replacing Vice President Henry Wallace (1888-1965), a divisive figure in the Democratic Party. (Truman, a moderate Democrat, was jokingly referred to as the “second Missouri Compromise.”) In the general election, Roosevelt easily defeated Republican Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York, and was sworn into office on January 20, 1945.
Less than three months later, on April 12, 1945, the president died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 63.
Several hours after learning of Roosevelt’s death, a stunned Truman was given the oath of office in the White House by Chief Justice Harlan Stone (1872-1946). The new president later told reporters, “I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”
In 1947, he introduced the Truman Doctrine to provide aid to Greece and Turkey in an effort to protect them from communist aggression. That same year, Truman also instituted the Marshall Plan, which gave billions of dollars in aid to help stimulate economic recovery in European nations. (The president defended the plan by stating that communism would thrive in economically depressed regions.) In 1948, Truman initiated an airlift of food and other supplies to the Western-held sectors of Berlin, Germany, that were blockaded by the Soviets.
He also recognized the new state of Israel.
The Transition from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry S. Truman.
On 12 April 1945, Truman became the 33rd President of the U.S.
To save an estimated 300,000 American lives in the Pacific War, Truman approved the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, 6 and 9 August 1945. Japan surrendered on 14 August.
The “Truman Doctrine,” NATO, and the Marshall Plan were Truman’s barrier to Soviet world domination.
He also established a civil rights committee and encouraged fighting against segregation.
Learn how the Truman Doctrine marked the beginning of the Cold War, how it shaped America’s attitude towards communism and how it shifted its foreign policy on interventionism with its involvement in the Mediterranean after World War II.
Outtakes from Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman. President Harry S. Truman discussing his time overseas during World War I.