|21 February 1947
Britain Announces Withdrawal from Eastern Mediterranean
|In the nineteenth century Great Britain boasted of having “an empire upon which the sun never sets”—that is, a network of possessions around the world. The Royal Navy was dominant on the seas, its industrial economy the envy of every other country. However, the twentieth century had not been kind to Britain. In the course of two world wars it saw many of its overseas markets fall to competitors, its cash reserves evaporate into vast wartime expenditures, and its armed might fall to second-class status behind the new “superpowers,” the United States and the Soviet Union.
The need to promote postwar economic recovery at home, combined with the harsh winter of 1947, made it clear to the British government that it would have to scale back its overseas commitments. It announced that India—long considered the jewel in the crown of the British Empire—would become independent no later than June. It also declared that Britain would give up control over Palestine—a decision that would result in the creation of Israel.
Of most concern to the Truman administration, however, was a message on February 21 saying that in six weeks all British economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey would end. Since Greece was in the midst of a civil war, and Turkey had just recently been subject to heavy pressure from the Soviet Union, Truman’s advisers feared that in the absence of British support both countries might fall to communism. The United States, they concluded, had to step in and take over Britain’s role in the region.