Special Message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey (The Truman Doctrine)

Why are Greece and Turkey important to the United States? What threats do the two nations face? What does Truman believe the United States should do to help Greece and Turkey? What are the two “alternative ways of life” almost all nations must now choose between, according to the president? Why should the United States help nations and people choose one of these alternatives? Why does the president refer to the costs of World War II in his address?
How does the policy recommended by Truman resemble the proposals put forward by George Kennan? How are they different? Is the Marshall Plan an extension of the Truman Doctrine? Does Truman believe that aid to Greece and Turkey was the correct action to take 172 Study Questions when he gives his Farewell Address? In what ways do Rusk and McNamara resemble the Truman Doctrine?

In this speech, Democratic President Harry S. Truman hoped to persuade Congress to provide $400 million in economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey. Both nations, especially Greece, had emerged from World War II in difficult situations. The German occupation of Greece resulted in widespread damage to the impoverished nation’s infrastructure and economy. Civil conflict in Greece threatened to topple its government, and communist rebels in Greece received support from the communist states of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Though Turkey was spared wartime devastation, after the war the Soviet Union began pressuring the Turkish government to allow the Soviets to set up military bases in the Black Sea Straits. In February 1947, the British government, which had been financially assisting Greece, informed the United States that it could no longer afford this aid.

These developments caused great alarm within the U.S. State Department. Should the Soviet Union gain control of the Black Sea Straits, it would have unchecked access to the Mediterranean Sea. Communist influence in Greece would likewise increase Soviet power in an area of vital importance to the United States and its European allies. George Kennan’s prediction that the Soviet Union would slowly but steadily undermine governments in areas where it wanted to expand appeared to be coming true.

Prior to his speech, Truman met with leaders of Congress, now controlled by the opposition party. (Republicans had won a commanding majority during the 1946 midterm elections.) Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, purportedly told the president that he would need to “scare” the American people in order to persuade them to assist Greece and Turkey. Whether or not Vandenberg actually offered such advice, Truman provided a somber view of the present world situation. After detailing the economic and political struggles of Greece and Turkey, the president reminded listeners of the principles for which the United States fought in World War II, especially the right of all people to determine the form of government under which they live. (For examples, see World War II: Core Documents, Documents 5 and 10). To ignore Greece and Turkey in their time of need, Truman suggested, would betray the hard-won Allied victory and contribute to global instability by allowing communism to spread.

The influence of the speech was tremendous. After lengthy debate, Congress approved the aid request. Greece received most of the aid, $300 million, with the remainder, $100 million, going to Turkey. Both nations became U.S. allies; both joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization organized by the United States two years later (1949). The greatest result of the speech was the so-called doctrine it established. In the heart of the speech, Truman outlined two ways of life. The first, based upon “the will of the majority,” provides citizens with basic rights and freedoms – a constitutional democracy, in other words. The second way of life, carried out by “the will of a minority,” is forced upon people by “terror and oppression.” Although the president only referred to communism once and never mentioned the Soviet Union by name in his address, the association was clear: the United States supports and defends the first way of life while the Soviet Union aggressively advances the second. Therefore, the president asserted, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” This statement helped establish the containment of communism as the basic goal of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. The influence of the Truman Doctrine is evident in numerous documents in this collection, including the Marshall Plan, NSC 68, Truman’s Farewell Address, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and the Rusk-McNamara Report.

—David Krugler

Source: Address of the President of the United States, Recommendation for Assistance to Greece and Turkey, March 12, 1947. Available at https://goo.gl/AjyAtq.

The gravity of the situation which confronts the world today necessitates my appearance before a joint session of the Congress. The foreign policy and the national security of this country are involved.

One aspect of the present situation, which I wish to present to you at this time for your consideration and decision, concerns Greece and Turkey.

The United States has received from the Greek Government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance . . . if Greece is to survive as a free nation.

I do not believe that the American people and the Congress wish to turn a deaf ear to the appeal of the Greek Government. . . .

Greece is today without funds to finance the importation of those goods which are essential to bare subsistence. Under these circumstances the people of Greece cannot make progress in solving their problems of reconstruction. Greece is in desperate need of financial and economic assistance to enable it to resume purchases of food, clothing, fuel, and seeds. These are indispensable for the subsistence of its people and are obtainable only from abroad. Greece must have help to import the goods necessary to restore internal order and security so essential for economic and political recovery. . . .

The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the Government’s authority at a number of points . . . .

[T]he Greek Government is un