Introduction

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 (Document 1).

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 (Document 3), NSC 68 (Document 6), Truman’s Farewell Address (Document 14), John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (Document 20), and the Rusk-McNamara Report (Document 21).


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 unable to cope with the situation. The Greek Army is small and poorly equipped. It needs supplies and equipment if it is to restore the authority of the Government throughout Greek territory.

Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.

The United States must supply that assistance. We have already extended to Greece certain types of relief and economic aid, but these are inadequate.

There is no other country to which democratic Greece can turn. . . .

We have considered how the United Nations might assist in this crisis. But the situation is an urgent one requiring immediate action, and the United Nations and its related organizations are not in a position to extend help of the kind that is required.

It is important to note that the Greek Government has asked for our aid in utilizing effectively the financial and other assistance we may give to Greece, and in improving public administration. It is of the utmost importance that we supervise the use of any funds made available to Greece, in such a manner that each dollar spent will count toward making Greece self-supporting, and will help to build an economy in which a healthy democracy can flourish.

No government is perfect. One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected. The Government of Greece is not perfect. Nevertheless it represents 85 per cent of the members of the Greek parliament who were chosen in an election last year. . . .

Greece’s neighbor, Turkey, also deserves our attention.

The future of Turkey as an independent and economically sound state is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece. The circumstances in which Turkey finds itself today are considerably different from those of Greece. Turkey has been spared the disasters that have beset Greece; and during the war,[1] the United States and Great Britain furnished Turkey with material aid. Nevertheless, Turkey now needs our support. . . .

I am fully aware of the broad implications involved if the United States extends assistance to Greece and Turkey, and I shall discuss these implications with you at this time.

One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.

To insure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations. The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free people to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. . . .

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guaranties of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that 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.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes. . . .

Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far-reaching to the West as well as to the East.

We must take immediate and resolute action.

I, therefore, ask the Congress to provide authority for assistance to Greece and Turkey in the amount of $400,000,000. . . .

In addition to funds, I ask the Congress to authorize the detail of American civilian and military personnel to Greece and Turkey, at the request of those countries, to assist in the tasks of reconstruction. . . .

The United States contributed $341,000,000,000 toward winning World War II. This is an investment in world freedom and world peace.

The assistance that I am recommending for Greece and Turkey amounts to little more than one-tenth of 1 per cent of this investment. It is only common sense that we should safeguard this investment and make sure that it was not in vain.

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died.

We must keep that hope alive.

The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world – and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.

Great responsibilities have been placed upon us by the swift movement of events.

I am confident that the Congress will face these responsibilities squarely.

 

Study Questions

A. 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?

B. How does the policy recommended by Truman resemble the proposals put forward by George Kennan in Document 1? How are they different? Is the Marshall Plan (Document 3) an extension of the Truman Doctrine? Does Truman believe that aid to Greece and Turkey was the correct action to take when he gives his Farewell Address (Document 14)? In what ways does Document 21 resemble the Truman Doctrine?

Footnotes

  1. World War II.