In his book America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–1984 (1985), Walter LaFeber argues that the United States was primarily responsible for the Cold War. On the other hand, John Lewis Gaddis’s book The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947 (1972) argues that the Cold War was caused primarily by Soviet aggression. How does each of these historians see American and Soviet motives in the Cold War? On what basis does each assign primary responsibility for initiating Cold War conflicts? How would each of these historians likely interpret the confrontation over Greece and the Truman Doctrine?

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After World War II, as Soviet influence grew throughout Eastern Europe, the United States government recognized the importance of economic and military support to countries that seemed most susceptible to communism or socialism. In March 1947, President Harry Truman gave an address that laid out the principles behind the policy...

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After World War II, as Soviet influence grew throughout Eastern Europe, the United States government recognized the importance of economic and military support to countries that seemed most susceptible to communism or socialism. In March 1947, President Harry Truman gave an address that laid out the principles behind the policy of containment, largely following the ideas formulated by George F. Kennan of the Foreign Service. Emphasizing freedom of choice for all peoples “to work out their own destinies in their own way,” Truman vowed economic support for those who were “resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

In practice, containment included a substantial component of military aid. The policy side of the equation was soon supported on the practical side with the Marshall Plan, named for Secretary of State George Marshall. This plan provided aid primarily to war-ravaged countries in the process of rebuilding.

One strong rationale for the Truman Doctrine was the British government’s announced decision to withdraw support from Greece at the same time that the newly established Greek government fought communist insurgents for control of the nation. The new policies were tested during the Greek civil war, since it continued into 1949. The country’s close proximity to Turkey, where the Soviet Union was pressing for base and transit rights, was another concerning factor.

The question of the amount of direct Soviet support for the Greek communists would likely influence LaFeber’s and Gaddis’s respective opinions about the application of the Truman Doctrine in Greece. The idea that the Soviet Union was providing military and economic support to the Greek Communists was used to justify the doctrine’s creation, and such support would offer evidence of Soviet aggression. Evidence of aggression supports Gaddis’s view.

However, it came to light that the USSR, along with Greece’s neighbor Yugoslavia, had not given such support. This inconsistency could make it appear that the United States was not simply promoting resistance to outside intervention. The argument could be made that it was itself intervening in other nations’ affairs—a position more consistent with LaFeber’s perspective.

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