The Cold War

Start Free Trial

What is the Truman Doctrine, its significance, and George F. Kennan's contribution? How did containment and McCarthyism influence American reactions to Communism in Greece, Korea, and within society?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman spoke on the radio to the nation. He called for $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey. By 1947, it was clear that the Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe, and Truman was determined to prevent further Communist expansion. His Truman Doctrine was a key part of America's containment policy. The American struggle with the Soviet Union for influence in the world became known as the Cold War.

George F. Kennan, an American diplomat, outlined a containment policy in an article in Foreign Affairs (July 1947). But he had reservations about Truman's approach. Kennan knew that American power was finite, so he wanted to focus only on areas of the world that were vital to national interest. In spite of Kennan's misgivings, Truman gained wide support, and Congress supplied the funds for Greece and Turkey.

Truman's plan saw initial success. Communist rebels in Greece were defeated, and the economic crisis in Turkey was overcome.

Western Europe remained a source of concern, however. Severe weather, economic crises, and strong Communist parties in Italy and France posed a threat to America's interests in that key region. The United States launched the Marshall Plan (1948–1951) to stabilize Western Europe.

By 1991, the Cold War was over, and the containment policy became obsolete.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Truman Doctrine, announced in 1947, was a speech given by President Truman asking for U.S. assistance for Turkey and Greece in order to prevent the spread of Communism. It is often seen as the beginning of the Cold War.

After WWII, when the allied powers pushed back authoritarian regimes in Europe and East Asia, the U.S. quickly turned to the rapidly spreading threat of communism. In addition to the Soviet Union, it seemed in 1947 that communism was all but certain in China; it officially took over as the dominant party in China when the Chinese Civil War ended with a Communist victory in 1949. As a result, the Cold War began between the Communist and anti-Communist factions of the world.

George F. Kennan, an American diplomat, created the policy of containment. This policy authorized and encouraged America to intervene where communism was spreading with the intention of stopping communism before it spread. This was to counter the "domino theory," the idea that countries would fall to communism like dominoes. For Kennan, only containment could stop the spread of communism. Kennan's ideas about containment helped influence the Truman Doctrine by encouraging Truman to ask for aid in Greece and Turkey in order to stop the spread of communism. This policy also helps explain our policies towards Korea in the late 1940's and 1950's. Northern Korea had adopted communism from its neighbor China, and North Korea also had support from the Soviet Union, so the United States under Truman decided to "contain" the communist threat in Korea before it spread. Unfortunately, America was only successful in maintaining democracy in South Korea, and North Korea remains communist to this day.

Back home in the United States, the threat of communist manifested itself in Congress. With Senators like Joseph McCarthy railing against communists in the U.S., the Red Scare occurred throughout the 1950's and dominated American politics and culture. Not only was McCarthy famous for his railing speeches, but he also went after people in the public eye that may or may not have had communist ties. Many Hollywood actors, directors, writers, and more were "blacklisted" for being communists and were no longer able to find work. People were accused of communism and some were even imprisoned as enemies of the state. McCarthy and his spiteful rhetoric faded, but the impact had been done. It was clear the U.S. was afraid of communism, which helps explain future actions with Cuba when the Cuban Communist Revolution was successful and communism took hold only a hundred or so miles south of Florida.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial