Harry S. Truman: Special Message to Congress on Greece and Turkey Primary Source eText

Primary Source

U.S. president Harry S. Truman, signing the Foreign Aid Assistance Act, later known as the Truman Doctrine. Reproduced by permission of Getty Images. U.S. president Harry S. Truman, signing the Foreign Aid Assistance Act, later known as the Truman Doctrine. Published by Gale Cengage Getty Images
U.S. president Harry S. Truman, speaking before a joint session of Congress, March 12, 1947, urging aid for Greece and Turkey. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. U.S. president Harry S. Truman, speaking before a joint session of Congress, March 12, 1947, urging aid for Greece and Turkey. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos

Excerpt from "Special Message to the Congress on Greece and
Turkey: The Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947"

Published in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:
Harry S. Truman, 1947,
published in 1963

"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."

With the British planning to pull out of Greece by March 31, 1947, both President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) and Secretary of State George C. Marshall (1880–1959) recognized the urgent need for the United States to step in and to aid the Greek government. Greece had been left destitute after World War II (1939–45). Its infrastructure (railroads, ports, highways, etc.) and economy were destroyed. The Greek government and small Greek army, without British support, would surely fall to the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS) fighters. ELAS was dominated by communists promising the people a better life. ELAS had been fighting against the Greek army backed up by British troops since 1944. Although the United States assumed that Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) and the Soviets were supporting ELAS, they were not. Marshal Josip Tito (1892–1980), communist leader of Yugoslavia, was behind ELAS, sending supplies to them across Greece's northern border.

Turkey was also attempting to move away from the disruption of war and to rebuild a strong nation. Turkey had sought financial aid from both Great Britain and the United States. With Great Britain halting all support, the United States would have to provide a great deal of additional aid. If no aid was kept up, communist rebels in Turkey might cause unrest and even overthrow the government.

The overwhelming fear of the United States and Western European nations was well described by U.S. under-secretary of state Dean Acheson (1893–1971). Quoted in media corporation CNN's 1998 book Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945–1991, Acheson explained, "Like apples in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption [communist takeover] of Greece would infect Iran to the east. It would also carry infection [communism] to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt, and to Europe through Italy." At the time, the phrase "domino theory" or "domino effect" had not been coined. It would enter the American vocabulary a few years later. Acheson was saying that if one or two countries fell to the communists, such as Greece and Turkey, then all of Western Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa could fall like dominos to the communists. Although the term had not yet been spoken, this domino idea would influence American thinking for decades.

On March 12, 1947, President Truman delivered a stirring address to a joint session of Congress. He explained the conditions in Greece and Turkey and warned that the people of weakened countries "have recently had totalitarian [Sovietbacked communist] regimes forced upon them against their will." He described the regimes as filled with "terror and oppression." Then Truman proposed the idea that dominated U.S. foreign policy for the next twenty-five years, the Truman Doctrine: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation [control] by armed minorities [communist rebels] or by outside pressures [as the Soviet Union]." Truman asked for $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the Truman Doctrine:

  • President Truman set up his speech to deliver a simple good-guy-versus-bad-guy scenario, freedom and democracy versus suppression under communism.
  • People who were hungry and poor with little hope for a better tomorrow were particularly susceptible to communist influence.
  • Joseph Stalin was constantly taking advantage of weakness in postwar countries to pressure for control by communist parties. He had been successful in most Eastern European nations except, at that time, for Czechoslovakia.

Excerpt from "Special Message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey: The Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947"

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress of the United States:

The gravity of the situation which confronts the world today necessitates my appearance before a joint session of the Congress.…

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

When forces of liberation entered Greece they found that the retreating Germans had destroyed virtually all the railways, roads, port facilities, communications, and merchant marine. More than a thousand villages had been burned. Eighty-five percent of the children were tubercular. Livestock, poultry, and draft animals had almost disappeared. Inflation had wiped out practically all savings.

As a result of these tragic conditions, a militant minority, exploiting human want and misery, was able to create political chaos which, until now, has made economic recovery impossible.…

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, particularly along the northern boundaries.…

Meanwhile, the 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 authority to the government throughout Greek Territory.…

The United States must supply this 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.

No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for a democratic Greek government.

The British Government, which has been helping Greece, can give no further financial or economic aid after March 31. Great Britain finds itself under the necessity of reducing or liquidating its commitments in several parts of the world, including Greece.…

The Greek Government has been operating in an atmosphere of chaos and extremism. It has made mistakes. The extension of aid by this country does not mean that the United States condones everything that the Greek Government has done or will do.…

Greece's neighbor, Turkey, also deserves our attention.…

Turkey now needs our support. Since the war Turkey has sought additional financial assistance from Great Britain and the United States for the purpose of effecting that modernization necessary for the maintenance of its national integrity.

That integrity is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.

The British Government has informed us that, owing to its own difficulties, it can no longer extend financial or economic aid to Turkey.

As in the case of Greece, if Turkey is to have the assistance it needs, the United States must supply it. We are the only country able to provide that help.…

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 ensure 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 peoples to maintain their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed upon free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, under-mine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.

The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.

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

It is necessary only to glance at a map to realize that the survival and integrity of the Greek nation are of grave importance in a much wider situation. If Greece should fall under the control of an armed minority, the effect upon its neighbor, Turkey, would be immediate and serious. Confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East.

Moreover, the disappearance of Greece as an independent state would have a profound effect upon those countries in Europe whose peoples are struggling against great difficulties to maintain their freedoms and their independence while they repair the damages of war.

I therefore ask the Congress to provide authority for assistance to Greece and Turkey in the amount of $400,000,000 for the period ending June 30, 1948. 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, and for the purpose of supervising the use of such financial and material assistance as may be furnished.

This is a serious course upon which we embark. I would not recommend it except that the alternative is much more serious.

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.

What happened next …

A stunned and sober Congress overwhelmingly passed the aid package for Greece and Turkey. An anticommunist, anti-Soviet feeling spread through government and the American public.

George C. Marshall was in Moscow for a meeting at the time of the speech. He remained there for six weeks trying to break a stalemate over how to handle postwar Germany. The United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union had never reached agreement. As a result, a peace treaty involving the future of defeated Germany had never been signed. Again they came to no agreement. Leaving Moscow at the end of April, Marshall feared Stalin believed no treaty was needed because it was only a matter of time before all of Western Europe, weakened by war, fell under Soviet domination. Marshall urgently devised a plan, the Marshall Plan, to prop up European economies (see the next two excerpts).

The civil war in Greece stumbled along until roughly the end of 1949. Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito tired of aiding the rebels of ELAS. ELAS could garner no support from Stalin. Stalin's interests were elsewhere, and he had no desire to fight a battle with the United States over Greece. Greece remained a free, democratic nation.

Did you know …

  • George F. Kennan (1904–), author of the "Long Telegram" (an eight-thousand-word telegram that warned that the Soviet leaders could not be trusted and recommended that the United States give up its isolationist attitude and take on more of a leadership role with regard to international politics), strongly supported the Truman Doctrine and declared Greece could be pivotal to the Cold War.
  • With the adoption of the Truman Doctrine, the U.S. Congress had given the U.S. government approval to intervene in the internal political affairs of other distant countries.
  • The domino effect, although not called that in the Truman speech, would be the basis for U.S. intervention in the Vietnam War (1954–75) in the 1960s.

Consider the following …

  • Why would peoples experiencing poverty and hardship be susceptible to communist thought? Research early Bolshevik or communist doctrine and the appeal to peasants and workers.
  • How did the overall attitudes in the Truman Doctrine affect the Cold War? Did they heat it up or cool it down?
  • If communist takeovers were threatened in other parts of the world such as in Asia or Africa or Latin America, did the Truman Doctrine apply to those areas as well? Or was the intent of the Truman Doctrine to apply aid only to European countries threatened by the spread of communism?

For More Information

Books

Collins, David R. Harry S. Truman: People's President. New York: Chelsea Juniors, 1991.

Donovan, Robert J. Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945–1948. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

Farley, Karin C. Harry Truman: The Man From Independence. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Julian Messner, 1989.

Isaacs, Jeremy, and Taylor Downing, eds. Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945–1991. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1998.

McCullough, David G. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963.

Walker, Martin. The Cold War: A History (Owl Book). New York: Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1995.

Web Site

Truman Presidential Museum & Library. http://www.trumanlibrary.org (accessed on September 10, 2003).