Containment and the Truman Policy

The Truman Doctrine, also known as the policy of containment, was President Harry Truman’s foreign policy that the US would provide political, military, and economic aid to democratic countries under the threat of communist influences in order to prevent the expansion of communism. The policy marked a step away from the US’s previous isolationist policies, which discouraged the US from becoming involved in foreign affairs.

The policy was introduced during a speech to Congress in 1947. President Truman urged Congress to grant financial aid to Greece and Turkey because Great Britain could no longer assist them. The Greek government needed help fighting against the Greek Communist Party, and the Soviets were threatening Turkey. President Truman successfully convinced Congress to provide $400 million in aid to support the two countries. The Marshall Plan, which was the American initiative to provide economic assistance to democratic countries in Western Europe, was also part of this policy. The US feared that desperate European countries would be more likely to turn to communism. About a year later, the US organized the creation of NATO, which consisted of 12 North American and European nations, as a defensive military bloc against any Soviet efforts to expand communism.

The Truman Doctrine was not limited to Europe. The US involvement in the Korean War was the first instance of the Truman policy in Asia. The Korean War began in 1950 with the North Korean army invading past the 38th parallel, a boundary that divided the country between the Soviet-backed North Koreans and the US-backed South Koreans. The US perceived this move as an attempt to expand communism and subsequently joined the war to defend South Korea. In 1953, the war ended in an armistice, which drew a new boundary near the 38th parallel and created the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea.

The Vietnam War, which began shortly after the armistice, was another significant instance of the Truman Doctrine in Asia. The communist government of North Vietnam (backed by the Soviet Union) battled the South Vietnam government (backed by the US). While the US won several major military victories, due to lack of American popular support, the US pulled out of Vietnam though hostilities between the North and South had not ceased. The US failed its objective of preventing a communist takeover, as Vietnam ultimately unified under communist rule in 1975.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars are often referred to as proxy wars because the US and the Soviet Union did not directly fight each other. Each backed opposing forces in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

America’s involvement in Latin America mostly centered around Fidel Castro’s communist government of Cuba. In April 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion to reinforce the American commitment to fighting communism in the Cold War. However, not only did the invasion fail, but it also fanned the flames of American-Cuban- Soviet tensions, which culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In July 1962, the Soviet Union had secretly begun moving nuclear weapons into Cuba, which the US discovered by surveillance. After a series of communications between the US and the Soviet Union that lasted until late October, both countries eventually came to a resolution, narrowly avoiding war, in which the Soviets would agree to remove their missiles from Cuba if the US agreed to remove their missiles from Turkey.