Containment and the Truman Doctrine

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 class period of block or 2 standard days
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Cooperative learning/using primary sources/critical thinking

Cooperative learning/using primary sources/critical thinking

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

I want students to take ownership of their role in our foreign policy.  After WWII, America had important decisions to make on its role in the world.  I want students to have the opportunity to see what President Truman and the world was facing.  In this exercise students will have a thorough discussion, opportunities to take a stand and a realization of the tough choices involved in living in a free country.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • View primary resources to gather information about the world in 1946-50.
  • Analyze those resources in context to America’s pre-war foreign policy stances
  • Decide for isolation, containment or roll back as a means for dealing with world communism
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Kansas Standards

  • KS: SS.HS.4b.3.2a—Analyzes the origins of the Cold War

Missouri Standards

  • 3aW:  Describe and evaluate the evolution of United States domestic and foreign policies including the Cold War.
  • 3aY:  Describe the changing character of American society and culture.
  • 7C:  Distinguish between fact and opinion and analyze sources to recognize bias and points of view.
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Teacher lecture and answering questions.

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Critics of containment

“We are reckoning with a force which cannot be handled successfully by a ‘get tough with Russia’ policy. “Getting tough’ never bought anything real and lasting—whether for schoolyard bullies or businessmen or world powers.  The tougher we get, the tougher the Russians will get… We may not like what Russia does in Eastern Europe…But whether we like it or not the Russians will try to socialize their sphere of influence just as we try to democratize our sphere of influence… Russian ideas of social-economic justice are going to govern nearly a third of the world.  Our ideas of free enterprise democracy will govern much of the rest.  The two ideas will endeavor to prove which can deliver the most satisfaction of the common man… But by mutual agreement, this competition should be put on a friendly basis… Under friendly peaceful competition the Russian world and the American world will gradually become more alike.”

Henry A. Wallace on “Peaceful Competition” Speech @ Madison Square Garden, September 12, 1946

“If portions of Europe and Asia wish to go communistic or even to have communism thrust upon them, we cannot stop it.  Instead we mush make sure of our strength and be certain not to fritter it away in battles that could not be won… We can do well to mind our own business and interfere only when somebody threatens our business and our homes.”

--Joseph P. Kennedy on the Truman Doctrine, 1947

“Can the western world operate a policy of containment?  Now the strength of the western world is great, and we many assume that its resourcefulness is considerable.  Nevertheless, there are weighty reasons for thinking that the kind of strength we have and the kind of resources we are capable of showing are peculiarly unsuited to operation a policy of containment…The United States cannot by its own military power contain the expansive pressure of the Russians ‘at every point where they show signs of encroaching.’ The United States cannot have ready ‘unalterable counterforce’ consisting of American troops… The policy can be implemented only by recruiting, subsidizing, and supporting a heterogeneous array of satellites, client, dependents, and puppets… It would require… intervention by the United States in the affairs of all the members of the coalition… Congress and the people would have to stand ready to back their judgments as to who should be nominated, who should be subsidized, who should be whitewashed, Who should be made our clients and our allies… [And] we must not forget that Soviet Union, against which this coalition will be directed, will resist and react… The policy of containment cannot be enforced.” 

Walter Lippmann,  “The Cold War: A Study in US foreign policy (Harper, 1947)

“The seeds that make for communism in Europe are too deep to be reached by a recovery program.”

—Joseph Kennedy, Spring, 1948 on the Marshall Plan

James Kutcher, who lost both legs to a German shell and his livelihood to American hysteria, is a member of the Socialist Workers Party.  Kutcher was a $42-a-week clerk in the V.A. in Newark, NJ.  His job is far removed from any sensitive information, let alone, secrets.  Basic political liberties and basic procedural safeguards are threatened by the standards of judgment and procedure applied in the Case of the Legless Veteran.  Harry Truman claims to be a friend of civil rights. More pitiable than a man without legs is a President without firm principals”

I.F. Stone—“The Case of the Legless Veteran” 10-22-48

“Mr. Truman’s inaugural address… was shallow, naïve, childishly arrogant, and self-righteous, a call for war thinly masked as a pledge of peace.  Mr. Truman… said the American people wanted a world in which ‘all peoples are free to govern themselves as they see fit.’ But these sentiments were soon canceled out by the statement that the United States and other like-minded nations ‘find themselves directly opposed by a regime with contrary aims and a totally different concept of life’, a regime that ‘adheres to a false philosophy.’  The only conclusion we can draw is that Mr. Truman believes other people should be ‘free to govern themselves as they see fit’—so long as they see fit to see as we see fit.  This is a dangerous doctrine.  It would mean that we set ourselves up to police the world.  The USA is rich and strong but not rich and strong enough for that.  Nor are its moral forces great enough for the task… The most disturbing aspect of the Truman inaugural is that if this is what the President believes, he must modify his domestic program.  If this is an irreconcilable conflict, then how can he put sharp limits on military spending?  And how can he protect traditional liberties against a fierce terror designed to root out and con not only Communists, but anyone who thinks peace possible? Can there be a New Deal in such an atmosphere?  I do not think so.”

“With Malice Toward None—Except Half Mankind”—I.F. Stone, Jan. 1949

“The 150,000,000 American people are already economically strained by government expenditures.  It must not be forgotten that we are carrying huge burdens from previous wars including obligations to veterans and $260 billions of bond and currency issues from those wars.  In the fiscal year 1952, federal and local expenditures are likely to exceed $90 billions.  That is more than our total savings.  We must finance huge deficits by further government issues.  Inflation is already moving.  /the dollar has in six months fallen 15 or 20 per cent in purchasing power.  But we might with stern measures to avoid the economic disintegration of such a load for a very few years.  If we continued long on this road the one center of resistance in the world will collapse in economic disaster.”

Herbert Hoover, radio address, 12-20-50

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • I will open the activity by projecting my photo resources on the white board. 
  • I will ask students: Do we care about the conditions in Europe after our boys are home?
  • A very brief discussion will follow.
  • Students will break into small groups and I will present each group with a stack of resources to view.  This will include the primary resources. First they will receive a copy of the Truman Doctrine speech.  I will divide the speech into three parts.  Students will read and share with the others what they have read.  At this time I will ask for each person in the class to secretly vote for or against support for the Truman Doctrine.  (The purpose is to get students to take a stand)
  • Now I will have them divide the “dissenting” commentaries so that each student will read two.  They will share with their group what they have read and once again, they will secretly vote. (To see how much influence counter commentaries may have).
  • Ballots will be brought to the teacher (who would have been roaming the classroom and answering questions).
  • Ballots will be tallied and another short discussion will ensue about why students changed or didn’t change their viewpoint after both sets of readings. 
  • Each group will now have their own discussion.  The goal is for each group to reach a consensus on what post-war foreign policy should become. 
  • All groups will report their decision to the class and the difficulties (if any) they had in coming to a conclusion.
  • At this time I will present the Marshall Plan in lecture and include Point Four as part of the same lecture.
  • Students will get to have one more short debate in their groups as to whether the US was correct in adopting the Truman Doctrine and implementing the Marshall Plan and Point Four.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • The teacher, based on observation of student participation, will take a subjective daily grade.  These items will appear on the test over the unit in objective form (matching).  There will be an essay question appearing on the unit test.  It will look something like this:
  •  Explain what considerations were used by the Truman administration to move American foreign policy towards containment.  Include in your essay points made by Americans who dissented.  Finally, critique the Truman Doctrine. (12 points)
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