Harry Truman and the Truman Doctrine

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Two class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will learn about the conditions in Greece and Turkey during the Cold War and learn about Truman's response through the Truman Doctrine

Harry Truman and the Truman Doctrine


On Friday, February 21, 1947, the British Embassy informed the U.S. State Department officials that Great Britain could no longer provide financial aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey. American policymakers had been monitoring Greece's crumbling economic and political conditions, especially the rise of the Communist-led insurgency known as the National Liberation Front, or the EAM/ELAS. The United States had also been following events in Turkey, where a weak government faced Soviet pressure to share control of the strategic Dardanelle Straits. When Britain announced that it would withdraw aid to Greece and Turkey, the responsibility was passed on to the United States.

In a meeting between Congressmen and state department officials, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson articulated what would later become known as the domino theory. He stated that more was at stake than Greece and Turkey, for if those two key states should fall, Communism would likely spread south to Iran and as far east as India. Acheson concluded that not since the days of Rome and Carthage had such a polarization of power existed. The stunned legislators agreed to endorse the program on the condition that President Truman stress the severity of the crisis in an address to Congress and in a radio broadcast to the American people.

Addressing a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman asked for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey and established a doctrine, aptly characterized the Truman Doctrine, that would guide U.S. diplomacy for the next forty years. President Truman declared, "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." The sanction of aid to Greece and Turkey by a Republican Congress indicated the beginning of a long and enduring bipartisan cold war foreign policy. The Truman Doctrine has raised profound questions from historians regarding its origins, long-term consequences, and the relationship between domestic and foreign policy. However, one thing is for certain, the Truman Doctrine signaled America's post war embrace of global leadership and ended its longstanding policy of isolationism.

Vocabulary Allies

  • during World War II, the combined forces of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union


  • also called ASIA MINOR, the peninsula of land that today constitutes the Asian portion of Turkey- because of its location at the point where the continents of Asia and Europe meet, Anatolia was, from the beginnings of civilization, a crossroads for numerous peoples migrating or conquering from either continent


  • during World War II, the combined forces of Germany, Italy, and later, Japan


  • obedience; surrender

Dardanelles Straits

  • a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey, 38 miles (61 km) long, linking the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It is ¾ to 4 miles wide and lies between the peninsula of Gallipoli in Europe (northwest) and the mainland of Asia Minor (southeast)


  • People's National Army of Liberation (ELAS), directed politically by the communist-dominated National Liberation Front (EAM)- these two movements were involved in resistance and guerilla activities toward the Greek monarchy


  • a member of an independent band engaged in irregular, though often legitimate, warfare in connection with a regular war


  • an increase in the level of consumer prices or a decline in the purchasing power of money, caused by an increase in available money beyond the amount of available goods and services

sphere of influence

  • a territorial area over which political or economic influence is wielded by one nation


  • to suffer from tuberculosis of the lungs, characterized by the coughing up of mucus and sputum, fever, weight loss, and chest pain


  • a state of emptiness; a void
Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Following the cataclysmic warfare of World War II, it may be difficult to engage students in the more nuanced politics of the early Cold War. What better way to transition, then, than through the plain speaking of Harry S. Truman? His penchant for simple prose provides an entry point for discussing three aspects of a changing geopolitical landscape:

  • This speech helped introduce two important ideas that have shaped the way our presidents have argued for foreign policy: direct economic aid and containment.
  • The speech enlivens studies of European geography, providing social and political context for the boundaries on the map—and how they have changed over time.
  • Historically, the speech illustrates the isolationism of post-World War II Americans—and how the Soviet Union came to be seen as a global threat.
Lesson Objectives - the student will

Examine conditions in Greece and Turkey in 1947

Analyze documents and photographs from the time period

Evaluate the Truman Doctrine as a policy


District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.3 – Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether early events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
    • Truman uses a series structure where each claim relies on the one before it:
      1) Greece and Turkey are in crisis. -> 2) If Greece and Turkey fall to Communism, other war-weary European nations will fall. ->3) No other nations or institutions have the ability to help Greece and Turkey. ->4) Therefore, the United States has the responsibility to provide aid to Greece and Turkey. ->5) If we aid Greece and Turkey, they will remain free.
    • As they read, students should follow and critique this line of arguments.


  • ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3 – Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections drawn between them.
    • Students should analyze how Truman develops the logic of the Cold War in his speech. The text begins small, set in the localized context of Greece—then gradually moves outward to place Greece in a larger context, to define the risks posed by destabilized countries in Eastern Europe, and to finally develop a description of a world dominated by two types of leadership: freedom based on the will of the majority, and oppression by the minority.


  • ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
    • While the terms “containment” and “domino theory” are not used in Truman’s speech, this address is widely regarded as the first major presidential articulation of those two ideas. Key pieces of terminology employed by Truman—including “United Nations” “reconstruction,” and “Communist”—play a role in developing these two themes. Additionally, Truman depicts important geographic relationships among countries in Western Europe.
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Conditions in Greece Activity 1


On Friday, February 21, 1947, Great Britain notified the United States that it could no longer provide financial aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey. American policy makers had been monitoring Greece's deteriorating economic and political conditions. There was a civil war taking place between the Greek monarchy and communist guerillas, and there was a severe economic crisis. The United States was also observing Turkey, where a weak government faced Soviet pressure to share control of the Dardanelles Straits. Both Turkey and Greece had in modern times depended on Britain's diplomatic and economic support, but it now seemed that London planned to pass this responsibility on to the United States.

Like much of the chaos of the early cold war, the problems of Greece and Turkey stemmed from World War II. Turkey's dilemma derived from Stalin's demands for joint control of the Dardanelles. When negotiations for this joint control failed, Stalin stationed troops near the Turkish border. Meanwhile, Greece faced a political vacuum and civil war following the withdrawal in October 1944 of Nazi occupation forces from the war-ravaged land. EAM-ELAS rebels received outside assistance from Communist Yugoslavia and neighboring Albania and Bulgaria, and inflicted havoc on the unstable Greek monarchy. Great Britain, aware that Greece was an important Middle Eastern sphere of influence, supported the country's right-wing government.

Discussion Questions

1. What were some of the problems facing Greece and Turkey in 1947?


2. What did many of the problems facing Greece and Turkey in 1947 stem from?


3. How would you describe what is meant by a "political vacuum"?


4. Why was it important to the United States that the spread of communism be halted before it reached Greece?

Activity 2

"Greece is not a rich country. Lack of sufficient natural resources has always forced the Greek people to work hard to make both ends meet…

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…"

President Harry S. Truman, March 12, 1947 in an address recommending aid to Greece and Turkey.

Discussion Questions

1. Why did the Greek people have a difficult time of "making both ends meet"?


2. What does it mean for a child to be tubercular?


3. Referring back to the Introduction, who was the "militant minority" that President Truman refers to?


4. What effect did the militant minority have on the recovery of Greece? What are some ways in which this minority could have exploited human "want and misery"?


5. Imagine that you are a British or American soldier entering Greece in 1945. Write a letter to a loved one describing the devastation surrounding you.


Activity 3

Photograph Analysis

The conditions under which Greek children lived in 1945 were devastatingly harsh and painful. Starvation was a part of everyday life for a child, many children were orphaned, and eighty-five percent suffered from a terrible lung disease, tuberculosis.

Step 1. Observation

Study the photograph of the two young boys for 2 minutes. Form an overall impression of the photograph and then examine individual items. Next, divide the photo into quadrants and study each section to see what new details become visible.

Orphaned children in Greece, looking at a cross that marks the remains of their family, ca. 1947.


B. Use the chart below to list people, objects, and activities in the photograph.



Step 2. Inference

Based on what you have observed above, list three things you might infer from this photograph.


Step 3. Questions

A. What questions does this photograph raise in your mind?


B. What could be some of the fears going through these young boys' minds?


C. Write your own caption for this photograph.


D. Write a dialog, or conversation, between the two boys. What might they be saying to each other?



Conditions in Turkey


Activity 4

Conditions in Turkey were not as desperate as those in Greece, but the country was still experiencing severe economic problems and threats from the Soviet Union at its borders. By 1945 agricultural output had fallen to 70 percent of the 1939 figure, and per capita income had fallen to 75 percent. Inflation was strong: official statistics show a rise of 354 percent between 1938 and 1945, but this figure probably understates the fall in the value of money, which in 1943 was less than one-fifth its 1938 purchasing power.

Turkey clung to neutrality until an Axis defeat became inevitable; it entered the war on the Allied side on Feb. 23, 1945. The great expansion of Soviet power exposed Turkey in June 1945 to Soviet demands for control over the Dardanelles Straits and for the cession of territory in eastern Asia Minor. It was also suggested that a large area of northeastern Anatolia be ceded to Soviet Georgia. This caused Turkey to seek and receive U.S. assistance; U.S. military aid began in 1947 (providing the basis for a large and continuing flow of military aid), and economic assistance began in 1948.

Discussion Questions

1. What countries made up the Axis powers? What countries made up the Allied powers?


2. What effects would inflation and lower agricultural output have on the Turkish people?


3. What forms of Soviet pressure led Turkey to seek assistance from the United States?


4. What sort of aid did Turkey receive from the United States?

5. Looking back at the introduction, the Soviet Union wanted to share control of the Dardanelles Straits with Turkey. Why do you think the Straits were so important to the Soviet Union?

Activity 6

The Truman Doctrine


"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 the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second 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 we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic stability and orderly political process."

-- President Harry S. Truman, March 12, 1947 in an Address Recommending aid to Greece and Turkey.

Discussion Questions

1. Who is Truman addressing?

2. What is Truman asking for?

3. What are the first and second "ways of life" that Truman refers to?

4. Who is President Truman referring to when speaking of the two different "ways of life"?

5. Give a modern day example of a country that lives by the first "way of life".

6. Give a modern day example of a country that lives by the second "way of life".

7. How are the conditions in these two countries different today?

8. For more primary sources related to the Truman Doctrine, visit Truman Library's Truman Doctrine Collection .


Activity 7

Oral History Interview

Extract from Oral History Interview with CLARK M. CLIFFORD Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel to the President, 1946-50. Washington, D. C. March 16, 1972 by Jerry N. Hess.


"We weren't concerned about markets; we were concerned about preventing Soviet control of larger areas of the world than they already controlled. When the Second World War ended, France was decimated. England was almost brought to its knees, you'll remember, and if Hitler had moved at one time, he could have probably brought them to their knees. The Soviet Union had gone through the most traumatic experience of its career. I read that in the Second World War it's estimated that the Soviet Union lost between twenty-five and thirty million men. So I think they were just determined that it was never going to happen to them again. But an enormous vacuum had been left in the free world by the end of World War II, and the Soviet Union was determined to move into that vacuum.

Now, that was the basis of the Marshall plan when we were thinking about reviving Europe. At the time the Soviets were pressing and searching and trying to find every soft spot where they could insert themselves. That was the reason for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it was the reason for the Truman Doctrine."


Discussion Questions

1. What does Clifford mean when he says, "an enormous vacuum had been left in the free world by the end of World War II?"

2. Why would the Soviet Union be determined to avoid another conflict as devastating as World War II?

3. What does Clifford say was the main reason for NATO and the Truman Doctrine?

4. What does NATO stand for?

5. Compare Truman's address in Activity 6 with Clifford's statements in his oral history in Activity 7. Make a list of similarities and differences between the two sources of information. What can you conclude from this comparison?

6. What influence does the Truman Doctrine have on American foreign policy today?

Online Collection