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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 jo