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Clark M. Clifford Oral History Interview, April 19, 1971

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.
April 19, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]



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HESS: Mr. Clifford, you have mentioned that two of your first duties in the White House dealt with universal military training and unification of the armed forces. Would you like to begin today's session by covering what you recall on those two subjects?

CLIFFORD: Yes, sir. The first assignment, which came during the summer or fall of 1945, was to conduct an inquiry into the background of the whole subject of universal military training.

President Truman had the feeling at the time that it would be of tremendous aid to this country in facing any other danger, and possible war, to have a backlog of trained men. We have gone through very difficult times in World War II, training an army quickly after we became involved following Pearl Harbor in 1941.

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I recall President Truman stating that we were slow in getting a military force into action because of our lack of trained men. I also recall him commenting on the fact that it was a national scandal, that so many of our young men were unable to pass the minimum Army test from the physical standpoint.

I do not recall the percentage, but it was inordinately high; something close perhaps to a third of our young men had physical defects of one kind or another. President Truman thought it would be of great benefit to the country to have our young men appear at a certain age and at a certain point in their educational process, go through a rigid physical, and take the rudimentary and elementary basics of military training. Then after a period of time, they could leave and go back into civilian life. When the call ever came, these men would constitute a solid

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core around which a military organization could be built and built expeditiously.

I checked into the whole background of it. I found that at one time former Senator [James Wolcott] Wadsworth had researched the subject and believed deeply in it. As we got into it more deeply and we checked with leaders in a number of different areas in the country, I believe we all concluded, at that time, that it would be impossible to get the necessary legislation through the Congress. There was such a reaction after the Second World War; people wanted to forget the war, and hoped that this time that this was the last war. So many of our leaders and formulators of public opinion were opposed to it that President Truman reluctantly dropped the idea.

I turn now to the second of the early assignments; that is a study of the possible unification

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of the services. President Truman stated, at the conclusion of World War II, that we could never fight another war with the organization that we had in World War II. He indicated one time that we had won the war, but it certainly was not because of the organization we had, it was despite the organization. There was a definite lack of coordination in our entire military effort. At that time we had but two departments; we had the War Department and the Department of the Navy. Each was represented by a Cabinet officer; each considered itself an independent executive department that was not subject to any type of control, except that that came from the President.

There were many instances that (we learned during the war), that independence of action on the part of the services were costly to the country, both in manpower and in resources.

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The President thought that there should be a closer cooperation between the services. He felt that there should be an opportunity to effect substantial economies by having a central type of purchasing. We had learned many times during the war that the two services would bid against each other in a number of areas for rare commodities, and so push up the price for both of them.

Well, I started and conducted a study for him of the background of it. It was something that he felt very deeply, because, as chairman of the war investigating committee, he had a substantial and rich background of experience.

As a result of that study, which I started at his direction in 1945, I interviewed a number of top military men, and a number of our top civilians who had been involved in it. By 1946 we were making progress. I kept him fully and

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closely posted with reference to it. And finally, we turned our attention to the possibility of legislation. Legislation was introduced, and finally, the first law was passed in 1947. I might say at that particular point that the Army favored unification, including the air wing of the Army who favored it because they felt that they could get separate identity and a separate air force. It was the Navy who opposed the idea so strenuously.

HESS: What was the basis for their reluctance?

CLIFFORD: The Navy felt that its independence, and its power to control its own operation, would be adversely affected if it became but a division in the Department of Defense. Also, the Navy had traditionally had great strength in the Congress.

At that time, and for a long time prior

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thereto, the chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, Mr. Vinson, had been a great power in maintaining the independence of the Navy. The Navy felt that to become but a part of a Department of Defense would subordinate the Navy's importance and take away some of the power that the Navy had exercised from time immemorial to make its own decisions. It didn't want to be a part of a military service along with the Army and the Air Force. It particularly opposed the concept of the Air Force, because that meant that there would then be three services instead of two and they felt that that would have a tendency to minimize the importance of the services.

HESS: Did they think they might lose their air wing to the new Air Force also?

CLIFFORD: Yes, they were concerned about that. They were also concerned about the discussion at the

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time that if you unified the services there would no longer be any need for a Marine force. The Marines could become part of the Army, which might have some logical basis, because they were ground troops.

Another major objection that the Navy had was that unification would mean that the Navy would no longer have a Cabinet representative in the President's Cabinet. As it was, with a strong Secretary of the Navy, they had immediate and continuing access to the President. They could see that with unification, the Navy would not have Cabinet representation, and feared that the Navy could very well be downgraded. So, under the then Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, they fought a bitter, intelligent, artful, and skillful battle, and they won. The first unification act was so watered down that the Secretary of Defense became really nothing

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more than a coordinator. That isn't good enough in government. A service, or a department, or an agency, will assert all of its historic and statutory powers under coordination, so that the coordinator does not have sufficient authority to either rule or direct the service.

After the '47 act was passed (and we took it because it was the best that we could get), President Truman, with that rare judgment that he had, appointed James Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense, and the result was most interesting.

After some number of months, I recall James Forrestal phoning me and saying he wanted to talk about a matter. We both sat down and discussed this subject at great length. The conclusion that Forrestal had reached was that the Defense Act of 1947 was so weak that he was unable to administer the Department of

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Defense. He was perfectly forthright about it.

I recall later on that after we discussed it at some length, he said he wanted to see the President and suggested that I go in with him. We went in then, and as I've said a number of times, an incident occurred then that rarely occurs. In substance, Mr. Forrestal said, "President Truman, I have come over to confess to you, that I've been terribly wrong." And then he explained why. It was very gratifying to President Truman, and I had a notion that perhaps President Truman foresaw what might very well happen to Mr. Forrestal's attitude.

After Jim Forrestal stated that we needed a stronger law, we went to work at once lining up support for it, and that time we had Army support, Air Force support, and Naval support. Mr. Forrestal just stepped up with complete candor, said, "We have to have a stronger law." Also, I believe that from the experience of '47,

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those objectors who were so bitterly opposed, had tempered their criticism somewhat, because the Navy organization had not been affected as adversely as they had assumed that it would.

So, with that support, we then obtained a new law in 1949. And in it, we finally achieved what we had started to work on in 1945, because the '49 law gave to the Secretary of Defense, the power, authority, responsibility, and control that he needed. And the Defense Department was strengthened to the point where it became a true executive department, with all of the rights and privileges inherent in a department. The three services gave up those rights that accrued under the law, to a separate department of government. From that time on, it seems to me, that we began to realize the benefits that Mr. Truman foresaw in true unification.

I might add as a postscript, that I have watched the process take place within the Defense

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Department, since that time, since we started on it in 1945, which would at this point be twenty-six years ago. It proceeded rather slowly at first. It made some progress under President Eisenhower. I have a recollection in 1954 that he had an amendment passed that lent some strength to the theory of unification.

I've had the feeling also that we attained our goal of true unification under Secretary MacNamara. As he moved in in those early days under President Kennedy, and then under President Johnson, he put into operation many orders and innovations that I think completed the process of unification. I think that we achieved then what President Truman had in mind.

It took over twenty years to do it, but it was worth it, because now with the organization so much larger, with weapon systems incredibly complex, with world conditions infinitely more

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involved than they were twenty-five years ago, the merit of the plan and the need for change, has become increasingly apparent. And I suggest to you that is one of the real monuments that President Truman created, and for which he should receive the undying gratitude of the American people.

HESS: Did you find the things that Secretary MacNamara had implemented to be of assistance to you when you took over in the Pentagon?

CLIFFORD: I did. The great majority of them I found to be helpful. Some of them I differed on and gradually I allowed some of his innovations to fall into disuse and ultimately disappear. I felt there had been, in some instances, too great a centralization of direction and control, from the office of the Secretary of Defense. We had almost gone to the other extreme under Secretary MacNamara. There was needed to be some decentralization, but only in minor areas.

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HESS: Do you think this reflected his great love of organization and charts and things of that nature?

CLIFFORD: To a certain extent, and it also reflected the desire of a man who chose to make a great many decisions himself. I felt that by the time I came in in early '68, that the administrative burdens upon the Secretary had become so enormous that they interferred with the time and thought that the Secretary should give to major policy decisions. And so there was some minor decentralization that took place which I think improved the process, but that was merely my personal opinion.

HESS: Okay. Moving back into 1945, do you recall if Judge Rosenman was also assigned to work on problems of unification at the time that you were working on them?

CLIFFORD: I would assume that I probably performed my task under the direction of Judge Rosenman.

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I do not recall the details, but I was new, young, and an unknown quantity at the time. I rather assume that the assignment would have been given to Judge Rosenman and me together, but that he would supervise my activity. I don't recall that specifically, but I'm sure that I would not be given an important assignment in those early days without some supervision.

HESS: You have been a naval officer, at the time you had been working on unification and going out and meeting the people, was it ever suggested to you that you were rocking the boat, that you were doing something that the Navy didn't like when you were working for unification?

CLIFFORD: Yes, but I think that Mr. Forrestal and I came to an early understanding about that. I was not a regular naval officer. I was serving temporarily, and I had assumed that when the war was over

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that I would return to my law practice in St. Louis. As a result I had no background of training, tradition, or attitude, that would cause me to oppose the concept of unification. Further, during my own naval experience (which had been an exceedingly interesting one) I had encountered the same sort of problems that President Truman had, and I personally felt that unification would be of real benefit to the country. And it made no difference to me whatsoever that the Navy was opposed to it, because I was there only by accident and only there temporarily. Finally, it would make no difference what my personal attitude would be. I was working for the President, and if the President thought that this was the way to go, then that became my opinion. That's the way it had to be around the White House. The President makes the decision, and you subordinate your personal views to carrying out whatever

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presidential decisions are made. In this instance I did not have to do that because I enthusiastically agreed with him on the need for unification.

HESS: Do you think unification should be carried further than it is at the present time? Right down to the same uniform and same belt buckles and everything of that nature?

CLIFFORD: I believe not. In the year 1960, either while President Kennedy was running, or after he had been elected, he appointed a committee which became known as the Symington Committee because Senator [Stuart] Symington was named chairman. It was about a five, six, seven man committee, to study the Defense Department and to come up with recommendations for its improvement. We submitted a report early in the Kennedy administration, which was an extreme report in recommending unification to the ultimate end of having but one military service. I might say we did it for a particular

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purpose, and that was to move unification in the direction that we wished to go. In our effort to get a half an apple, we recommended a whole apple, and much was thus accomplished.

But I considered at the time the report to be very extreme. After I got into the Department I continued to think it was extreme. I was questioned about the Symington Committee report at my hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and explained then what the purpose of that committee had been and that I did not intend when Secretary--when serving as Secretary of Defense, to go as far as the committee had gone. So that I think that at the present point of unification, I believe we've struck a reasonably happy balance.

I think we should constantly be attempting to find other areas in which there can be additional unification. But we must do it with care so as not to affect what I consider to be now, a really

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workable organization and machinery that operates in the Pentagon.

HESS: The National Security Act of 1947 set up the National Security Council. I have read that Mr. Forrestal pushed quite strenuously for the setting up of the National Security Council, and that perhaps one of the reasons that he did so was to make it unnecessary to have a Department of Defense. That it was not necessary to go any further than that. Any validity in that?

CLIFFORD: I cannot recall that. I have some misty, hazy recollection that when it became inevitable that some type of unification was coming, I believe that I can recall that he did favor the National Security Council and I think probably with two reasons. One: Because it did offer a type of substitute for unification, and Second: Because the Navy would be represented on the National

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Security Council as originally conceived. So, I have some recollection that he went along for those reasons and not because he thought the Council in itself constituted an improvement. He believed only that it might lessen the possibility of our gaining the sort of unification that we hoped to obtain.

HESS: I've also read that Mr. Truman was not necessarily in favor, or did not enthusiastically support, the establishment of the National Security Council do you recall that?

CLIFFORD: I do not recall that detail.

HESS: Do you recall if he met with them very often? As I have read, he met infrequently with the National Security Council, at least up until the time of the Korean invasion.

CLIFFORD: Again, it's been so long ago that I do not

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have a very clear recollection of it. I am unable, at this time, to recall instances in which he met with the National Security Council. I would rather suppose that perhaps he would have thought it advisable for me to be there too, because of the part that I was playing at the time. I remember meeting with the military personnel and with representatives from State, but it's difficult for me to recall a single National Security Council meeting.

HESS: Did Commodore Vardaman assist you, or did you assist Commodore Vardaman, in the writing of the National Security Act? Was he involved in that?

CLIFFORD: He was not involved in it at all. But I took an active part of the writing of both the '47 act, and the '49 act.

HESS: Did Mr. Elsey assist you in the writing of those two?

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CLIFFORD: He did.

HESS: What is your general evaluation of the effectiveness of Mr. George Elsey as an assistant, since he has been your number one man on various occasions?

CLIFFORD: Yes. I consider him to be an outstanding younger man. He has a superior intellect. He had almost perfect training for the job to which he was assigned in the White House, for he had majored in American history, and had taught American history, and that made him very valuable. He wrote clearly, he was industrious, he enjoyed the work; he found it exciting and challenging. I suppose that from the standpoint of the younger men at the time, in the White House, I think he made the greatest contribution.

Also I might say my opinion of his value was demonstrated. When I became Secretary of

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Defense, one of my first acts was to pursuade Mr. Elsey to leave the job he was then holding and come over as an assistant to me in the Defense Department where he performed with the same superb service as he had in those years long ago at the White House.

HESS: Two other organizations that were established by the National Security Act are the Central Intelligence Agency, which is very much with us today, and the National Security Resources Board. Has there ever been a bill in Congress that set up quite so many well-known organizations I wonder; the CIA, the National Security Agency?

CLIFFORD: I don't recall that there ever has been any. It was a wide, far-reaching amendment of our whole National Security organization.

Prior to the act of '47 there was an intelligence agency that to some extent went

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as far as the OSS, and rather grew from that. And it was felt that the time had come to formalize and institutionalize its creation, so an agency was created and given the title Central Intelligence Agency in the act of '47. And I recall that President Truman named an Admiral, Sidney Souers, a Reserve admiral, to be its first director. And that relationship was valuable and the CIA grew and flourished under his leadership.

I don't need to go on about the CIA; its growth is well-known. It has performed what I considered to be not only a useful, but an absolutely necessary function since its creation in 1947.

The National Security Resources Board never lived up to its potential.

At the time, after the conclusion of World War II, knowledgeable leaders of this country

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were concerned about the fact that we were running out of necessary resources that were used in the conduct of the war, and it was felt that we needed a Board to keep constant tab on the state of our country's resources, so that if we were running short in some area, we could stockpile.

An illustration is the metal tungston that is necessary in many areas. And we knew already that we had to stockpile that particular metal, because in a war, with enemy submarines plying the seas, it was very difficult to bring into this country certain products that were needed, and of course, to get material abroad to the various theatres.

At first it was felt it was going to serve a useful function. As time went on, it gradually diminished in importance; today, I do not know whether it is active or not, it has so withered

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on the vine. But I believe that in those early days it did help emphasize and dramatize the need for that sort of inquiry. I think its functions have gradually been assigned to other departments and agencies of government.

HESS: Did Dr. Steelman and David Stowe go from the White House for a period of time to the National Security Resources Board and try to run it when they were having difficulty getting a director?

CLIFFORD: Yes. Yes, I have some recollection that John Steelman was assigned to that post and served there for a limited number of months and then came back to the White House.

HESS: During the time that you were writing the National Security Act, how often would you check in with President Truman, and how closely did he watch the developments in this project?

CLIFFORD: It was the type of operation that was so

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beset by problems, and difficulties, that he was kept very closely informed.

There were many instances in which only the President could get over the next hurdle that stood in our way. And there were times when it would be necessary for him to call in the Secretary of War and the Secretary of Navy. There were other times when he would call in top personnel and this was invaluable to those of us who were working on it, because it placed the full weight of the Presidency behind the effort. And I would keep him closely informed, and others who were working on it at the time would be in close association with him and with me.

It was a very well coordinated effort, and one in which he took strong direction and never wavered. At no time did he ever indicate that because of Naval opposition, that maybe we ought to sidetrack it and wait a while. He was just as

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consistent as he could be.

HESS: Now, regarding Secretary Forrestal: Do you think that he found it easier to run the Pentagon after it had been changed from National Military Establishment to the Department of Defense?

CLIFFORD: Yes, although I do not recall how long he ran it. It was a limited period.

HESS: It was from August of '49--no, well, I'm not sure either, I should have looked that up.

CLIFFORD: It was a limited period.

HESS: It was a limited period of time.

CLIFFORD: I have a feeling it was really just a period of some months.

HESS: It was a limited period of time.

Why was he replaced by Louis Johnson?

CLIFFORD: I'm not sure that I know that entire story.

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I was not privy to the consideration that President Truman gave to it, and by that time Secretary Forrestal had begun to have problems, which later led to his death.

I would say that being on the periphery of it there would be two important reasons. One is, I think President Truman felt that the time had come to replace Secretary Forrestal.

Secretary Forrestal was having problems, he was having signs of that emotional disturbance which later led to his death, and . . .

HESS: What were the first evidences of that that you recall seeing?

CLIFFORD: Well, it's a curious incident (and one that's not very attractive), but I recall it distinctly, sitting in a meeting in the Cabinet Room with President Truman, Secretary Forrestal and others.

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And I happened to be sitting on the side of Secretary Forrestal and noted that he was so nervous that there was a place on his scalp that he constantly was scratching or rubbing. He had opened an open sore there, and yet still couldn't stay away from it.

It was a nervous manifestation that I found very disquieting, and you could sense something was going on within the man. There was a change going on. You recognize it, your inclination is to put it down to temporary fatigue, or accumulated strain.

I know there was some discussion at the time that he ought to get away, that he had gotten terribly overtired and overdrawn, and I remember that one particular incident very well. It concerned me, because here he was doing something to himself. And on a couple of other occasions I saw this sore on his scalp

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was constantly getting larger.

One reason he was replaced is that I think that President Truman had concluded that Forrestal had served well through a very difficult and trying time, and the evidences of strain were obvious. I think President Truman thought he ought to go.

Another reason (this is a very practical one, and I'm not sure but it's just speculation), I think Louis Johnson had come in to help President Truman at a time when really nobody else would have taken that particular assignment, very difficult assignment, that is of raising money for the 1948 campaign. When President Truman brought off the miracle of the 20th Century, as far as politics were concerned, he owed a very real debt to Louis Johnson.

Louis Johnson was an ambitious man. He had served previously as Under Secretary of the Army

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under Harry Woodring, and he had gotten involved in a serious dispute with Woodring and I think had been let go. I think he wanted very much to get back into the Defense Department. That would rather justify the dispute that had taken place earlier. And then I have heard it suggested that he even had higher ambitions. He had a great following among the American Legion and so forth. And it was entirely possible that he thought this would be a stepping stone to even higher office.

HESS: Do you think he would have like to have been President?

CLIFFORD: I think so.

HESS: Did you ever hear him say so?

CLIFFORD: No. I don't believe anybody says that, but I know a number of those around him had the

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same feeling, and I rather accepted it as most people did. It is not an uncommon attitude at all for one . . .

HESS: Many people want to move in across the street over here don't they?

CLIFFORD: Yes, that's right.

HESS: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There was a rumor at the time, close to the time of Mr. Forrestalls release, that he had an anti-Jewish and a pro-Arab feeling, and that had something to do with his dismissal.

CLIFFORD: I do not know if that was a factor. I know that he had very strong feelings about the Middle East. I would doubt that it was an anti-Jewish bias. I believe that it was based more on what he considered to be the military realities of the Middle East.

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HESS: Was it more pro-oil?

CLIFFORD: It was more pro-Arab than it was anti-Palestine at that time, or later, anti-Israel.

I believe that he and most of the military and most of the civilians in the Defense Department, felt that we were making a mistake by taking the side of Israel, and that the real power in the Middle East was on the side of the Arabs. I remember at that time the argument being made that there were approximately 20 or 30 million Arabs and a million and a half Israelis, and that the day would come that the Israelis would be pushed into the Mediterranean. Obviously also, the oil was a matter of important military consideration; a military machine runs on oil, and here in the Middle East . . .

HESS: Particularly the Navy.

CLIFFORD: Sure, and then as the Army became more

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mechanized, it runs on oil; you transport your men in trucks. Tanks had become very important. The Air Force ran on petroleum, the Navy ran on petroleum. And the rather narrow military view was you cannot overlook the importance of that part of the world, which is the largest oil producing area of the globe. It was almost that simple.

HESS: And to clear up a point, I was in error awhile ago. The National Security Act of 149 was signed on August the 10th, 1949, well after the death of Mr. Forrestal. He died on May the 22nd of 1949, so he was there during the time that the act was being written, but it was actually signed well after his death and when Louis Johnson was Secretary.

CLIFFORD: That is obviously why I couldn't remember how he had fared under the new act. I can recall

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that he was still there when the new act was being worked on, and I can recall that he was a proponent of a stronger piece of legislation.

HESS: And that he had gone into President Truman and admitted that he was wrong.

CLIFFORD: That's right.

HESS: Anything else come to mind on unification?

CLIFFORD: I think this covers it.

HESS: All right, now on the Truman Doctrine for Greece and Turkey, we have mentioned the subject in both of our previous meetings, but I have yet a couple of brief questions to touch on.

According to some historians, the statement that really catalyzed the action on the Greek and Turkey was not necessarily Mr. Truman's speech to Congress on March the 12th, but was Under Secretary Acheson's remarks in the

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White House to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on February the 27th of 1947. Now, I have it marked there as to who was present, and in his book, Present at the Creation, Mr. Acheson states that Secretary of State Marshall, "Flubbed his opening statement." And the people who were present were General Marshall and Mr. Acheson, Tom Connally, Styles Bridges, Arthur Vandenberg, Joe Martin, Charles Eaton, Sol Bloom and Sam Rayburn. Do you recall, did you sit in on that meeting.

CLIFFORD: I cannot recall. The best that I can recall about the Greek-Turkish crisis was sometime during the end of 1946 we received, maybe first it was an informal word or maybe it was a letter from the British informing us that they were going to have to pull out of Greece and Turkey. It created a vepy real emergency as far as our government was concerned.

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Greece and Turkey are located, as you know, strategically insofar as the Mediterranean is concerned and it was a time when there was still this aggressive Soviet expansionism going on.

And I can recall after we were notified by the British in late '46, attending meetings, both at State and at the War Department, and I have some recollection of going along with Admiral Leahy at the time. And then I think in early '47 we received a formal note from the British informing us that they had to get out. And then we had a series of meetings. I sat in some of them. I think President Truman knew that some type of speech or message had to be made; that was one reason that I would be asked to sit in the meetings.

Then I recall, in February I started to work on the so-called Truman Doctrine message.

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I worked with State, and with Dean Acheson, who at the time was Under Secretary of State. We had quite a to-do back and forth over the language and how far it was to go.

HESS: Did you work with Joseph Jones on this?

CLIFFORD: Yes, I worked with a Joseph Jones (I had not thought of him for a great many years).

HESS: Did he provide a draft?

CLIFFORD: I was going to say he did some of the writing that went in there. He was there for quite a while and had quite a facility for writing so I tried to find ways to use him. Anybody who could write well, as soon as we located them, why . . .

HESS: He was a valuable man?

CLIFFORD: Oh, yes, sir, and we'd begin to use him;

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he had a very definite input. And I remember how much we talked about how far we should go. Really the major significance of the Truman Doctrine message of March 12, '47, was the warning that it gave to the Soviet Union, because there is language in that message, which President Truman read to the Congress, which says that it shall be the policy of the United States to come to the aid of those countries whose freedom was threatened by force, either from within or from without.

Now, that's not exact, but that's the substance of it. You should note that the pressure was growing on other countries at this time. It was felt that it was advisable to l