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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Fair Deal and Containment - Document Overview

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On April 12, 1945, an inexperienced Harry Truman became president and immediately confronted issues of bewildering magnitude and complexity. The protracted world war had altered the balance of power in Europe, dislodged colonial empires, and created social and political turbulence within nations. Of immediate concern was the disintegration of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. Having "liberated" eastern Europe from Nazi control, the Soviets were imposing their own political and military will upon the region, determined to absorb the area into their own sphere of influence. While the United States insisted that the peoples of eastern Europe should determine their own postwar status through democratic elections and free trade, the Soviets were even more determined to create a buffer of "friendly states" along their western border so as to prevent another invasion of their homeland (Russia had been invaded three times since the early nineteenth century).

Throughout 1946 and 1947 political leaders subservient to Soviet desires consolidated their control over eastern Europe, especially Poland. At the same time, the Soviets established a puppet regime in newly created East Germany. Former British prime minister Winston Churchill warned that Stalin had pulled an "iron curtain" of repression across the eastern half of Europe that threatened the security of the western democracies.

In the process of pursuing such conflicting objectives in eastern Europe, both sides helped escalate tensions and intensify an emerging "cold war" (a phrase popularized by the prominent American journalist Walter Lippmann). By 1947 American officials had become convinced that Soviet foreign policy was not pursuing legitimate security concerns; instead, they had come to view Stalin as a paranoid dictator driven by an uncompromising communist ideology that envisioned world domination.

In early 1947 Truman's key foreign policy aides—Secretary of State and former army chief of staff George C. Marshall, Undersecretary of State Dean G. Acheson, and career foreign service officer George F. Kennan—fashioned a new diplomatic strategy to deal with the burgeoning Cold War. Truman was tired of "babying the Russians" and wanted a tougher stance. The lesson that he and others had drawn from the failed statesmanship of the 1930s was that appeasing aggressive dictators was disastrous. His advisors responded with what became known as the "containment policy."

The first application of this containment doctrine focused on the eastern Mediterranean. Since 1946 the Greek government had been locked in a civil war with Communist guerrillas. At the same time, its neighbor Turkey was facing unrelenting pressure from the Soviet Union to gain naval access to the Mediterranean. The British had provided financial and military support to the Greeks and Turks, but in early 1947 they informed the United States that they could no longer provide such assistance because of their own economic distress.

Truman acted swiftly. On March 12, 1947, he asked a joint session of Congress to provide $400 million worth of military and economic assistance to Greece and Turkey. He portrayed the situation in stark terms: failure to act would encourage further Soviet expansion around the world. In stating the case for such assistance, the president outlined what became known as the Truman Doctrine. The United States, he said, must be willing to support free peoples everywhere in order to resist the cancer of "totalitarian regimes." Failure to so would "endanger the peace of the world" and the "welfare of our own nation."

The Truman Doctrine laid the foundation for American foreign policy during the next forty years. It committed the United States to the role of a world-wide policeman. Critics, including George Kennan, warned that the United States could not alone suppress every Communist insurgency around the world. The prominent journalist Walter Lippmann derided the new containment doctrine as a "strategic monstrosity" that would entangle the United States in endless international disputes. It was a fateful prediction.

Truman's policies could not keep pace with the dynamic changes reshaping the world order. In 1949 the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong won a civil war against the "nationalist" forces of Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and forced the nationalists off the mainland onto the island of Formosa (Taiwan). Dean Acheson, who became secretary of state in 1949, quickly asserted that "the Communist regime serves not [Chinese] interests but those of Soviet Russia." The victory of Mao's forces prompted Truman's critics to ask "Who lost China?" Republicans believed that the United States should have acted more aggressively to support Jiang's nationalist cause.

Truman faced new problems as well. The discovery that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb in 1949, years in advance of American predictions, gave Republicans another weapon in their fight with the administration. The Soviets, they reasoned, must have gained access to secret American documents through their espionage network in the United States. Scattered evidence of successful Soviet espionage in North America gave fuel to the partisan claim that the Truman administration was "soft on Communism" and helped launch the anticommunist crusade led by Republican senator Joseph McCarthy.

The invasion of South Korea in June 1950 by 75,000 Soviet-equipped North Korean troops surprised the world and heightened fears of possible Communist infiltration at home. McCarthy stepped up his campaign of accusations and half-truths sprinkled with obscenities. Truman first pushed through the United Nations a resolution of condemnation. He then ordered General Douglas MacArthur to send military equipment to the South Koreans and to use American airpower to blunt the North Korean advance. Truman never asked Congress for a declaration of war. Officially, the Korean conflict was a police action supported by the United Nations. Critics labeled it "Mr. Truman's War."

In September General MacArthur assumed the offensive with a brilliant maneuver that outflanked the North Koreans and sent them reeling. Sensing a great victory, MacArthur and Truman convinced the United Nations to allow the allied forces to cross the thirty-eighth parallel, "liberate" North Korea from Communist control, and unify the country under democratic rule. A policy of containment now gave way to a policy of liberation. The plan was working to perfection by mid-October as the American-dominated U.N. forces pushed across North Korea toward the Yalu River border with China. Concerned about Chinese entry into the conflict, Truman flew to Midway Island to consult with MacArthur. The American general dismissed concerns about the Chinese, arguing that they could not mount significant opposition and that American air-power would neutralize them in any event. Truman remained skeptical and ordered MacArthur to use only South Korean forces in the vanguard of the coalition as it approached the border.

But MacArthur refused to be bridled by his civilian commander-in-chief. He disobeyed the president, and moved American and British troops close to the Yalu River on November 24. Two days later 300,000 Chinese "volunteers" came streaming across the border, attacking in waves inspired by blaring bugles. The U.N. forces fell back in the most brutal fighting of the war. Three weeks later they recrossed the thirty-eighth parallel. In the midst of the retreat, MacArthu asked permission to bomb bridges on the Yalu River as well as Chinese bases across the border. He also asked for a naval blockade of the Chinese coast and suggested the possible use of Nationalist Chinese forces in Korea.

Truman feared that such measures would provoke World War III with China and possibly the Soviet Union. His assessment of the situation was bleak: the best that could be achieved was a negotiated restoration of the dividing line at the thirty-eighth parallel. To MacArthur this smacked of appeasement, and he publicly criticized Truman, saying that "there is no substitute for victory." Truman now had no choice but to relieve the popular but erratic and insubordinate MacArthur. The cashiered general returned to a hero's welcome in the United States, including a ticker-tape parade down New York City's Fifth Avenue. His Republican supporters called for Truman's impeachment and urged MacArthur to run for president. But the Congressional testimony of General Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blunted MacArthur's case. Expanding the fighting into China, Bradley asserted, would be "the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

As the months passed and the war ground on, public opinion soured on Truman and the American commitment in Korea. By the onset of the 1952 election campaign, the battlefront in Korea had stabilized at the thirty-eighth parallel and voters simply wanted the conflict ended. Negotiations begun in July 1951 dragged on for two years while intense but sporadic fighting continued. When an armistice agreement was finally concluded by the Eisenhower administration in 1953, the Korean conflict had cost over $20 billion and 33,000 American lives. Over 2 million Koreans had been killed. Communism had been contained but at a high cost.


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