Re-thinking History

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harry S. Truman (1945-1952)

  • William Leuchtenberg: On April 12, 1945, as V.P. Truman was presiding in the Senate over a debate on a water treaty, Truman was told to call the White House. Once Truman was in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt put her arm around his shoulder and said softy," Harry, the President is dead." After a moment of shock, Truman recovered and asked Mrs. Roosevelt, "Is there anything I can do for you?" Eleanor replied: "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."
  • Legacy of FDR: Each president was judged during the 'first 100 days' of the new administration on foreign and domestic policies. Each president defined their domestic duties in three words to resemble the New Deal. Truman had extreme difficulty during his "first" term as a president, as many in the White House were die-hard supporters of FDR. Truman and FDR had a precarious relationship, as Truman was not privy to information outside of FDR's circle: example the Manhattan Project. As far back as WWII, FDR and Truman had a difficult working relationship and while V.P. for the 82 days in FDR's fourth term, Truman had little contact with the President.
  • Truman and Henry Wallace: (V.P. 1941-1945 under FDR) (In the 1948 election, Wallace ran on the Progressive Party ticket) At a talk in September 1946 in Madison Square Garden, Wallace stated that "the danger of war is much less from communism than it is from imperialism-where it be be of the United States or England." Truman interpreted this comment as criticism of the administration's "get tough" foreign policy, and Truman fired him from his position as Secretary of Commerce.
  • Truman and General Leslie Groves: He was a "Roosevelt hater and a Mrs. Roosevelt scorner."
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: Did not always approve of the Truman's policies, and stated that the Truman Doctrine would undermine the United Nations.

  • The Cold War Begins: Although the Allies overcame a common enemy, the prewar mistrust and antagonism between the Soviet Union and the West resurfaced over distinct vision of the postwar world. The Western Allie's delay in opening a second front in Western Europe aroused Soviet suspicions during the war. Following the war, Joseph Stalin, Churchill and the U.S. met at Potsdam between July-August 1945, to discuss post-war Europe. Stalin desired to make Germany pay for the rebuilding of the Soviet economy, to expand Soviet influence in the world and to have friendly governments on the Soviet borders in Eastern Europe. In contrast, the U.S. emerged from the war with a vastly expanded productive capacity and a monopoly on atomic weapons.
  • In 1946, Truman and Winston Churchill travelled to Fulton, Missouri, where the former prime minister denounced Soviet suppression of the popular will of England and central Europe & famously declared than an "iron curtain" had descended across the continent.
  • In February 1946, Soviet expert Dr. George Kennan wrote a comprehensive rationale for a foreign policy of containment. Between 1944-1946, Kennan had observed the social, political and economic aspects of the Soviet Union and issued a 5,300 word telegram entitled the "Long Telegram from Moscow." In addition he published "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," under the pseudonym of X. Kennan believed that Soviet threat was politically and warned that unchecked containment, in areas of Latin America and Africa would bring unnecessary conflict. Kennan asserted that containment would be best in four regions of the world. Kennan believed that economic and political pressure & not military efforts were adequate methods as the chief agent of containment.
  • Truman Doctrine: In 1947, the U.S. implemented the policy of containment outlined in the Truman Doctrine which would guide foreign policy for the next forty years. Crisis in Greece and Turkey, from leftist rebels and communist takeover triggered the implementation of containment through U.S. military and economic aid. Outlining what would later be called the domino theory, Truman warned that if Greece fell to the leftist rebels, confusion and disorder would spread throughout the entire Middle East and eventually threaten Europe. According to the Truman Doctrine, the U.S. would resist Soviet military power & support "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Congress authorized aid for Greece and Turkey.
  • The Marshall Plan: According to Eric Foner, the Marshall Plan combated the idea, widespread since the Great Depression, that capitalism was in decline and communism was "the wave of the future." It defined the threat to American security, not so much as Soviet military power, but as economic and political stability, which was considered breeding grounds for communism. Marshall insisted, "our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." In March 1948, Congress approved the "European Recovery Program," and over the next rive years, the U.S. spent $13 billion to restore the economies of sixteen Western European nations.
  • Berlin Blockade: In 1948, Germany was divided into two halves, with the Berlin Wall; East Germany was controlled by Russia and West Germany was controlled by the U.S. Truman stated that "We will remain in Berlin, period." The Soviet had staged a brutal coup against the government of Czechoslovakia, installing a Communist regime, blockading Berlin. In 1949, after the U.S. and Britain airlifted goods to Western Berliners for over nearly a year, Berlin became divided.
  • Building a National Security State:Advocates of the new policy of containment developed a defense strategy. There are six features of the national security state:
  • Development of the hydrogen bomb, which Kennan stated would lead to an "endless arms race." (1950s-1980s: deterrence formed the basis of American nuclear strategy);
  • a second aspect was the establishment of the National Security Council in 1947, which enacted a peace time draft, & renamed the War Department the Department of Defense (war=limited engagement while defense=ongoing);
  • a third aspect if collective security (1949 NATO, $1 billion given in aid to NATO allies) which effectively ended the U.S. policy of isolationism.; Critics of NATO saw this treaty as a kind of "double containment.
  • Foreign assistance was a fourth element of the national security state;
  • a fifth aspect was the development of the government's espionage capacities and the means to deter communism through covert activities through the creation of the CIA, which was established as a result of the 1947 National Security Act;
  • a sixth aspect is the intensification of propaganda to "win the hearts & minds" throughout the world and using Jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, as cultural ambassadors. (1957- Armstrong speaks out against Little Rock, Arkansas and desegregation efforts, calls Eisenhower out on hypocrisy and quits as a cultural ambassador)
  • Point IV Program: January 20, 1949: Gives countries that technological support to undeveloped nations that supported U.S. efforts to contain communism, monies to increase their technology. An example would be in Ethiopia, with leader Emperor Halie Selassie, and Oklahoma State University, in which educational schools, would now offer a B.A. in agriculture. See, for possible extra credit opportunities.
  • Civil War in China: Civil war broke out in China between peasants led by Mao Zedong & those led by Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek. The U.S. gave Kai-shek nearly $3 billion in aid. In October 1949, Mao established the Peoples Republic of China. With China in turmoil, the U.S. focused on re industrializing the economy of Japan.
  • Containment as a dominant feature of foreign policy following WWII: Immediately following WWII, the U.S. and European nations desired to restructure the global power systems. Containment shaped American actions abroad for nearly a half century and became a dominant feature of American foreign policy. When the Grand Alliance, born of sharing a common enemy, Hitler, broke apart, the ideological and strategic conflicts between the U.S. and the Soviet Union emerged. In the disputes over how to manage the political reorganization of the world, particularly land held or conquered by the Axis powers, the U.S. perceived the Soviet Union as an enormous threat. In addition, American critique of the policy of appeasement first adopted in responding to Hitler's aggression led to pursuing a more aggressive policy towards Stalin and the Soviet Union. Kennan had asserted the domestic weakness, rather than ideology, led the Soviet Union to overstate foreign threats in an effort to expand their power. Leftist pressure against the governments in Greece and Turkey gave Truman the opportunity to implement this new policy and convince the American public of its wisdom. Truman cast American intervention abroad as protecting American at home. Containment faced opposition even within Truman's own administration, as Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace openly criticized the policy for failing to take the Soviet Union's concerns about security seriously, as well as its compromise of the idea of regional spheres of influence. Republicans opposed containment, the enormous defense spending and an ongoing American presence in Europe as a result.
  • Historiography: Truman & the Cold War: Historians have offered distinct interpretations of Truman’s foreign policy during the Cold War. Vice-President for 82 days, Truman took office following the death of FDR and nearly four months later, authorized the use of atomic weapons in 1945 against Japan who rejected the Potsdam Conference. Two years later, Truman issued his “Doctrine” of containment and the ‘Marshall Plan,” for economic assistance to resist communist expansion in Europe. Congress passed the National Security Act, which established the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council. Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe in 1948 led to the creation of N.A.T.O. (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) a year later. In 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson vehemently disagreed with Kennan’s analysis of the Soviet threat as political, and desired a more aggressive containment policy. In 1950, NSC-68, a blueprint for waging the Cold War and written by Acheson, articulated this point. The U.S. and Soviet disagreement about the establishment of a Jewish state in 1947, Red China under Mao in 1949, the outbreak of the Korean War one year later and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam added to the Cold War hostilities during Truman’s administration.
  • As soon as the term “cold war” emerged in public discourse, first by George Orwell in his essay, You and the Atomic Bomb, (1945) interpreting the Cold War has become a source of contention among historians, as three varied approaches surfaced to study of the Cold War. The first U.S. school of interpretation was orthodox, and placed the responsibility for the Cold War on Russia and its expansion in Eastern Europe. Thomas Bailey, in American Faces Russia, (1950) argued that Soviet aggression forced the U.S. to respond with the Truman Doctrine, Kennan’s policy of containment and the Marshall Plan, as Stalin violated promises made at Yalta and conspired to spread communism around the world. Revisionist accounts of history emerged in the wake of the tumultuous sixties to re-examine the origins of the Cold War, the alleged threat of Soviet expansion and America’s hegemonic role in international affairs. William A. Williams, in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, (1959) argued that Americans had always been nation-building people and noted that America’s ‘open door’ policy abroad created access to foreign markets for U.S. business and agriculture. Post revisionist historians in the seventies de-emphasized economic motivations in foreign policy and identified responsibility for the Cold War on both sides. Thomas G. Patterson in, Soviet American Confrontation, (1973) argued that Soviet hostility and efforts by the U.S. to dominate the post-war world were equally responsible for the Cold War.
  • Historians have offered varied interpretations for the origins and causes of the Cold War. Walter LeFeber in, America, Russia, and the Cold War, (9h edition 2000), argued that the Cold War had its origins in late 19th century conflicts between Russia and America over the opening of East Asia to US trade, markets, and influence. LaFeber suggested that Truman’s popularity increased following his announcement of the Truman doctrine in 1947, in which the president capitalized from America’s fear of communism both at home and abroad to convince Americans they must embark upon a Cold War foreign policy. John Lewis Gaddis, in The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, (1972) argued that the most important cause of the Cold War was the post-war tension between the American principle of self-determination and Russian security needs. Gaddis downplayed revisionist arguments of economic motivations for an open-door policy. Gaddis suggested that the Truman administration initially adopted a ‘get tough policy’ in spring of 1946, largely in response to American public opinion. Robert L. Messer in, The End of an Alliance: James F. Brynes, Roosevelt, Truman and the Origins of the Cold War, (1982) argued that accommodation and concessions by Secretary of State Brynes (July 1945-Janury 1947) towards the Soviet Union, contributed to Truman’s change in foreign policy. Messer cited two events that triggered Truman’s shift to a ‘get tough policy’: a meeting with the Council of Foreign Ministers, which ended in a stalemate as Russia questioned America’s atomic advantage, and an agreement with Moscow on mutual support for Chiang Kai-shek in China. John Fousek, in To Lead the World: American Nationalism and the Roots of the Cold War, (2000), argued that American nationalist ideology provided the basis for a broad public consensus that supported a shift in foreign policy to initiate the Cold War. As the Truman Doctrine redefined anti-Soviet policy in terms of American national greatness and global responsibility, organizations such as the NAACP supported the American anti-communist stance, while keeping civil rights goals in mind.
  • John Lewis Gaddis, in Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (1982), argued that Kennan’s containment strategy was strongpoint containment, designed to use U.S. economic aid and covert action to create a balance of power in Western Europe and Japan. Gaddis distinguished between strong point and global containment, which drew the U.S. into unnecessary Latin American and African conflicts, and an arms race with the Soviet Union. Kennan stressed in, Memoirs, 1925-1950, (Pantheon: 1983) that containment involved something other than the use of military "counterforce," such as the economic and political defense of Western Europe. Kennan was never pleased that the policy he influenced was associated with the arms build-up of the Cold War. However, Wilson D. Miscamble, in George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950, (1992), argued that Kennan had no overall plan for containment, either of strong-point or global varieties. Miscamble suggested that Kennan had a flexible set of approaches applied in ad hoc fashion to restore the balance of power. James Clarke Chace, in Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World, (2007) argued that Acheson believed the U.S. to be a world leader of humanity. Chace asserted that NSC-68 failed to discuss in geographical details where American interests conflicted with Russia’s, and left open the possibility of global containment. Chace noted that Acheson’s support of crossing the 38th parallel extended the perimeter of American vital interests as the doctrine of limited containment moved towards a policy of global containment during the Korean War. Sara L. Sale, in The Shaping of Containment: Harry S. Truman, the National Security Council and the Cold War, (1998), argued that the NSC was at the forefront of the course of American foreign policy between the years 1947-1952. Sale suggested that Truman, a minor participant in the formulation of foreign policy, recognized the need for NSC advice and the Council consensus provided the basis for Truman’s foreign policy. Sale argued that the Korean War eliminated the distinction between vital and peripheral communist interests. Sale concluded that by 1952, the NSC perceived national security policy as a global contest to check the Soviet Union. Thomas Borstelmann, in Apartheids Reluctant Uncle: The United States and Southern Africa in the Early Cold War, (1993), argued that U.S. officials recognized the dangers of apartheid and its disregard for basic human rights, but Truman was unwilling to challenge South Africa as natural resources (uranium ore) were crucial to America’s nuclear industry. Borstelmann noted that South Africa’s commitment of containment, participation in the Korean War, and the encouragement of U.S. trade solidified the administrations willingness to overlook racism.
  • The Korean War: 1950-1953 The Cold War Turns Hot; WWII divided Korea into a two halves; a communist North and an American-occupied south; divided at the 38th parallel. The Korean war began when the North Korean Communist army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded non-Communist South Korea. The North was led by Kim Sung II and was armed with Soviet tanks. General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the post-WWII occupation of Japan, commanded the U.S. forces. Although Korea was not considered strategically essential to the U.S.; the political environment at this stage of the Cold War was such that policymakers did not want to appear "soft on Communism." For more information on the Korean War, please visit this link:
  • The Fair Deal: 21 Point Program: Truman desired social and economic reforms similar to FDR's "New Deal". However, Congress approved only the Employment Act of 1946, which stated that it was the government's responsibility to maintain the economy, promote maximum employment, production and purchasing power. The Council of Economic Advisors was created to advise the president on economic issues, but did not have the authority to create new policies. Due to the shortage of meat, automobiles and even houses due to inflation, many veterans of WWII slept in converted garages.
  • The rise of Human Rights: According to Eric Foner, the Cold War affected the concept of human rights. The idea that there are rights that are applicable to all of humanity originated during the 18th century in the Enlightenment period and during the French and American Revolutions. The atrocities committed during WWII as well as the global language of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter, forcefully raised the issue of human rights in the postwar world. Following the Second War, the Allies put numerous German officials on trial before special courts at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. For the first time, individuals were held directly accountable to the international community for violations of human rights. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by committee chair Eleanor Roosevelt. It identified a broad range of rights to be enjoyed by people everywhere, including freedom of speech, religious toleration and protection against arbitrary government, as well as social and economic entitlements like the right to an adequate standard of living and access to housing, education and medical care.
  • Black Americans: Truman was incensed that returning Black veterans from WWII could not find adequate employment or housing, due to discrimination and segregation (Jim Crow). In 1946, Truman created the Committee on Civil Rights, in an effort to address 'Jim Crow' laws in housing and public space. One year later, Truman was invited to speak at the annual meeting of the N.A.C.P. In 1947, a Commission on Civil Rights appointed by the president issued To Secure These Rights, one of the most devastating indictments every published of racial inequality in America. It called on the federal government to assume responsibility for abolishing segregation and ensuring equal treatment in housing, employment, education and the criminal justice system. Truman noted that if the U.S. were to offer the "peoples of the world a choice of freedom or enslavement," it must "correct the remaining imperfections in our practice of democracy." In 1948, Truman issued an executive order to desegregate armed forces. The armed forces became the first large institution in American life to promote racial integration actively and to attempt to root out long-standing racist practices. The Korean War was the first American conflict fought by an integrated army since the War of Independence.
  • Mexican Americans: In 1929, the League of Latin American Citizens, (LULAC) was established to address segregation and discrimination in the Southwest. In 1948, Dr. Hector Perez Garcia created the American GI Forum & with the assistance of Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, from Texas questioned the denial of burial of Felix Longoria, a WWII veteran.
  • Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism: Throughout the 1940s and 1950s America was overwhelmed with concerns about the threat of communism growing in Eastern Europe and China. Capitalizing on those concerns, a young Senator named Joseph McCarthy made a public accusation that more than two hundred “card-carrying” communists had infiltrated the United States government. Though eventually his accusations were proven to be untrue, and he was censured by the Senate for unbecoming conduct, his zealous campaigning ushered in one of the most repressive times in 20th-century American politics.
  • It was at a speech in February 1950, in Wheeling, West Virgina, that McCarthy announced that he had a list of 105 communists working for the state department. McCarthy never identified those on his "list" but used the Senate subcommittee he chaired to hold hearings and level charges against federal employees.
  • In 1947, Truman issued Executive Order 9835, establishing loyalty review boars to investigate federal employees; hundreds of employees were fired or resigned over accusations of disloyalty or "sexual perversion."
  • McCarthy's downfall came in 1954, when a Senate committee investigated his charges that the army had harbored and "coddled" communists." The nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings revealed McCarthy has a bully that browbeat witnesses and made sweeping accusations with no basis in fact. The dramatic high point came when McCarthy attacked the loyalty of a young lawyer in the firm of Joseph Welch, the army's chief lawyer. Welch pleaded, "let us not assassinate this lad have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?" Following the hearings, the Senate censured McCarthy for his behavior and he died three years later in 1957.
  • However, the legacy of McCarthy is, what Eric Foner describes as the "atmosphere of fear." States created their own committees, modeled on HUAC (remember Richard Nixon), that investigated suspected communists and dissenters. Private organizations such as the American Legion, National Association of Manufactures and the Daughters of the American Revolution also persecuted individuals for their beliefs. The Better America League in southern CA gather the names of nearly 2 million alleged subversives in the region.
  • Local anticommunist groups forced public libraries to remove from their shelves, "un-American," books such as the tales of Robin Hood, who took from the rich and gave to the poor. University refused to allow left-wing speakers to appear on campus and fired teachers who refused to sign loyalty oaths or testify against others. In 1951, in Dennis v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the jailing of Communist Party leaders even though the charges concerned their beliefs, not any actions taken against them. Although the ACLU condemned McCarthy's tactics, the organization refused to defend the indicted Communist Party leaders.