Joe Scarborough has put out a pretty good book on Harry Truman and the immediate challenges Truman faced in the post war period. Scarborough’s book is a quick read that focuses on the Truman Administration and the aid program for Greece and Turkey, and the formulation of the Truman Doctrine that brought that aid.
As we look at the Greek and Turkish aid today the question may be what is the big deal about foreign assistance? Scarborough reviews the formulation of the Truman Doctrine, and the President’s decision to contest Soviet encroachment into countries vulnerable to falling into the Soviet orbit. After the end of the war the U.S. had demobilized the military, and some of our domestic politics reverted to a pre-war isolationist mindset. Truman also faced new Republican majority in both houses, with the GOP committed to fiscal restraint as well as a foreign policy that was deeply suspicious of foreign entanglements. With those changed political circumstances the Truman Administration received word from the British government that its military and financial commitment to Greece was coming to an end. Greece, after a long German occupation that devastated the country, was in dire straights. A communist insurgency that was able to melt across porous borders along with a less than ideal Greek government made Greece a country that could fall into the Soviet orbit. With the British essentially bankrupt and receding as a global power the question at hand was whether America would step up and fill that vacuum and become the global counterweight to Soviet Russia.
Scarborough examines the Administration response to the British withdrawal in an easy-to-read book with a viewpoint. There are other books that will provide a more detailed look at how the post-war world order was established but Scarborough manages to hit some key points and advance his foreign policy views at the same time. Scarborough believes that Truman made the right call in being willing to expend American resources to stop the expansion of Soviet power.
“In a speech at West Point years later, Acheson would famously observe that Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role; he might have mentioned that he had been a witness to that demise. Just as Churchill stood alone against Hitler’s war machine in 1940, it would now be Harry Truman’s government standing alone against Stalin’s designs on Western Europe seven years later.” Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization. Page 5.
Dean Acheson, as he should, has a key role to play in the book. Scarborough is an admirer, and credits Acheson, as well as General George Marshall, with much of the success of the President’s program. But with President Truman recommending an aid package of $400 million for Greece and Turkey the new Republican majorities in both House and Senate would have their say. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Republican of Michigan and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee was the key player on the GOP side. Senator Vandenberg had a history of skepticism on American foreign involvements but ended up being a supporter of this aid package. Scarborough gives us a good view of the legislative hurdles Truman faced, and how his team, with the vital help of Vandenberg, managed to get this package pushed through Congress, and start the process of creating a new, more robust American presence on the world stage. Truman, in a speech, outlined the philosophy underpinning the Truman Doctrine.
“We must take a positive stand. It is no longer enough merely to say ‘we don’t want war.’ We must act in time -ahead of time-to stamp out the smoldering beginnings of any conflict that may threaten to spread over the world. We know how the fire starts. We have seen it before-aggression by the strong against the weak, openly by the use of armed force and secretly by infiltration. We know how the fire spreads. And we know how it ends.
Let us not underestimate the task before us. The burden of our responsibility today is greater, even considering the size and resources of our expanded nation, than it was in the time of Jefferson and Monroe. For the peril to man’s freedom that existed then exists now on a much smaller earth-an earth whose broad oceans have shrunk and whose natural protections have been taken away by new weapons of destruction…
We are a people who not only cherish freedom and defend it, if need be with our lives, but who also recognize the right of other men and other nations to share it.” Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization. Page 140
Scarborough diverts a bit to the Truman decision to recognize the State of Israel, a decision taken against the advice of some of his most influential advisors, principally George Marshall, but it is the creation of the Truman Doctrine, and specifically the aid request for Greece and Turkey, that is the focus of the book. Scarborough candidly acknowledges the errors made by U.S. policy makers in the years to come, principally in Vietnam and Iraq, but still stands in support of the world order that was created after World War II.
This book is not detailed history, but it is good history, with an obvious yearning for a bi-partisan approach to foreign policy that is supportive of strong American leadership in the world. Scarborough is a clear opponent of the Trump go it alone approach and is obviously disturbed by American retrenchment in the world. The American role in NATO, in Afghanistan, with China, and our interactions with our traditional allies all have come under scrutiny during the Trump years. How the U.S. moves forward under a new Administration is yet to be determined. This book tells us how we got started in the post war era, and the great courage and success of Harry Truman in standing up to Soviet expansionist designs across the Globe.