The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism

The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism

The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism

The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism

Synopsis

From the first days of his unexpected presidency in April 1945 through the landmark NSC 68 of 1950, Harry Truman was central to the formation of America's grand strategy during the Cold War and the subsequent remaking of U.S. foreign policy. Others are frequently associated with the terminology of and responses to the perceived global Communist threat after the Second World War: Walter Lippmann popularized the term "cold war," and George F. Kennan first used the word "containment" in a strategic sense. Although Kennan, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall have been seen as the most influential architects of American Cold War foreign policy, The First Cold Warrior draws on archives and other primary sources to demonstrate that Harry Truman was the key decision maker in the critical period between 1945 and 1950. In a significant reassessment of the thirty-third president and his political beliefs, Elizabeth Edwards Spalding contends that it was Truman himself who defined and articulated the theoretical underpinnings of containment. His practical leadership style was characterized by policies and institutions such as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Berlin airlift, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council. Part of Truman's unique approach -- shaped by his religious faith and dedication to anti-communism -- was to emphasize the importance of free peoples, democratic institutions, and sovereign nations. With these values, he fashioned a new liberal internationalism, distinct from both Woodrow Wilson's progressive internationalism and Franklin D. Roosevelt's liberal pragmatism, which still shapes our politics. Truman deserves greater credit for understanding the challenges of his time and for being America's first cold warrior. This reconsideration of Truman's overlooked statesmanship provides a model for interpreting the international crises facing the United States in this new era of ideological conflict.

Excerpt

I suppose that history will remember my term in office as the years when the ‘cold war’ began to overshadow our lives,” Harry S. Truman speculated in his presidential farewell address of January 1953. “I have had hardly a day in office that has not been dominated by this all-embracing struggle—this conflict between those who love freedom and those who would lead the world back into slavery and darkness. And always in the background there has been the atomic bomb.”

From the moment he became president of the United States in April 1945, Truman made hard decisions under acutely trying circumstances, steering the United States between what he saw as the shoals and reefs of military conflict with the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and acquiescence to Communist ideology, on the other. “But when history says that my term of office saw the beginning of the cold war, it will also say that in those eight years we have set the course that can win it,” Truman continued. “We have succeeded in carving out a new set of policies to attain peace—positive policies, policies of world leadership, policies that express faith in other free people. We have averted World War III up to now, and we may already have succeeded in establishing conditions which can keep that war from happening as far ahead as man can see.” These policies— notably, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and the geopolitical conditions they created made up what is called the strategy of containment.

It is often said that George F. Kennan—author of the Long Telegram in 1946 and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” better known as the X article that appeared anonymously in Foreign Affairs in 1947—was the father of containment. “In these circumstances it is clear,” he wrote in the latter work, “that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” Yet while Kennan was a key intellectual figure of the post–World War II era, and contributed significantly to U.S. foreign policy in the 1940s, it was, in the end . . .

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