President Truman worked to contain communism by supporting Greece, Iran, and West Germany. When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman and the United Nations sent troops to aid South Korea.

Containing Communism

What was the policy of containment?

Despite growing tensions with the Soviet Union, many American officials continued to believe cooperation with the Soviets was possible. In late 1945 the foreign ministers of the former Allies met first in London, then in Moscow, to discuss the future of Europe and Asia. Although both British and American officials pushed for free elections in Eastern Europe, the Soviets refused to budge.

The Long Telegram

Increasingly exasperated by the Soviets’ refusal to cooperate, officials at the U.S. State Department asked the American Embassy in Moscow to explain Soviet behavior. On February 22, 1946, diplomat George Kennan responded with what became known as the Long Telegram—a message, thousands of words long, explaining his views of the Soviets. According to Kennan, the Soviets’ view of the world came from a traditional “Russian sense of insecurity” and fear of the West, intensified by the communist ideas of Lenin and Stalin. Because Communists believed they were in a historical struggle against capitalism, Kennan argued, it was impossible to reach any permanent settlement with them.

Kennan proposed what became basic American policy throughout the Cold War: “a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” In Kennan’s opinion, the Soviet system had major economic and political weaknesses. If the United States could keep the Soviets from expanding their power, it would only be a matter of time before their system would fall apart, beating communism without going to war. The Long Telegram circulated widely in Truman’s administration and became the basis for the administration’s policy of containment—keeping communism within its present territory through diplomatic, economic, and military actions.

Crisis in Iran

While Truman’s administration discussed Kennan’s ideas, a series of crises erupted during the spring and summer of 1946. These crises seemed to prove that Kennan was right about the Soviets. The first crisis began in Iran.

During World War II, the United States had troops in southern Iran while Soviet troops held northern Iran to secure a supply line from the Persian Gulf. After the war, instead of withdrawing as promised, the Soviet troops remained in northern Iran. Stalin then began demanding access to Iran’s oil supplies. To increase the pressure, Soviet troops helped local Communists in northern Iran establish a separate government.

American officials saw these actions as a Soviet push into the Middle East. The secretary of state sent Stalin a strong message demanding that Soviet forces withdraw. At the same time, the battleship USS Missouri sailed into the eastern Mediterranean. The pressure seemed to work. Soviet forces withdrew, having been promised a joint Soviet-Iranian oil company, although the Iranian parliament later rejected the plan.

The Truman Doctrine

Frustrated in Iran, Stalin turned northwest to Turkey. There, the straits of the Dardanelles were a vital route from Soviet ports on the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. For centuries Russia had wanted to control this strategic route. In August 1946, Stalin demanded joint control of the Dardanelles with Turkey.

Presidential adviser Dean Acheson saw this move as part of a Soviet plan to control the Middle East. He advised Truman to make a show of force. The president ordered the new aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt to join the Missouri in protecting Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Britain tried to help Greece. In August 1946, Greek Communists launched a guerrilla war against the Greek government. British troops helped fight the guerrillas, but in February 1947, Britain informed the United States that it could no longer afford to help Greece due to Britain’s weakened postwar economy.

Shortly after, Truman went before Congress to ask for $400 million to fight Communist aggression in Greece and Turkey. His speech outlined a policy that became known as the Truman Doctrine. Its goal was to aid those who worked to resist being controlled by others. In the long run, it pledged the United States to fight the spread of communism worldwide.

"The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. . . . I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way."

—President Truman, from his address to Congress, March 12, 1947

The Marshall Plan

Meanwhile, postwar Western Europe faced grave problems. Economies were ruined, people faced starvation, and political chaos was at hand. In June 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, which would give European nations American aid to rebuild their economies. Truman saw both the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine as essential for containment. Marshall offered help to all nations planning a recovery program.

Although the Marshall Plan was offered to the Soviet Union and its satellite nations, the Soviets rejected it and developed their own economic program. This action further separated Europe into competing regions. The Marshall Plan pumped billions of dollars in supplies, machinery, and food into Western Europe. The region’s recovery weakened the appeal of communism and opened new markets for trade.

In his 1949 Inaugural Address, Truman proposed assistance for underdeveloped countries outside the war zone. The Point Four Program aimed to provide them with “scientific advances and industrial progress” for their improvement and growth. The Department of State administered the program until its merger with other foreign aid programs in 1953.

The Berlin Airlift

Truman and his advisers believed Western Europe’s prosperity depended on Germany’s recovery. The Soviets, however, still wanted Germany to pay reparations. This dispute brought the nations to the brink of war. By early 1948, American officials had concluded that the Soviets were trying to undermine Germany’s economy. In response, the United States, Britain, and France merged their German zones and allowed the Germans to have their own government, creating the Federal Republic of Germany, which became known as West Germany. They also agreed to merge their zones in Berlin and make West Berlin part of West Germany. The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. West Germany was mostly independent but not allowed to have a military.

The creation of West Germany convinced the Soviets they would never get the reparations they wanted. In June 1948, Soviet troops blockaded West Berlin hoping to force the United States to reconsider its decision or abandon West Berlin. Truman sent bombers capable of carrying atomic weapons to bases in Britain. Hoping to avoid war with the Soviets, he ordered the air force to fly supplies into Berlin rather than troops.

The Berlin Airlift began in June 1948 and continued through the spring of 1949, bringing in more than two million tons of supplies to the city. Stalin finally lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. The airlift symbolized American determination to contain communism and not give in to Soviet demands.

The Creation of NATO

The Berlin blockade convinced many Americans that the Soviets were bent on conquest. The public began to support a military alliance with Western Europe. By April 1949, an agreement had been made to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—a mutual defense alliance.

NATO initially included 12 countries: the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, and Iceland. NATO members agreed to come to the aid of any member who was attacked. For the first time, the United States had committed itself to maintaining peace in Europe. Six years later, NATO allowed West Germany to rearm and join its organization. This decision alarmed Soviet leaders. They responded by organizing a military alliance in Eastern Europe known as the Warsaw Pact.

Developments in Asia and the Korean War

 Why was the Korean War a major turning point in the Cold War?

The Cold War eventually spread beyond Europe. Conflicts also emerged in Asia, where events in China and Korea brought about a new attitude toward Japan and sent American troops back into battle in Asia less than five years after World War II had ended.

The Chinese Revolution

In China, Communist forces led by Mao Zedong had been struggling against the Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek since the late 1920s. During World War II, the two sides suspended their war to resist Japanese occupation. With the end of World War II, however, civil war broke out again. Although Mao and the Communist forces made great gains, neither side could win nor agree to a compromise.

To prevent a Communist revolution in Asia, the United States sent the Nationalist government $2 billion in aid beginning in the mid-1940s. The Nationalists, however, squandered this advantage through poor military planning and corruption. By 1949 the Communists had captured the Chinese capital of Beijing, while support for the Nationalists declined.

In August 1949, the U.S. State Department discontinued aid to the Chinese Nationalists. The defeated Nationalists then fled to the small island of Formosa (now called Taiwan). The victorious Communists established the People’s Republic of China in October 1949.

China’s fall to communism shocked Americans. To make matters worse, in September 1949 the Soviet Union announced that it had successfully tested its first atomic weapon. Then, early in 1950, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and alliance. Many Western leaders feared that China and the Soviet Union would support communist revolutions in other nations.

The United States kept formal diplomatic relations with only the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan. It used its veto power in the UN Security Council to keep representatives of the new Communist People’s Republic of China out of the UN, allowing the Nationalists to retain their seat.

New Policies in Japan

The Chinese revolution brought about a significant change in American policy toward Japan. At the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur had taken charge of occupied Japan. His mission was to introduce democracy and keep Japan from threatening war again. Once the United States lost China as its chief ally in Asia, it adopted policies to encourage the rapid recovery of Japan’s industrial economy. Just as the United States viewed West Germany as the key to defending all of Europe against communism, it saw Japan as the key to defending Asia.

The Korean War

At the end of World War II, American and Soviet forces entered Korea to disarm the Japanese troops stationed there. The Allies divided Korea at the 38th parallel of latitude. Soviet troops controlled the north, while American troops controlled the south.

As the Cold War began, talks to reunify Korea broke down. A Communist Korean government was organized in the north, while an American-backed government controlled the south. Both governments claimed authority over Korea, and border clashes were common. The Soviets provided military aid to the North Koreans, who quickly built an army. On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops invaded the south, driving back the poorly equipped South Korean forces.

Truman saw the Communist invasion of South Korea as a test of the containment policy and ordered American naval and air power into action. He then called on the United Nations to act. Because the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council over its China policy, Truman succeeded. With the pledge of UN troops, he ordered General MacArthur to send American troops from Japan to Korea.

The American and South Korean troops were driven back into a small pocket of territory near the port of Pusan. Inside the “Pusan perimeter,” troops stubbornly resisted the North Koreans, buying time for MacArthur to organize reinforcements.

On September 15, 1950, MacArthur ordered a daring invasion behind enemy lines at the port of Inchon. The Inchon landing took the North Koreans by surprise. Within weeks they were in full retreat back across the 38th parallel. Truman then gave the order to pursue the North Koreans beyond the 38th parallel. MacArthur pushed the North Koreans north to the Yalu River, the border with China.

China Enters the War The Communist People’s Republic of China saw the advancing UN troops as a threat and warned them to halt their advance. When warnings were ignored, Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River in November. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops flooded across the border, driving the UN forces back across the 38th parallel.

As his troops fell back, an angry MacArthur demanded approval to expand the war against China. He asked for a blockade of Chinese ports, the use of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces, and the bombing of Chinese cities with atomic weapons.

Truman Fires MacArthur President Truman refused MacArthur’s demands because he did not want to expand the war into China or to use the atomic bomb. MacArthur persisted, publicly criticizing the president and arguing that it was a mistake to keep the war limited. “There is no substitute for victory,” MacArthur insisted, by which he meant that if the United States was going to go to war, it should use all of its power to win. A limited war was a form of appeasement, he argued, and appeasement “begets new and bloodier war.”

Determined to maintain control of policy and show that he commanded the military, an exasperated Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination in April 1951. Later, in private conversation, Truman explained: “I was sorry to have to reach a parting of the way with the big man in Asia, but he asked for it and I had to give it to him.”

MacArthur, who remained popular despite being fired, returned home to parades and a hero’s welcome. Many Americans criticized the president. Congress and military leaders, however, supported his decision and his Korean strategy. American policy in Asia remained committed to limited war—a war fought to achieve a limited objective, such as containing communism. Truman later explained his position:

"The Kremlin [Soviet Union] is trying, and has been trying for a long time, to drive a wedge between us and the other nations. It wants to see us isolated. It wants to see us distrusted. It wants to see us feared and hated by our allies. Our allies agree with us in the course we are following. They do not believe we should take the initiative to widen the conflict in the Far East. If the United States were to widen the conflict, we might well have to go it alone."

—from an address to the Civil Defense Conference, May 7, 1951

Armistice Ends Fighting By mid-1951, UN forces had pushed the Chinese and North Korean forces back across the 38th parallel. The war settled into a series of relatively small battles over hills and other local objectives. In July 1951, peace negotiations began at Panmunjom. As talks continued, the war became increasingly unpopular in the United States. After Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected to the presidency in 1952, the former general traveled to Korea to talk with commanders and their troops. He became determined to bring the war to an end.

Eisenhower quietly hinted to the Chinese that the United States might use a nuclear attack in Korea. The threat seemed to work. In July 1953, negotiators signed an armistice. The battle line between the two sides in Korea, which was very near the prewar boundary, became the border between North Korea and South Korea. A “demilitarized zone” (DMZ) separated them. American troops are still based in Korea, helping to defend South Korea’s border. There has never been a peace treaty to end the war. More than 33,600 American soldiers died in action, and over 20,600 died in accidents or from disease.

Changes in Policy The Korean War marked a turning point in the Cold War. Until 1950, the United States had preferred to use political pressure and economic aid to contain communism. After the Korean War began, the United States embarked on a major military buildup. The war also helped expand the Cold War to Asia. Before 1950, American efforts to contain communism focused on Europe. With the Korean War, the nation became more militarily involved in Asia. By 1954 the United States signed defense agreements with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The United States also formed the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) with seven other countries in 1954. Aid also began flowing to French forces fighting Communists in Vietnam.

Work with a partner. Take turns asking one another questions about the causes of the Cold War. Answer one another’s questions about the Long Telegram, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and other important events.

Reviewing Vocabulary

TEKS: 8C, 8D


Using Your Notes

TEKS: 8A, 8C


Answering the Guiding Questions

TEKS: 8A, 8C

TEKS: 8C, 8D


Writing Activity