The Crisis of Harry Truman

The Cold War transformed Harry Truman. When the official presidential photo at left was taken in 1948, Truman had won a narrow victory over the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. He had overcome the hostile attacks of the 80th Congress, threats from Josef Stalin, the takeover of Czechoslovakia, the blockade of Berlin, strikes and economic reconversion problems at home, and a public image of a not-very-serious president. Most importantly, he listened to his advisers, especially George Marshall, and supported their hard-line advice and policies. By 1947 these policies were known as "containment." According to Thomas Paterson in Meeting the Communist Threat (1988), George Kennan became the "father of containment" with his "long telegram" of Feb. 22 and his "X" article in the July issue of Foreign Affairs. Kennan's depiction of communism as a "malignant parasite" that had to be contained by all possible measures became the ideological foundation of the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and National Security Act in 1947. In his Inaugural Address of January 20, 1949, Truman made four points about his "program for peace and freedom": to support the UN, the European Recovery Program, the collective defense of the North Atlantic, and a "bold new program" for technical aid to poor nations. Because of his programs, "the future of mankind will be assured in a world of justice, harmony and peace." Containment was not just a policy. It was a way of life.


The mural by Thomas Hart Benton celebrating the conquest of the frontier, in the lobby of the Harry S Truman Library, photo taken Aug. 1976


Truman fishing off Key West Florida, in August 1946


Truman fishing off Key West Florida, in August 1946


Truman inspects U.S. Navy ships, Oct. 27, 1945, with Adm. Ingram


Truman inspects U.S. Navy ships, Oct. 27, 1945, with Adm. Ingram, James Vardaman


Truman speaks on television from the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia

Sources: The pictures on this page, unless otherwise noted, are from the National Archives and the FDR Library.

revised 12/15/05 by Steven Schoenherr | Cold War Policies | Links | Books | Films | Maps | next-->