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The Truman Doctrine and Manifest Destiny | The Nation

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The Truman Doctrine and Manifest Destiny

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Everett CollectionAmerican troops at 38th Parallel, Korea, 1951.

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Freda Kirchwey
Freda Kirchwey was a former managing editor, literary editor, editor and, ultimately, publisher of The Nation. She died...

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President Truman extends the Monroe Doctrine to cover the entire globe.

The purpose of Mr. Truman's message to Congress was so simple and obvious that it should have been universally understood. The conflicting interpretations applied to it in this country and in Europe reflect only the confusion of a public which has yet to realize that the United States, as the greatest industrial and military power in the world, is going to support its rapidly expanding interests in every continent. No talk about the United Nations will deflect it from that purpose. No scruples about intervention or imperialism. No further dependence on Britain. It may make strategic and diplomatic mistakes; it may move uncertainly, since the implications of overwhelming power are still new to it and run counter to old, established attitudes. Its course of action is not fixed--the contradictions between the policy announced for Greece and Turkey and the policy being pursued in China are apparent--but the objectives and general outline of its policy are now clear. President Monroe's hands-off doctrine has been expanded by President Truman to encompass the globe.

It would be foolish to waste much indignation on the language of the President's mes-sage: his unctuous reference to Greek "freedom" and "integrity" and the "necessity of helping free peoples to maintain their free institutions"--as embodied in the noisome, brutal oligarchies ruling Greece and Turkey. All governments are hypocrites and questionable policies are packaged to please the eye of the guileless, moral beholder. It is useful to expose this particular deception only in order to bring to bear as much pres-sure as possible in defense of the people of those countries, especially of Greece; and to illumine the real and specific intentions behind the President's verbal camouflage.

Put baldly, Mr. Truman's message was a plain declaration of political war against Russia. Nothing more, but also nothing less. Under his plan, American money and arms would be employed simultaneously to establish economic stability and crush rebellion in Greece, thus accomplishing what Britain has failed to accomplish and ending the dan-ger of a Communist-controlled government linked with similar governments in the other Slavic states. By this maneuver the President thinks he can prevent a political "chain reaction" which would engulf Turkey and open the whole Near and Middle East to Soviet domination.

The idea might be feasible, however unappetizing, if the premises were what the Ad-ministration apparently believes them to be. But the new strategy, as Mr. Truman out-lined it, is based on a series of false assumptions about the situation in Eastern Europe.

What Mr. Truman charges. is that the guerrilla forces fighting in the mountains of northern Greece and their political sympathizers in the population are actually nothing more than Russian-inspired terrorists who must be crushed by force of arms (American arms) lest a "totalitarian" regime be imposed upon the Greek people. Whether the guerrillas have received help--or if so, to what extent--from across the borders, the President obviously does not know, since he sprang his drastic program on the world without waiting for the findings of the United Nations commission now investigating the disturbances in northern Greece. But one thing is dead sure without thy new evidence: the Greek guerrillas have received far less help from any source than the government's army has received from the British; and still they fight on. They fight, not because Russia orders them to, but because they have the backing of a large part of the Greek people who have suffered beyond endurance at the hands of right-wing irregulars and soldiers, armed and trained by the British. Terror has been practiced on both sides in Greece, but by ignoring the terror of the right Mr. Truman betrayed a shocking indifference to the human and political realities of the Greek struggle. And he demonstrated his faulty un-derstanding of the situation all over Eastern Europe.

The truth is, Russia's influence in the Balkans rises from two things: first, from the fact that the Red Army defeated the Germans and then occupied the area; and, second, from the more basic fact that those countries, ripe for change long before 1939, emerged from the horror of occupation and civil war and economic collapse with no practical alternative to revolution. The necessary and inevitable overturn in no way threatened Moscow's long-range interests. On the contrary, the Soviet Union backed-revolution in the Balkans for national as well as for ideological reasons. Neighboring countries with Communist-controlled governments have provided a security belt, a strategic bulwark against possible future attack and a defense against the pres-sure of Western economic interests. While the Western powers have done their best to stifle social change, Russia could capitalize upon it; a vast advantage in fighting a political war.

No criticism of Moscow's methods in the Balkans, however justified, can alter these fundamentals. American officials may demand the institution of democratic processes and denounce one-party states, but if they continue to ignore -- as they have constantly done in the past -- the indigenous character of the revolutions in those countries, the Truman doctrine will fail miserably, as the Churchill doctrine has failed, in Greece.

For Greece is also a nation in revolution; and in spite of the active leadership of Communists in the resistance forces, that revolution was not made in Moscow. That it may be exploited by Moscow for Russia's larger strategic ends can hardly be questioned. What must be denied is the assumption, Mr. Truman's major false assumption, that Russian ambitions can be blocked by propping up the Greek government in the name of "democracy," or by crushing the guerrillas in the name of "freedom from outside pres-sure" and coercion.

Defenders of the new doctrine will argue that we are not interested in any special government in Greece; we are interested only in restoring order and stability by lifting the shattered country out of chaos and by helping the government -- any legally constituted government -- to put down rebellion. But this statement leaves the real issue untouched. Rebuilding Greece to at least the low economic level that existed in the years before the war would ease the suffering of the people; and it should be undertaken without delay. It might, if successful, reduce political tension and moderate the rigors of revolution. Why this necessary task should be undertaken by the United States in solitary munificence is another question, and must be dealt with separately. The point I want to make here, in response to the apologists for the Truman doctrine, is that stabilizing an economic system that needs to be rooted out and strengthening a government that needs to be over-thrown -- or at least invited to resign -- are not going to provide a lasting substitute for thoroughgoing social change. They will not solve the problem of a poor country which has been subjected for years to a succession of grasping, inefficient governments, ranging from fascist dictatorship to corrupt oligarchy, interested above all else in dragging the last penny of tribute out of the people in order to maintain a small and lavishly ornate aristocratic society. France was not more fatally poised for revolution in 1789, or Russia in 1917.

That no comparable change occurred in Greece in 1944 was the responsibility of the Churchill government. It will be repeated in the days ahead. Sane Americans must ask themselves whether they want to continue the Churchill policy, however embellished with up-to-date American technology and lend-lease arms. They must ask themselves whether they really want to fight the political war Mr. Truman has declared. It is a war we cannot win, and Russia knows it. The editorials in Pravda and Izvestia are convincing evidence that Moscow regards the new American doctrine with resentment but not with alarm. The Russians know we do not intend to fight them with arms, and they will be sure they can turn our proposed intervention into a propaganda weapon against us.

The President's brusque dismissal of the United Nations as an agency through which relief and rehabilitation could be brought to Greece was alone sufficient to expose the political nature of his program.

Last October the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U. N. completed a remark-able study of the economic situation in Greece and the measures necessary to bring about an improvement. The full report, which has just been made available, describes the desperate poverty of Greece, the breakdown of its civil service, and the antiquated system of taxation that accentuates the violent extremes of wealth and misery in the country. The recommendations of the commission are very concrete and should be studied by every Congressman and Senator before the hearings on the President's pro-gram begin. The F. A. O. proposes the creation of a special United Nations Mission, superseding all other bodies, to operate the program of reconstruction and development. How the work should be done is set down in detail. Financial estimates are included: loans totaling $100,000,000 as a start. And minimum reforms to be carried through by the Greek government are proposed as prerequisites to the whole program. Significantly, the commission advises that military expenditures be sharply scaled down; evidently it did not contemplate war to the death with the guerrillas.

The F. A. O. report is so sound and humane, and so practical in its recommendations, that its publication at this time will, I think, prove an embarrassment to the Administration. It provides for everything Mr. Truman demanded except political war. If it does not go far enough to settle the civil struggle in Greece, it at least promises amelioration. And, by explaining exactly how the machinery of the United Nations can be used to carry out a large-scale program, it dramatizes the President's insistence on unilateral action.

The Administration may discover that a plan like this appeals to large elements of the public, and to members of Congress, who have no stomach for new and grandiose ad-ventures in power politics. The people have been urged to believe that the interests of the United States are tied to the success of the United Nations. They may well decide that they prefer the proposals of the F. A. O. to the proposals of Mr. Truman. They may reject the idea of defending those interests by engaging in political war with Soviet Russia.

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