Day By Day

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "Girl Scouts Day" commemorating Juliette Gordon Low's founding of the first Girl Scout group in Savannah, Georgia. There were only 18 girls in that first troop -- now there are millions, and they all sell cookies. I think we may have found the source of the childhood [and maybe the adult] obesity epidemic. There was an earlier group in Britain, founded in 1889, but they were called "Girl Guides" so the Savannah group counts as the first Girl Scouts. Today is also, "Plant A Flower Day" so while you munch on your cookies you can do a little early gardening.

On this day in 1947 the Cold War began in earnest as President Harry Truman implemented his famous "Truman Doctrine". During World War II the United States and the Soviet Union had been temporarily allied, but that cooperation broke down rapidly after the war ended. From the standpoint of the United States the most disturbing Soviet postwar actions were the incorporation of large areas of Eastern Europe, the subversion of democratic regimes in other parts of the region replacing them with Soviet-style dictatorships, and attempts to subvert democratic regimes in Western Europe. Soviet influence was expanding rapidly in Asia too, and investigations showed that there were a number of Soviet agents operating in the United States, even reaching high government positions. George F. Kennan, Deputy Head of Mission in Moscow, reacting to these developments, sent in February 1946 his famous "Long Telegram" to the Secretary of State in which he argued that expansionism was a vital element of Soviet foreign policy and that it would continue indefinitely into the future. Several months later he followed this up with his even more famous anonymous article in Foreign Affairs titled, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in which he argued for a policy of "containment" that would determinedly oppose the expansion of Soviet influence into areas of crucial concern to the United States.

Kennan's arguments had an enormous impact on the Truman administration and directly inspired the Truman Doctrine. In 1946 the Soviet Union was sponsoring a Marxist insurgency that was threatening to take over the government of Greece. It was also pressuring Turkey to grant it partial control of the sea links between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. If either Greece or Turkey fell to the pressures placed on them, Soviet influence would be projected into the Mediterranean. In December of 1946 Greek Prime Minister Tsaldaris visited Washington to plead for help in his fight against the communist insurgents. Two months later Truman and his advisers decided on a response. It would come to be known as the Truman Doctrine. They decided that Greece and Turkey were of such strategic importance that they must be defended against Soviet aggression. This would mean active intervention to contain Soviet expansionism. At the end of February Truman announced his new policy to the joint houses of Congress and two weeks later it went into effect. He declared that henceforth it would be "the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The immediate result was to channel financial and military aid to Greece and Turkey. This was followed by the Marshall Plan by which financial aid poured into Western Europe, spurring economic recovery in that region and by the formation of NATO to coordinate military policies there.

The Truman Doctrine involved not just a local or regional commitment; it was open-ended. In 1950 it was expanded globally and in June of that year American forces in Korea were drawn into a major "hot" war. The Korean War exposed one of the consequences of the Truman Doctrine -- the possibility that the United States would be drawn into one after another war against Soviet proxies. Many scholars draw a direct line of influence between Truman's establishment of a doctrine of containment and the Vietnam debacle. The experience of Greece and Turkey illustrate another problem. In both countries the United States facilitated the rise to power of unpopular military regimes and this support of undemocratic governments became a problematic feature of America's Cold War policies. Finally, American military aid to Turkey ultimately involved the stationing of nuclear missiles in that country. That threat, coupled with absurdly incompetent policies pursued by the Kennedy administration, led to the most dangerous episode of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis -- but that is another story for another time.

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