Cold War: The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid Return to the gallery menu
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Did Truman cause the Cold War?

Did US President Harry Truman cause the Cold War? The two events most associated with Truman and the Cold War are the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.

  • The Truman Doctrine emerged in a speech in March 1947. In this speech Truman promised help to any country fighting a Communist takeover. The policy became known as Containment of Communism.
  • The Marshall Plan was a major programme of economic aid offered to all European states to help them recover from the war. In the end, only the Western democracies got any aid.

For may years Soviet and Western historians interpreted Truman's actions differently.

  • The Soviet view was that Truman was an aggressor. The Truman Doctrine essentially meant giving money and weapons to enemies of the USSR.
  • The Marshall Plan was an attempt to get all of Europe in debt to the USA and allow the Americans to dominate it. The American view was that the Truman Doctrine was stopping the continuing spread of Communism.

The Marshall Plan was partly an act of generosity, partly an act of self interest - America wanted Europe to recover so Americans would have partners to trade with.

In recent times more evidence has emerged from the Soviet archives. We have a clearer picture of the misunderstandings and suspicions of the period. This extract is from a paper written by an American academic historian.


In general, the new evidence supports the overall thrust of the arguments that Soviet policy in 1947 was largely defensive and reactive … U.S. officials felt embattled in the spring of 1947, and feared that the deteriorating economic situation in Western Europe could lead to communists coming
to power in such countries as France and Italy. If this were to happen, American security would be threatened.
Prior to the summer of 1947, then, available … evidence suggests that Stalin still hoped to pursue a variant of detente [co-operation] with the Western Powers … The Marshall Plan, however, radically changed Stalin's calculus, and led him to shift away from this more moderate line … The new archival documentation shows that in making this shift, the Soviet leadership was moved primarily by fear of its own vulnerability to American economic power

Scott D. Parrish
Lecturer, Department of Government
University of Texas at Austin

  • So do you think that Truman caused the Cold War by failing to realise that Stalin was threatened?
  • Or do you think that Stalin caused the Cold War by mistrusting the Americans?
  • And what role did Britain play in all of this?

Your task is to examine the sources in this case study and reach your own decision.

The worksheet should help you to keep your ideas together.

Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 4 Source 6