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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Lecture LO II

The Five Phases

Phase One

The Truman Doctrine 1947-53

Phase Two

Eisenhower 52-61 “Competitive Coexistence”

Phase Three and Four

Kennedy& Johnson

"Flexible Response" (on to Vietnam)

Phase Five

Nixon Vietnam 63-73

Learning Objective II

Discuss the policy of “containment” and the FIVE Phases of its development:

PHASE ONE: Truman's Doctrine (Containment)

The first phase of the containment policy developed during the

Truman administration between 1947-53; and has three parts.


The Truman Doctrine: The initial step of the containment policy came in February 1947, when the British informed the United States that they could no longer afford to aid the Greek government in a bitter civil war against Communist guerrillas . Believing that the Russians were responsible for the strife in Greece (in fact, they were not), Secretary of State George Marshall decided that the United States would have to take over Britain's role in the eastern Mediterranean.


Worried about congressional support Marshall called a meeting with the legislative leadership to outline the problem. Dean Acheson an aid to Marshall compared the situation in Greece to one rotten apple spoiling an entire barrel, Acheson warned that "the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all to the East... Africa ... Italy and France." Acheson concluded that "we alone were in a position to break up the play." The bipartisan group of congressional leaders were deeply impressed. They agreed to support Marshall and the President in this area, but added that to ensure public backing, Truman would have to "scare hell" out of the American people... and he did.

In March 1947 Truman asked Congress for $400 million for military and economic aid and at the same time stated: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure."


The Truman Doctrine marked an informal declaration of Cold War against the Soviet Union. Truman used the crisis in Greece to secure congressional approval and build a national consensus for the policy of containment.


In less than 2 years, the civil war in Greece ended, but the American commitment to oppose Communist expansion, whether by internal subversion or external aggression, placed the United States on a collision course with the Soviet Union around the world ...Korea and Vietnam.


In using the atomic bomb, historians initially agreed that ending World War II dominated the president's thinking in the summer of 1945. However, in recent years revisionists have argued that Truman's desire to practice what historian Gar Alperovitz aptly calls "atomic diplomacy" strongly affected his decision to authorize the nuclear attack on Japan. According to this thesis, Truman sought to influence Soviet policy by dramatically proving that the United States possessed an unprecedentedly destructive weapon that American leaders were willing to use against an enemy. With one awesome stroke Truman could show his mettle as a tough warrior, end the war, depreciate the Soviet Union's claim to share the occupation of Japan, and discourage Soviet communism's expansion into Europe and Asia.

Economic aid and the Marshall Plan: By 1947, many Americans felt Western Europe was open to Soviet penetration because of the economic problems they were having after World War II. Despite $9 billion in piecemeal American loans, England, France, Italy, and the other European nations had great difficulty in recovering from the war. Food was scarce, industrial machinery was broken down and obsolete, and workers were demoralized by years of depression and war. Resentment and discontent led to growing Communist voting strength, especially in Italy and France. Unless the United States could do something to reverse the process, it seemed as through all Europe might drift into the Communist orbit.


Undersecretary of state Dean Acheson believed that it was time to extend American "economic power" to "create a basis for politicalstability and economic well- being." A plan for massive infusion of American capital to finance the economic recovery of Europe was drawn up in June 1947.


Marshall presented the plan to Congress which offered extensive economic aid to all European nations if they could reach agreement on ways to achieve "the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."


Neither Russia nor its satellites would take part , apparently because Moscow saw the Marshall Plan as an American attempt to weaken Soviet control over Eastern Europe.


The Marshall Plan called for spending $12.5 Billion over four years in 16 cooperating countries. The Plan would help the United States by stimulating trade with Europe as well as checking Soviet expansion. It was the latter argument, however, that proved decisive. When the Czech coup touched off a war scare in March 1948, Congress quickly approved the Marshall Plan by a heavy majority.

Over the next four years , the huge American investment paid rich dividends, generating a broad industrial revival in Western Europe that became self-sustaining by the 1950's. The threat of Communist domination faded, and a prosperous Europe proved to be a bonanza for American farmers, business men, and manufacturers.

The Western Militruy Alliance: The third and final phase of containment under Truman came in 1949 with the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO GREW OUT OF EUROPEAN FEARS OF RUSSIAN MILITARY AGGRESSION. There were two main features of NATO.


First, the United States committed itself to the defense of Europe in the key clause which stated that "an armed attack against one or more... shall be considered an attack against them all." In effect, the United States was extending its atomic shield over Europe. The second feature was designed to reassure Europeans that the United States would honor this commitment. In 1950, President Truman appointed General Dwight Eisenhower to the post of NATO supreme commander and authorized the stationing of four American divisions in Europe to serve as the nucleus of the NATO army. NOW ANY RUSSIAN ASSAULT WOULD AUTOMATICALLY INVOLVE AMERICAN TROOPS AND THUS DETER THE SOVIET UNION


Americans and Europeans alike were attempting to apply the lesson of Hitler to the Cold War. But Stalin was not Hitler, and the Soviets were not the Nazis. There was no evidence of any Russian plan to invade Western Europe, and in the face of the American atomic bomb, none was likely. All NATO DID WAS TO INTENSIFY RUSSIAN FEARS OF THE WEST AND THUS INCREASE THE LEVEL OF INTERNATIONAL TENSION.


True rivalry that began in Europe would soon spread into a worldwide contest between the superpowers. By 1950 the Cold War had taken on global proportions.

The showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union in Asia came in Korea. Traditionally the cockpit of international rivalry in Northeast Asia, Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel in



The two superpowers pulled out most of their occupation forces by 1949. The Russians, however, helped train a well-equipped army in the North, while the United States... fearful that the South would seek unification through armed conquest... gave much more limited military assistance to South Korea.

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army suddenly crossed the 38th parallel in great strength. Truman saw the invasion as a clear-cut case of Soviet aggression reminiscent of the 1930's. "Communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier." Within a few days, American troops from Japan were in combat in South Korea. The c0nflict, which would last for more than three years, was technically a police action fought under UN auspices; in reality, the United States was at war with a Soviet satellite in Asia.

After a year of rapid movement up and down the Korean peninsula, the fighting stalled just north of the 38th parallel. The resulting truce line has divided North and South Korea ever since the July 1953 amnestic.

Phase Two: Eisenhower's "Competitive Existence" 

The second phase of the Cold War came about as a result of (1) the atomic stalemate, (2) death of Stalin in May, 1953, and (3) the change in political leadership in the United States ushered in "competitive coexistence" 1953-1961, (competing in a nuclear anns race with the threat of massive retaliation) or a SECOND phase of the Cold War. During the Eisenhower administration two key changes in foreign policy developed.


First, Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, devised the policy of "massive retaliation" or "brinksmanship." They believed the United States could economize by developing an effective nuclear deterrent rather than relying solely on expensive conventional armed forces.

If the nation's major foreign enemy was a worldwide communist movement led by Moscow, they reasoned, the United States did not need to keep a large number of soldiers under arms, because atomic weapons could threaten the Soviet Union directly and force it to back down.


To accomplish this goal the Eisenhower administration expanded its commitment to develop the hydrogen bomb, which they tested in the atmosphere between 1954 and 1958.


This did little to improve the nation's security, as the Soviets matched the United States weapon for weapon in an escalating arms race. While the Soviet Union viewed the Eisenhower- Dulles policies of anticommunist alliances, and massive deterrence as inherently hostile, Eisenhower continued to work toward a negotiated arms limitation agreement. With new long-range ballistic missiles being perfected, it was only a matter of time before Russia and the United States would be capable of destroying each other completely. PEACE, AS WINSTON CHURCHILL NOTED, NOW DEPENDED ON A BALANCE OF TERROR.


The second key change in foreign policy during the Eisenhower administration was the CIA moving beyond its original mandate of intelligence gathering to ACTIVE involvement or COVERT ACTION in the internal affairs of countries where such action suited American objectives.

In 1953, in order to protect the United States interest in the Middle East the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing a popularly elected government in Iran and placing the Shah in full control of that country. Closer to home, in Cuba, in 1961 Kennedy continued this policy with the Bay of Pigs.

Phase Three and Four: Kennedy and Nixon 

While the Eisenhower administration viewed containment through nuclear weapons by use of the strategy of "massive retaliation;" the Kennedy administration would introduce a Third phase on containment which was the ability to mount a "flexible response," one precisely calibrated to meet actual situations that arose.

Kennedy's view of the Cold War and his desire for "flexible response" can best be viewed by the following statement he made in 1961: He bravely promised to " any price, bear any burden, meet any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." The Vietnam War was the result of Kennedy's promise. Although Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy had all help create the political environment that would lead us into the Vietnam maze; it was Johnson's fate to lead the Cold War to Vietnam in phase FOUR, 1963-1969. The full-scale American involvement in Vietnam began in 1965 in a series of steps designed primarily to prevent a North Vietnamese victory.


With the political situation in Saigon growing more hopeless every day, Johnson advisers urged the bombing of the North as the only conceivable solution. American air attacks would serve several purposes: they would block North Vietnamese infiltration routes, make Hanoi pay a heavy price for its role, and lift the sagging morale of the South Vietnamese.


The air strikes, aimed at impeding the Communist supply line and damaging Hanoi's economy, proved ineffective. Johnson then authorized the use of American ground forces in South Vietnam, but he restricted them to defensive operations intended to protect American air bases.


Rejecting the clear-cut alternatives of withdrawal or the massive use of force, Johnson settled for military escalation designed compel Hanoi to accept a diplomatic solution.


In July of 1965, Johnson permitted a gradual increase in the bombing of North Vietnam and allowed American ground commanders to conduct combat operations in the South. These decisions formed an open-ended commitment to employ American military forces as the situation demanded. Convinced that withdrawal would destroy American credibility before the world and that an invasion of the North would lead to World War III, Johnson opted for large-scale but limited military intervention.

Moreover, Johnson feared the domestic consequences of either extreme. A pullout could cause a massive political backlash at home, as conservatives condemned him for betraying South Vietnam to communism. An all-out war, however, would mean the end of his social programs.

He feared that once Congress focused on the conflict "that bitch of a war" would destroy "the woman I really loved--the Great Society." So Johnson settled for a limited war, committing a half-million American troops to battle in Southeast Asia, all the while pretending it was a minor engagement and refusing to ask the American people for the support and sacrifice required for victory.


By 1968, what Lyndon Johnson had once referred to as "a raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country" had brought the world's most powerful military giant to its knees. As in the Korean conflict, the American people were learning that fighting communism was a complicated task. Thus; by 1968 the American people had decided they had had enough of Vietnam and the containment policy.

Phase Five: The Thaw: Nixon Vietnam and Detente (China and the Soviet Union)

With Richard Nixon the Cold War and Vietnam war would come to and end in phase FIVE. Nixon had a three part plan to end the conflict... (1) renewed bombing, (2) a hard line in negotiations with Hanoi, (3) and the gradual withdrawal of American troops. The last tactic, known as Vietnamization, proved the most successful. The plan involved training the troops of South Vietnam to take over the American combat role. The number of American soldiers in Vietnam dropped from 543,000 in 1968 to under 30,000 by 1972, resulting in domestic opposition to the war dropping sharply.


Thus phase FIVE leads to the so-called Nixon Doctrine; which proclaimed that the United States could no longer do it all--that is, provide all the plans, programs, decisions, and defense for the free world. The Doctrine claimed that in the future, Asians and others would have to fight their own wars }Vithout the support of large bodies of American ground troops.

The Nixon Doctrine was attempt to bring American policy into line with capabilities, to draw back definitions of interest to correspond with what America could afford to do and could hope to accomplish a n correctiveafter a generation o o ar in which American activities constantly expanded, in which Americans shouldered burden after burden , only to learn in the latter 1960's that they had overreached their resources.


Nixon, heretofore an uncompromising anti- Communist, announced that he would travel to both China and Russia. In February 1972 he traveled to· China and paved the way for improved relations between the two countries. Nixon next traveled to Moscow in May 1972 to play his "China card" in a game of high­ stakes diplomacy. The Soviet Union hungry for American foodstuffs and haunted by the fear of intensified rivalry with an American-backed China, were ready to deal.




One product of eased relations was the great grain deal of 1972... a three year arrangement to sell the Soviets at least $750 million worth of wheat, corn, and other cereals. Far more important were efforts to stem the dangerously "competitive coexistence" practice of the nuclear arms race. The first major achievement was an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon's detente diplomacy was, on the whole, successful. checkmating and co-opting the two great Communist powers, the_, president had cleverly set the stage for America’s exit from Vietnam


In sum, perhaps the Nixon Doctrine was not a new diplomacy, or at least not to the extent its supporters claimed. Some of the assumptions of the Cold War were passing from American policy by 1969, such as the belief in American having unlimited or universal power and vague ideas about what constituted a threat to American national interests.


Nixon's Detente with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with - China seemed signs of a new policy. But there were other signs that the Nixon Doctrine may have been no more than a reasonable attempt to bring American policy into line with capabilities, to draw back definitions of interest to correspond with what American could afford to do and could hope to accomplish.


The Nixon Doctrine was a necessary corrective after a generation of Cold War in which American political and military expanded, in which Americans shouldered burden after burden, only to learn in the latter 1960's that they had overreached their resources.


The climax and final phase of the Cold War came during the Reagan administration (1981-1989).