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Truman Faced Communist Fears, Real or Imagined


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This is Doug Johnson.

And this is Phil Murray with THE MAKING OF A NATION, a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Before the election of 1948, Harry Truman sometimes was called an accidental president. That meant the citizens had not elected him to lead the nation. He became America's thirty-third president because he was vice president when Franklin Roosevelt died. Today, we tell about President Truman and events during his second term in office.

In 1948, Harry Truman had been America's leader for more than three years. The people now voted for his return to office. They chose him over Republican Party candidate, Thomas Dewey, governor of New York. The voters also elected a Congress with a majority from Mr. Truman's Democratic Party.

The president might have expected such a Congress to support his policies. It did not, however, always support him. Time after time, Democrats from the southern part of the United States joined with conservative Republicans in voting. Together, these lawmakers defeated some of Truman's most important proposals. This included a bill for health care insurance for every American.

Fear of communism was a major issue during Truman's second term. After World War Two, Americans watched as communists took control of one east European nation after another. They watched as China became communist. They watched as the leader of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, made it clear that he wanted communists to rule the world.

At this tense time, there were charges that communists held important jobs in the government of the United States. Many citizens accepted the charges. The fear of communism, real or imagined, threatened the American legal tradition that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

A Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, led the search for communists in America. In speeches and congressional hearings, he accused hundreds of people of being communists or communist supporters. His targets included the Department of State, the Army and the entertainment industry in Hollywood.

Senator McCarthy often had little evidence to support his accusations. Many of his charges would not have been accepted in a court of law. But the rules governing congressional hearings were different. So he was able to make his accusations freely.

Some people denounced as communists lost their jobs. Some had to use false names to get work. A few went to jail briefly for refusing to cooperate with him.

Joseph McCarthy continued his anti-communist investigations for several years. By the early 1950s, more people began to question his methods. Critics said he had violated democratic traditions. In 1954, the Senate voted to condemn his actions. Soon after, he became sick with cancer, and his political life ended. He died in 1957.

In addition to the problems caused by the fear of communism at home, President Truman had to deal with the threat of communism in other countries.

He agreed to send American aid to Greece and Turkey. He also supported continuing the Marshall Plan. This plan had helped rebuild the economies of Western Europe after World War Two. Historians agree that it prevented Western Europe from becoming communist.

The defense of Western Europe against communism led president Truman to support the North Atlantic Treaty. This treaty formed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in 1949. In the beginning, NATO included the United States, Britain, Canada, France and eight other nations. More nations joined later.

The NATO treaty stated that a military attack on any member would be considered an attack on all of them.

Truman named General Dwight Eisenhower to be supreme commander of the new organization. General Eisenhower had been supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe in World War Two.

President Truman believed that other problems in the world could be settled by cooperative international efforts. In his swearing-in speech in 1949, he urged the United States to lend money to other countries to aid their development. He also wanted to share American science and technology.

Months later, Congress approved twenty-five thousand million dollars for the first part of this program.

In 1951, President Truman asked Congress to establish a new foreign aid program. The aid was for some countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia and South Asia, and Latin America. These countries were threatened by communist forces. President Truman believed the United States would be stronger if its allies were stronger.

Harry Truman supported and used military power throughout his presidency.

On June twenty-fifth, 1950, forces from North Korea invaded South Korea. Two days later, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution on the conflict. It urged UN members to help South Korea resist the invasion. President Truman approved sending American planes and ships. Then he approved sending American ground forces.

The president knew his decision could start World War Three if the Soviet Union entered the war on the side of North Korea. Yet he felt the United States had to act. Later, he said it was the most difficult decision he made as president.

General Douglas MacArthur was named commander of all United Nations forces in South Korea. By the autumn of 1950, the UN forces had pushed the North Koreans back across the border. People talked hopefully of ending the war by the Christmas holiday on December twenty-fifth.

In late November, however, troops from China joined the North Koreans. Thousands of Chinese soldiers helped push the UN troops south. General MacArthur wanted to attack Chinese bases in Manchuria. President Truman said no. The fighting must not spread outside Korea. Again he feared that such a decision might start another world war.

General MacArthur believed he could end the war quickly if he could do what he wanted. So he publicly denounced the American policy. In April 1951, the president dismissed him.

Some citizens approved. They believed a military leader must obey his commander in chief. Others, however, supported General MacArthur. Millions greeted him when he returned to the United States.

Most of the fighting in the Korean war took place along the geographic line known as the thirty-eighth parallel. This line formed the border between the North and South. Many victories were only temporary. One side would capture a hill. Then the other side would recapture it.

Ceasefire talks began in July 1951. But the negotiations failed to make progress. By the time the conflict ended two years later, millions of soldiers on both sides had been killed or wounded.

Nineteen fifty-two would be a presidential election year in the United States. Harry Truman was losing popularity because of the Korean War. At the same time, the military hero of World War Two, General Dwight Eisenhower, was thinking about running for president.

The need to make difficult choices had made Harry Truman's presidency among the most decisive in American history. In March, he made another important decision. He announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election.

Truman said: "I have served my country. I do not think it my duty to spend another four years in the White House."

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Doug Johnson. And this is Phil Murray. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.


American History in VOA Special English
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