The Cold War was a period of severe geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the US which emerged following World War II and lasted until the USSR’s dissolution. Harry Truman’s inaugural speech, which he delivered on January 20, 1949, became the starting point of intense Cold War rivalry and catalyzed its further development. In his address, Truman revealed the main ideological differences between confronting powers and elaborated on his foreign policy that was made of four direct points. His intention to enhance a new economic order can be questioned in terms of being aimed to spread capitalism or just a form of economic imperialism. However, there is no doubt that the main task of his Four Point Program was to stop the global spread of communism, whereas the world’s economic and welfare development played a secondary role.
World War II severely hit western countries, whereas the Soviet Union remained the dominant power in Europe. The US was the only major power that became economically stronger than it was before the war. Asian and European states needed aid for economic recovery, while the US was ready to provide it in order to stop the spread of communism in those regions. After being president for four years, Truman surprisingly won another round of elections (1948 election), which made him capitalize on the victory by turning to a more “aggressive” policy of fighting communism and promoting American values worldwide.
Before the second address, the war on communism was not clearly stated, but the Truman Doctrine was enacted in 1947. The Four Point Speech marked a departure from this doctrine and explicitly declared communism as the new enemy of the “free” world. Truman starts his speech by presenting the main differences between democracy and communism, which puts the Soviet Union’s ideas in confrontation with American values. He deliberately emphasizes the political and ideological drawbacks of communism while ignoring its economic perspective. American capitalism is mainly compared to the political dimension of communism, which tells about his biased view. Truman presents a series of antagonistic notions concerning communism to highlight the idea that the coexistence of two ideologies is not possible and that non-military war should be waged.
After stating the differences, Truman utilizes the anaphora “we” to affirm the strong political and ideological ties between the US and democracies all around the world. He emphasizes that the US is a soft power that supports “free” countries in their development and does not use any coercion in contrast to communism, which politically enslaves and deteriorates economies. This foreign policy sees the US as a leader who plays the role of an international institution that binds other states and enhances collaboration between them.
The speech reveals that the US always supports the UN in a peaceful settlement of disputes, which looks like an argument stated to protect the country against possible criticism in the near future. Truman then claims that “we have made every effort in securing agreements our most powerful weapon” which refers to nuclear weapons (“Truman’s Inaugural Address”). The president tells that the US was always ready to limit and control their armaments in order to preserve peace. This fact is mentioned to prove that despite having strong military capabilities, the US always acted under the umbrella of international organizations and supported its regulations. Truman wants to highlight the legitimacy of American policies both in the past and future to encourage democracies to join the western block.
The American leader also mentioned the Marshall Plan that was launched to assist Europe in its post-war recovery. Truman claims that the primary goal of “the greatest cooperative economic program in history” is to liberate and strengthen “free” countries in the region (“Truman’s Inaugural Address”). Financial support is designed to see overall advancement in the world’s security and welfare. In the contrast, the Communist philosophy is portrayed as the main constraint for the region’s recovery and a threat to lasting peace.
Then Truman goes further and reminds the American people that the United States has enough capability and leadership skills to initiate various projects that foster international justice and order. He emphasizes the necessity to support the collaboration between democratic states to see them improving the standards of living instead of dealing with national survival issues. Furthermore, Truman claims “we have encouraged, by precept and example, the expansion of world trade on a sound and fair basis” (“Truman’s Inaugural Address”). It was the first time when the 33rd president of the US referenced world trade as a capitalist tool that helped the US benefit from in the aftermath of WWII.
In general, Truman defines here the United States’ economic supremacy as the primary tactic of waging the non-military war for influence in the world. He also reasserts the economic, military, and moral leadership of the US what is vital for stable world order, and highlights its role as the main catalyzer of international cooperation. Moreover, Truman refers to the word “civilization” which particularly has an ideological connotation and shows that the future world’s development is possible only within an international democratic system headed by the US.
Finally, the American president presents his foreign policy which consists of four points. The first one is supporting international organizations, such as the UN, as it is allegedly capable of binding states and preserving peace. The second point is to expand programs, such as the Marshall Plan, that aimed to enhance economic recovery under the leadership of the US. Then Truman emphasizes the importance of military protection enforcement in the North Atlantic area with the help of a joint agreement. He does not mention the exact enemy, but it is clear that he wants to secure the freedom of nations from the dangerous aggression of the Soviet Union. The last pillar of Truman’s policy is the dissemination of the US scientific advances and industrial progress among underdeveloped countries, which is seen as an element of economic diplomacy and complementary initiative. The American president reveals that the majority of people in the world live in static poverty, and there is no sign of positive development. Therefore, he urges the US to share its technical knowledge and make an effort to increase capital investment in these impoverished regions.
To conclude, Truman’s second inaugural address became the starting point of the Cold War, as it defined communism as the main enemy of the democratic world for the first time. The newly elected president capitalizes on his victory and presents a more aggressive version of foreign policy than he introduced earlier. This Four-Point Speech is a message for both the American people and the international community, especially for Western Europe. Truman presents the main differences between ideologies in a biased way, encourages democracies to join the American side, and presents four pillars of his foreign policy. This speech is an example of a modern presidency in action.
Truman, Harry. S. “Truman’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1949”, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Web.