Classroom Activities

  1. Listen to President Truman’s delivery of the Truman Doctrine speech by following this link: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/audio/sr64-47.ram. How does listening to the speech affect your impression of the address? How would you assess the president’s skills as a speaker?  In what ways does Truman’s delivery contribute to or detract from his message?
  2. Read the confidential memo that George M. Elsey wrote to White House Counsel Clark Clifford on March 7, 1947, after Clifford told him that the two of them would be working on the president’s address to Congress: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/doctrine/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1947-03-07&documentid=28&studycollectionid=TDoctrine&pagenumber=1. Given what you’ve learned about the context leading up to the Truman Doctrine speech, how valid do you think Elsey’s concerns were? Read the final version of the president’s address with Elsey’s comments in mind. How did the address attempt to deal with Elsey’s concerns?
  3. Read Joseph M. Jones’ initial draft of the Truman Doctrine speech on March 3, 1947:http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/doctrine/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1947-03-03&documentid=37&studycollectionid=TDoctrine&pagenumber=1. In what ways would Jones’ message have been appealing to American citizens? Conversely, can you see any persuasive problems in his early effort?
  4. In his address, Truman makes use of a dichotomy in which two different ways of life oppose one another. What are the characteristics that he attributes to each way of life? How did the president’s rhetorical approach benefit his persuasive efforts?  Do you see any problems with his use of dichotomy, either persuasively or ethically?
  5. Originally, the State Department had planned on President Truman delivering two speeches: an address to the joint session of Congress and also a fireside chat that would be broadcast on the radio and directed specifically to American citizens. In the end, the administration decided that there wasn’t time to write two speeches and that the venue of Congress was more fitting for the topic.  Assume, for the moment, that you have been asked to write President Truman’s fireside chat on the Truman Doctrine.  In what ways would this speech be different from or similar to the address to Congress?  What advantages and disadvantages would the format of a fireside chat pose?  Please explain.

Student Research

  1. Use one print source and one electronic source to research the origins and early history of the United Nations. How would the context of the UN’s beginnings likely have affected the expectations of American and international listeners of Truman’s speech?
  2. Look at the memo that the State Department’s Carl Humelsine sent to George Elsey on March 10, 1947, on the topic of how to deal with the United Nations in the president’s speech: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/doctrine/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1947-03-19&documentid=4&studycollectionid=TDoctrine&pagenumber=1. Compare Humelsine’s suggestions with what Truman said about the UN in the speech he actually delivered. Write a paper where you assess whether the rhetorical strategies of the speech characterizing the Truman Doctrine were effective in dealing with the United Nations. Could some of Humelsine’s unused suggestions have helped?  Why or why not?
  3. Read George M. Elsey’s edits on a draft of the Truman Doctrine speech that the State Department delivered to him and Clark M. Clifford on March 9, 1947:http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/doctrine/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1947-03-09&documentid=29&studycollectionid=TDoctrine&pagenumber=1. Write a paper where you assess the editing of the speech. What changes did Elsey and Clifford make? Why do you think they made the changes that they did? In what ways do you think their edits contributed to or weakened the persuasive appeal of the president’s address?  What other significant changes occurred between this edited draft and the final version of Truman’s speech?  Evaluate the impact of those changes.
  4. Locate newspaper and newsmagazine stories about the Truman Doctrine speech soon after it was delivered. Write a paper where you analyze how journalists reacted to the speech.
  5. Read “The Way to Peace: Division of the World Between Russia and the United States,” the speech that Commerce Secretary Henry A. Wallace gave before the National Citizens Political Action Committee and the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions in New York City on September 12, 1946: http://newdeal.feri.org/wallace/haw28.htm#27. This address was a major factor in Truman’s decision to fire Wallace. Locate newspaper or newsmagazine coverage of Wallace’s speech and of his firing, which took place on September 20, 1946. Write an essay that analyzes the controversy over Wallace’s speech and the reasons for his firing.  Why did his speech cause such controversy?  Why, specifically, was he fired?  From the vantage point of the present, what are your reactions to Wallace’s depiction of U.S.-Soviet relations?
  6. Write a research paper about the Truman administration’s campaign for the Marshall Plan. What was the Marshall Plan’s relationship to the Truman Doctrine and how did the administration talk about both of these policies in its efforts to gain public and congressional support for the Marshall Plan?
  7. Write a research paper about the Truman administration and the McCarthy era. In that paper, discuss Senator Joseph McCarthy and how McCarthyism affected the social and political climate of the United States during Truman’s presidency. Do you agree with those who have argued that the Truman Doctrine speech might have helped encourage the development of McCarthyism?  Why or why not?  How would you describe the relationship between McCarthy and the Truman administration? Did President Truman and Senator McCarthy express similar views on the nature of the communist threat and the proper U.S. response?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Read a transcript or listen to President George W. Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29644).What differences and similarities do you discern between how President Bush and President Truman discussed the threat that the nation faced?
  2. Some scholars have argued that the State Department engaged in news management techniques to get the best possible coverage of Truman’s speech and that the press often was a willing accomplice (see, for example, Bostdorff’s book, Proclaiming the Truman Doctrine, Chomsky’s essay “Advance Agent of the Truman Doctrine,” and Ivie’s article “Fire, Flood, and Red Fever”). More recently, critics have taken the news media to task for uncritically covering the George W. Bush administration’s case for the Iraq War and even encouraging the war through their coverage. Locate at least two sources that have critiqued news media coverage of the Iraq War.  Do you think their criticisms are valid?  Why or why not?  What recommendations would you give for improving press coverage of presidential speeches? What, in your opinion, are the best media sources available for becoming a well-informed citizen on such issues?
  3. Despite his affection for the UN, President Truman’s decision to act unilaterally in Greece and Turkey may have set a precedent that encouraged some U.S. presidents to pay their respects to the UN in their speeches but to act unilaterally when it was more expedient to do so. Research two foreign crises that came after 1947 to identify how the U.S. president at the time worked with or around the United Nations.
  4. Some administration figures working on the Truman Doctrine speech (like George Elsey) had high hopes for the United Nations, while others (like Dean Acheson) were extremely skeptical that the UN could ever be an effective tool for world peace. In general, however, public expectations were high. Locate one print source and one electronic source that deal with contemporary American attitudes toward the United Nations.  Have attitudes changed?  If so, how and why?  If not, why not?
  5. The Truman Doctrine brought about the U.S. strategy of containment, or the effort to keep communism from expanding. The so-called Bush Doctrine goes beyond containment to justify preemptive action against potential terrorists who might threaten the United States or its interests. Go tohttp://www.dartmouth.edu/~govdocs/iraq.htm for information and primary sources on both doctrines and compare and contrast the Truman and Bush doctrines.
  6. Some critics have argued that a new form of McCarthyism now exists. For example, read actor Tim Robbins’ speech before the National Press Club on April 15, 2003, at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=32088. Robbins warns of a “chill wind” threatening freedom of speech in the aftermath of 9/11 and the start of the war in Iraq. Conduct an Internet search on this topic and prepare a report on the ways in which the war on terror may have “chilled” free speech, including not only “free speech zones” and other restrictions on civil liberties under the Patriot Act, but also the climate of heightened patriotism that has often served to intimidate dissenters or made it more difficult for their message to be heard.

Last updated June 6, 2016