Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators
Harry S. Truman, “The Truman Doctrine,” 12 March 1947
High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland
Value for Social Studies Teachers
Following the cataclysmic warfare of World War II, it may be difficult to engage students in the more nuanced politics of the early Cold War. What better way to transition, then, than through the plain speaking of Harry S. Truman? His penchant for simple prose provides an entry point for discussing three aspects of a changing geopolitical landscape:
- This speech helped introduce two important ideas that have shaped the way our presidents have argued for foreign policy: direct economic aid and containment.
- The speech enlivens studies of European geography, providing social and political context for the boundaries on the map—and how they have changed over time.
- Historically, the speech illustrates the isolationism of post-World War II Americans—and how the Soviet Union came to be seen as a global threat.
Ideas for Pre-Reading
- Students should read about the weak economies of many European countries after the war and the growing fear of Soviet influence.
- Teachers should consult pages 10-11 of Denise Bostdorff’s interpretive essay for helpful commentary on how Truman defines the situation in Greece and Turkey as a crisis through fear appeals.
- To help students analyze the speech’s arguments, teach them about the series structure: where each claim relies on the one before it. As Zarefsky says, these arguments work like old Christmas lights: If one bulb burns out, the whole string of lights goes out. If the claims work together, though, they can give the argument momentum and improve its persuasiveness.
- Students should review the lengths Franklin Roosevelt had to take to compel Americans to give up isolationism and enter World War II—even after Pearl Harbor. Have students consider the massive cost of the war and why Americans would feel fatigued about foreign affairs.
- Though anti-Communist sentiments ran high in 1947, the Soviet Union had very recently been an important ally to the United States in defeating Nazi Germany. Have students consider the Soviet role in World War II and why there would be public confusion about treating the Soviets as an enemy.
Suggested Timeline and Objectives
Day 1: Defining a Greek Crisis
- [Read paragraphs 1-14]
- From the perspective of late-1940s Americans, students will assess Truman’s first claim that Greece needs help.
- Students will analyze Truman’s decision to focus on Greece by considering its relationship to surrounding nations.
Day 2: America Alone
- [Read paragraphs 15-32]
- Students will continue to assess Truman’s argument from the perspective of late-1940s Americans, now focusing on his claim that America alone must come to Greece and Turkey’s aid without the United Nations.
Day 3: Domino Theory
- [Read paragraphs 33-59]
- Students will analyze Truman’s logic of the “domino theory” and how it explains the conflict between the Soviet Union and United States.
- Students will evaluate the entire series structure of Truman’s speech to determine whether late-1940s Americans would support his call to aid Greece and Turkey.
Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment
- Modern comparison. To demonstrate their ability to apply the argumentation concepts explored in this speech, have students analyze the arguments advanced in excerpts from a more recent speech like George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address or John Kerry’s 2013 Remarks on Syria. Have students respond to the following questions:
- In what ways do Bush/Kerry’s arguments resemble Truman’s arguments in favor of Soviet containment? (RI.9-10.3)
- Does Bush/Kerry follow a series structure? Why or why not? If so, do any of the claims fall short? (RH.9-10.3)
- Persuading a weary public. Have students adopt the perspective of a U.S. soldier who recently returned from the European Theater of World War II. After years away from home, the soldier is eager to settle down, return to civilian life, and start a family. What about Truman’s address would have made this veteran apprehensive? What about the address would have been compelling and a reason to support Truman? Students should be graded on their ability to:
- Assess Truman’s reasoning from the point of view of Americans fatigued with American involvement overseas.
- Grapple with specific ideas, terminology, and evidence advanced by Truman in his speech. (RI9.10-3; RH.9-10.4)