STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA
Special English. I’m Steve Ember
This week in our series, we continue the story of America's thirty-third
president, Harry Truman.
Truman was sometimes called an "accidental" president. He only became
president because he was vice president when Franklin Roosevelt died in nineteen
In the election of nineteen forty-eight, Truman ran for a full term. As we
told you last week, many experts predicted he would lose. But voters chose him
over the Republican Party candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York.
Americans also elected a Congress with a majority from Truman's Democratic Party.
The president might have expected a Congress led by his own party to support
his policies. But that did not always happen. Time after time, Democrats from
southern states joined in voting with conservative Republicans. Together, these
lawmakers defeated some of Truman's most important proposals. One of the
defeated bills was a proposal for health care insurance for every American.
Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949
One of the major issues during Truman's second term was fear of communism.
After World War Two, Americans watched as one eastern European nation after
another became an ally of the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Josef Stalin wanted to
see communism spread around the world. And Americans watched as China became
communist in nineteen forty-nine, as forces led by Mao Zedong defeated the
Chinese Nationalists after a civil war that had lasted more than ten years.
During this tense period, there were charges that communists held important
jobs in the United States government. These fears, real or imagined, became
known as the "Red Scare."
SENATOR JOSEPH McCARTHY: “Even if there were only one communist in the State
Department –- (repeats) Even if there were only one Communist in the State
Department, that would still be one communist too many.”
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 State Department, the Army and the entertainment industry.
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
Senator Joseph McCarthy
Many people lost their jobs after they were denounced as communists. Some had
to use false names to get work. A few went to jail briefly for refusing to
cooperate with McCarthy.
The senator continued his anti-communist investigations for several years. By
the early nineteen fifties, however, more people began to question his methods.
Critics said he violated democratic traditions.
In nineteen fifty-four, the Senate finally voted to condemn his actions.
McCarthy died three years later.
There were problems caused by the fear of communists at home. But President
Truman also 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. That was the huge economic aid program that helped
rebuild western Europe after World War Two. Many historians say the Marshall
Plan prevented western Europe from becoming communist.
The defense of western Europe against Soviet communism led Truman to support
the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO began in nineteen
forty-nine with the United States, Britain, Canada, France and eight other
The treaty that created NATO stated that a military attack on any member
would be considered an attack on all of them.
Truman named General Dwight Eisenhower to command the new organization.
General Eisenhower had been supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe in
World War Two.
In his swearing-in speech in nineteen forty-nine, Truman urged the United
States to lend money to other countries to aid their development. He also wanted
to share American science and technology.
In nineteen fifty-one, the president asked Congress to establish a new
foreign aid program. The aid would go to countries threatened by communist
forces in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia, South Asia and Latin
America. Truman believed the United States would be stronger if its allies were
President Truman believed that many of the world's problems could be settled
by other means besides military force. But he supported and used military power
throughout his presidency.
On June twenty-fifth, nineteen fifty, forces from North Korea invaded South
Korea. Two days later, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution
urging UN members to help South Korea resist the invasion. At first President
Truman agreed to send American planes and ships. Later he agreed to send
American ground forces.
The president knew his decision could start World War Three if the Soviet
Union entered the war on the side of communist North Korea. Yet he felt the
United States had to act. Later, he said it was the most difficult decision he
made as president.
Truman named Army General Douglas MacArthur to command all United Nations
forces in South Korea.
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 North
and South Korea.
Many victories on the battlefield were only temporary. One side would capture
a hill; then the other side would recapture it.
In September of nineteen fifty, Mac Arthur led the UN land and sea attack at
Inchon, pushing the North Koreans back across the border. There was hope that
the war could end by Christmas, 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. He did
not want the fighting to spread beyond the Korean peninsula. Again, he feared
that such a decision could start another world war.
MacArthur strongly believed he could end the war quickly by extending it to
the Chinese mainland. He publicly denounced Truman’s policy, saying “There is no
substitute for victory.”
Truman felt that the general left him no choice. In April of nineteen
fifty-one, he dismissed MacArthur.
HARRY TRUMAN: ”It was with the deepest personal regret that I found myself
compelled to take this action. General MacArthur is one of our greatest military
commanders. But the cause of world peace is much more important than any
In the United States, military leaders are expected to obey their commander
in chief -- the president. While some Americans approved of the general's
dismissal, many others supported MacArthur. Millions greeted him when he
returned to the United States. There were huge parades in his honor in San
Francisco and New York.
In fact, few leaders in the twentieth century could boast the support
MacArthur had. Almost seven million people attended the ticker tape parade given
to him by New York City. And that almost doubled the size of the one given to
another returning World War Two hero, General Dwight Eisenhower.
MacArthur gave his farewell speech to a joint session of Congress on April
nineteenth, nineteen fifty-one.
DOUGLAS MacARTHUR: “I am closing my fifty-two years of military service. When
I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment
of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since
I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long
since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular
barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers
never die; they just fade away.
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and
just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the
light to see that duty. Goodbye. [Applause]"
On the Korean peninsula, the war continued. Ceasefire talks began in July of
nineteen fifty-one. But the conflict would last for another two years until a
truce was declared. The Korean War armistice agreement was signed on July
twenty-seventh, nineteen fifty-three.
Nineteen fifty-two was a presidential election year in the United States.
Harry Truman was losing popularity because of the continuing war in Korea and
economic problems at home. At the same time, Dwight Eisenhower, a military hero
from World War Two, was thinking of running for president as the Republican
Harry Truman had made many difficult decisions as president. In March of
nineteen fifty-two, he made one more. He announced that he would not be a
candidate for re-election.
The nineteen fifty-two presidential election will be our story next week.
You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts, and pictures
at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA
Learning English. I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for
THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.
Contributing: David Jarmul
This was program #203. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in
quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.