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Why Harry Truman Matters Today

Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization
By Joe Scarborough

Anyone who has watched cable news programs knows the medium requires even complicated issues be boiled down to fit on a chyron. For United States foreign policy, such simplification often leaves talking heads debating whether a decision or proposal amounts to some new presidential doctrine, akin to the one named after Harry Truman, who in March 1947 committed the United States to support “free peoples” against the spread of Communism.

In an earnest, engaging new book, “Saving Freedom,” Joe Scarborough, the eponymous host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” shows readers why and, most important, how Truman set a precedent for all his successors — and cable news chatter — more than seven decades later. If the story of the 33rd president’s commitment, which at first aided only peoples in Greece and Turkey, is familiar, Scarborough’s focus on Truman and other elected officials is not. By crediting wily politicians for America’s Cold War policy instead of the wise men in the government’s bureaucracy, Scarborough reminds readers that long telegrams like George Kennan’s and policy memorandums from the State Department don’t make successful doctrines; politicians do.

At first, “Saving Freedom” feels like other books about the days before the term “Cold War” was coined, let alone capitalized. It starts on Feb. 21, 1947, the day when the British Foreign Office alerted the American State Department that it could no longer afford to support the Greek and Turkish governments, both struggling under pressure from Communist-leaning elements. “Saving Freedom” then introduces the characters familiar to any readers on the origins of the Cold War: Secretary of State George Marshall, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Kennan, whose famous telegram ignited Washington’s reconsideration of the Soviet Union.

But compared with the books by and about these behind-the-scenes players, Scarborough’s stars are Truman and other politicians like Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a onetime isolationist and Republican from Michigan. The author’s affinity for politicos makes sense. After all, he was one, having served six years in Congress. As such, he demonstrates a professional appreciation for Truman’s success in what the president called the “greatest selling job” of any chief executive. He persuaded a suspicious Republican Congress and millions of exhausted Americans to support not just foreign aid, but also the Marshall Plan and NATO alliance (which, despite Scarborough’s disappointing lack of attention to either, did far more to tie the former isolationist nation to Europe than Truman’s doctrine).

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