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“…to Serve The World-not To Dominate It”
United States policy, Henry Wallace said in his spirited challenge to Truman and Dewey in 1948, should be
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
Part of Wallace’s antagonism to Truman was his conviction that the new President failed to fight seriously for the New Deal’s social goals. Part of it was caused by his bitter conviction that except for the machinations of Democratic politics, he would be occupying the White House himself. He always called Truman “that little fellow” or “the salesman.” Their paths crossed once in the 1948 campaign at the Dallas airfield. “Wallace got out of his rented DC-3, and saw the giant Presidential plane taxiing for a takeoff,” an associate recalled. “He looked away quickly. You could see the pain on his face.”
Wallace’s campaign really began on September 12, 1946, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, when he challenged President Truman’s gettough policy with Russia. Wallace had begged the President for months to repair the unity badly eroded since Roosevelt’s death. Denouncing Truman’s policy of “rolling back” Communist influence in Poland and eastern Europe, he concluded that “we have no more business in the political affairs of eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, western Europe, or the United States.” His vision for the two superpowers was a “friendly peaceful competition” that would make them “gradually become more alike”—a reasonable blueprint for the détente of the early 1970’s.
Two days before at the White House, Wallace claimed, Truman had gone over the speech “page by page” and “didn’t have a single change to suggest.” When a reporter asked whether Truman considered it in conflict with State Department policy, the President retorted: “I do not.” But Senator Arthur Vandenberg, Republican mainstay of the administration’s bipartisan policy, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes were furious. When Byrnes threatened to resign, the President fired Wallace on September 20. That same day Truman wrote his mother and sister: “Well, now he’s out, and the crackpots are having conniption fits.”
What had gone wrong in the few months since Yalta? In this drastic reversal of Roosevelt’s policy, pushed by White House advisers like Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal (who wanted “a showdown … now rather than later”), Truman agreed: “We have got to get tough with the Russians.”
What Truman conceived was a world in which the United States could force its “open door” democratic capitalism to the borders of Russia. On the other hand, devastated by a war that had cost them thirteen million lives, the Soviets were haunted by the specter of “capitalist encirclement.” They could never forget that after the 1917 revolution British, French, Japanese, and United States troops had invaded Russia and fought with the White and Czarist armies to destroy the Bolsheviks. Two days after the German invasion of Russia, in June, 1941, Senator Harry S. Truman had suggested: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
All these nightmares had been calmed by Big Three unity during the war, and the Soviets were now taking a surprisingly conservative position. They sided with the United States and Britain against separation of the Ruhr from Germany. Stalin urged Tito to keep King Peter on the throne, and he not only withheld aid from the Yugoslav Communists in establishing their own regime but also ordered Tito in 1948 to cut his alliance with the Greek leftists.
In spite of all these moves Truman chose to make Poland a test case of Soviet-American unity, apparently ignoring its supreme role in Russian security. Stalin could yield in Iran and many areas, but friendly governments in Poland and the whole eastern bloc were fundamental to Soviet policy. As a result, “the Russians concluded that the West was resuming its old course of capitalist encirclement, that it was purposefully laying the foundation for anti-Soviet regimes in the area defined by the blood of centuries as crucial to Russian survival,” observed Professor Arthur W. Schlesinger, Jr., of Harvard.
Within two months of the September 12, 1946, attack on administration foreign policy, Wallace had cut deeply into Truman’s strength. Although 48 per cent of registered Democrats supported Truman as their next Presidential candidate, according to the Gallup poll, 24 per cent now backed Wallace. His blueprint for Soviet-American unity drew unprecedented crowds in his speaking tour that spring. Yet Wallace continued to insist that he and all “progressive forces” must work within the Democratic Party.
A group named Progressive Citizens of America, however, openly called for a third party to stop the bipartisan policy of Soviet confrontation. Headed by C. B. Baldwin, a Wallace associate from New Deal days, PCA was an amalgam of liberal and left groups that sought to maintain the old popular front.
The President intensified his containment policy in March, 1947, by establishing the “Truman Doctrine” of military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey, with inflammatory language implying that the United States offered a blank check to all anti-Communist governments, no matter how reactionary. Soon naval bases, airfields, and missile sites would perch near the borders of the Soviet Union.