Lesson 2: The Strategy of Containment, 1947–1948

The unwillingness of the Soviet Union to allow the creation of independent and democratic states in Eastern Europe, and the failure of East and West to reach a compromise on Germany, left many Americans—citizens and foreign policy experts alike—puzzled. Why were the Soviets acting as they did? Moreover, how should the United States respond? For most in the Truman administration, the proper policy was "containment"—in other words, Soviet aggression had to be met with firmness, otherwise the Russians would be emboldened to attempt further hostile acts.

This lesson will consider containment through the use of original documents, mostly from the Truman Presidential Library. They will study what it meant in theory, and then examine the first two major instances of its application—the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.

Guiding Questions

What was "containment" and how was it applied in 1947–48?

Learning Objectives

Articulate the meaning and origins of the strategy of containment.

Describe the positions taken by supporters as well as critics of this policy.

Explain the origins of the Truman Doctrine and how it fit into the strategy of containment.

Explain the origins of the Marshall Plan and how it fit into the strategy of containment.