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Fire, Flood, and Red Fever: Motivating Metaphors of Global Emergency in the Truman Doctrine Speech.

Cold war exaggerations of American vulnerability derive rhetorically from the Truman Doctrine speech perhaps more than any other single presidential source. As the initial declaration of hostile relations with the Soviet Union after World War II, the president's speech was deliberately designed, in a well-known phrase attributed to Senator Arthur Vandenberg, "to scare hell out of the country." It articulated an "interpretive framework" calculated to command "maximum public support," which was precisely its effect, not only on the president's popularity but also on the public's willingness to combat communism globally (Freeland 1972, 89, 9; LaFeber 1989, 454-55. See also Kernell 1986, 158; Kolko and Kolko 1972, 338-46; Theoharis 1971, 47-53). Truman's framework of interpretation soon "chained out" as John Cragan (1981, 54-55) has observed, into a full-blown "rhetorical vision" of containing communism by extending a protective shield to noncommunist countries around the world. This same vision helped to legitimize anti-communism beyond the immediate requirements of the containment doctrine, fostering an "urge to fight" that outstripped "the need to fight" (Brockriede and Scott 1970, 36, 39-41; see also Ryan 1973, 294, 298).

Despite the role of the Truman Doctrine speech in configuring cold war motives, relatively little attention has been given to its terministic incentives for construing international circumstances as threatening in the extreme. Indeed, the symbolic inducements of such a compelling framework of interpretation have proven peculiarly difficult to discern. As Wayne Brockriede and Robert Scott (1970) have noted, Truman's speech was "articulated with a power that easily eludes the critic" (p. 27). They saw little for traditional rhetorical critics to applaud in its argument, organization, style, or delivery, even though the speech has been recognized universally as a significant rhetorical event (Underhill 1961, 272-74). More recently, Martin Medhurst (1988) has looked to the context of Truman's speech for an explanation of its powerful effect, while Hinds and Windt (1991) have surveyed its imagery and argument for characteristics of early cold war rhetoric.

Even critics using more text-oriented methods have portrayed the speech's rhetorical dynamics in relatively broad-brush strokes. Brockriede and Scott (1970, 39) observed, for instance, that Truman employed a contrapuntal structure to advance ten themes repeatedly, each interlaced with the others in various combinations. Three of those themes, they concluded, fashioned from latent American attitudes an anticommunist ideology potent enough to sustain Truman's containment policy. Drawing on the nation's sense of mission, its hostility toward world communism as a threat to freedom, and its desire to combat the forces of evil, the president created "an evangelism for a cold war against communism." These observations about the ideological appeal of themes in the Truman Doctrine speech were confirmed by Cragan's (1981, 54-56) fantasy-theme analysis of the cold war rhetorical vision as it evolved between 1946 and 1972.

The rhetorical amplification of American insecurity, however, is a process that can be discerned only partially and indirectly through an analytical lens that focuses on broad themes and their relationship to one another. A more precise understanding requires a sustained focus on the exact language with which Truman constituted a framework of interpretation that warranted the containment of communism. Perspectives, as Kenneth Burke (1984) has argued, are a function of metaphors, and metaphors are shorthand terms for motives that realize their rhetorical potential through elaboration and literalization in extended discourse (see Ivie 1982, 240-41; Ivie 1986, 166-68; Ivie 1989, 122-26). Thus, a compelling relationship between the desperate economic conditions of postwar Europe and the president's proposal for containing the spread of communism was envisioned for Americans through a particular terminology of motives--a terminology that converged on the image of an international emergency. Vehicles of disease deeply embedded in the design of the speech, I contend, prompted arguments for aiding afflicted nations before an epidemic of communism could spread to the United States. Similarly, responses to the speech in Congress and elsewhere featured disease imagery bolstered by visions of fire and flood to communicate an expanded sense of impending disaster.

Genesis of the Disease Metaphor

The genesis of the disease metaphor can be traced to an impromptu speech by Under Secretary Dean Acheson in a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House on February 27, just one day before he and others at the State Department began drafting the address Truman delivered on Capitol Hill two weeks later. The meeting had been arranged by the president to secure advance support from seven key Senate and House leaders for a proposal to send aid to Greece and Turkey. Senators Vandenberg, Bridges, and Connally along with Representatives Martin, Rayburn, Eaton, and Bloom listened to Secretary of State Marshall explain the strategic importance of Greece and Turkey, their vulnerability to Soviet domination, and the impending problem created by the imminent withdrawal of British financial and military support.

Marshall (1971) informed the group, according to his February 27 memorandum for the record, that "a crisis of the utmost importance and urgency" had arisen in Greece and Turkey that had "direct and immediate relation to the security of the United States." He warned that "economic collapse" was imminent in Greece and that the "integrity and independence" of the country was threatened by "bandit groups" under communist leadership. Because of their own grave financial difficulties, the British were no longer able to assist the tottering Greek government. Greece might easily "dissolve into civil war" and "emerge as a communist state under Soviet control," leaving Turkey surrounded and all the more vulnerable to Soviet pressure. If these two countries fell, Soviet domination might next extend to the Middle East, Asia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, and all of Europe. This was a situation that could not be saved without American assistance, the choice being one of "acting with energy or losing by default" (pp. 60-62).

Marshall's actual presentation of these views apparently was dry and cryptic, thus failing to move his audience with sufficient force. The Republican majority was committed to reducing foreign aid and decreasing domestic taxes, not to "pulling British chestnuts out of the fire." The secretary's opening remarks, according to Joseph Jones, had "conveyed the over-all impression that aid should be extended to Greece on grounds of loyalty and humanitarianism, and to Turkey to strengthen Britain's position in the Middle East." In response to Marshall's appeal, various skeptical questions were asked about the cost and long-term consequences of taking over British responsibilities (Jones 1955, 138-44).

Perceiving Marshall's plight, Acheson (1969) received permission to address the group. Never, he recounted, had he "spoken under such a pressing sense that the issue was up to [him] alone." His task was to bring the crisis home in the minds of these doubting congressmen. As he recalled the situation,
 No time was left for measured appraisal. In the past eighteen months, I
 said, Soviet pressure on the Straits, on Iran, and on northern Greece had
 brought the Balkans to the point where a highly possible Soviet
 breakthrough might open three continents to Soviet penetration. Like apples
 in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption of Greece would
 infect Iran and all to the east. It would also carry infection to Africa
 through Asia Minor and Egypt, and to Europe through Italy and France,
 already threatened by the strongest domestic Communist parties in Western
 Europe.


The long silence following Acheson's speech was finally broken when Vandenberg gravely announced that if the president would "say that to the Congress and the country," he would receive the support of a majority in the House and the Senate (Acheson 1969, 219; my emphasis).

Acheson (1969), who met with State Department officers the next morning to orchestrate a public information campaign and organize the drafting of the president's speech, believed that "Greece was in the position of a semiconscious patient on the critical list whose relatives and physicians had been discus sing whether his life could be saved" (p. 221). The United States, in his mind, was about to assume the heroic role of a doctor attempting to save a desperately ill patient from the ravages of world communism. Significantly, it was Acheson who accepted primary responsibility for phrasing key sections of the speech, selecting its principal lines of argument, and editing the text as a whole (Jones 1955, 148).

The disease metaphor had been on the minds of Truman's advisers and speechwriters, however, long before Acheson's impromptu appeal to the congressional leadership. As early as February 22, 1946, George Kennan's influential "long telegram" from Moscow had warned that world communism was like a "malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue." The Soviets themselves were characterized in the telegram as "neurotic," requiring the United States to treat its adversary in the manner of a "doctor" examining any "unruly and unreasonable individual." Moreover, Kennan warned, "much depends on [preserving the] health and vigor of our own society" (pp. 53, 62-63; see also Ivie 1996).

One year later, on February 20, the American ambassador to Greece observed that the situation in Greece had reached an "acute stage" and that "spectacular measures" were needed to avoid "full collapse" and to gain extra time "for eventual application of remedies of a longer term character" (MacVeigh 1971, 28-29). Acheson (1971) referred to this warning the next day in his report to Secretary of State Marshall regarding the "crisis and imminent possibility of collapse in Greece" (p. 29).

On February 24, after receiving official word of Britain's intention to terminate economic and military support of the Greek and Turkish governments, a special State Department committee (including George Kennan) was convened to determine how the United States might prevent the imminent collapse of its two new charges. When Hubert Havlik of the Economic Affairs office suggested that the financial aspects of the problem should be approached globally and should be presented to Congress as part of a worldwide program, Jack Hickerson encouraged the committee to consider presenting such a program to Congress "in a fashion as to electrify the American people" (Minutes 1971, 46-47). This was a grave emergency that required arousing the Congress and the public to ensure the "security and welfare of the United States" (Analysis of the proposals 1971, 52). Either the United States would meet the challenge or "face the consequences of a widespread collapse of resistance to Soviet pressure throughout the Near and Middle East and large parts of western Europe not yet under Soviet domination" (Position and recommendations 1971, 53).

Prior to the emergency in Greece and Turkey, Truman's public posture on Soviet-American relations had been one of deliberate ambiguity as he attempted to retain the option of achieving a postwar accommodation with the Soviets while supporting the development of an infant United Nations. As Medhurst (1988) has observed, Truman's rhetoric in1945 and 1946 had projected relatively positive images of the USSR by relying on generalities, ambiguity, and humor to veil criticisms of the Soviets. The result, in Medhurst's view, was a failure to exercise the power of the rhetorical presidency "to inform the American public about the growing problems of Soviet expansionism, intimidation, and support for indigenous armed minorities." Instead, Truman allowed other, often right-wing orators to warn the nation of Soviet subversion (Medhurst 1988, 55-56, 66).

As early as May 29, 1945, for instance, Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce had warned Americans to brace themselves against a "rising world tide of Moscow-controlled communism" that threatened to extinguish "the light of freedom," leaving behind a "world in which all mankind crawls and cringes in the darkness of slavery" (Luce 1945, 648-49). A year and a half later, on January 23, 1947, Everett Dirksen was expressing similar views on the floor of the House of Representatives. Freedom was in "jeopardy," he cautioned, "in this country and in the world today." The "lamps of freedom" were again "being extinguished," this time by "a great red sea that splashes all around us and whose waves somehow break upon every shore and unless we are vigilant might some day break upon our shores." America lived in a "feverish world"; the "virus" of "red fascism" was spreading "red fever" to every hemisphere. This "blight" was even threatening to "take root" in the United States. "Because this red fire is burning with a high and livid tongue," he argued, "freedom is constantly in jeopardy" (Dirksen 1947, 350-60).

Such warnings by voices other than Truman's spoke regularly of fire, flood, and red fever, which set the rhetorical stage for a presidential declaration of global emergency. Working within a common political culture, Truman's speechwriters crafted an address that prompted similar images on behalf of aid to Greece and Turkey. The final product of their efforts featured a thoroughly literalized version of the disease metaphor Acheson had relied on explicitly to influence Vandenberg and the rest of the congressional leadership assembled at the White House. Embedded in the speech was a conceptual image of Greek (and, by extension, Turkish) sickness that defined the threat to U.S. security, making democracy vulnerable to the disease of communist chaos.

Drafting the Image of an Emergency

The process of drafting Truman's speech began the morning of February 28 when Acheson gathered a State Department working group to establish a general communication strategy for cultivating public and congressional opinion. Acheson informed the group that the congressional delegation to whom he and Secretary Marshall had spoken the previous day stipulated the need for a presidential speech that would characterize the situation "in terms almost as frank" as those presented to them. Toward this end, the under secretary specified that the speech should avoid accusing the Soviet Union directly but should "talk instead about the spread of Communism." The public presentation should stress "the concept of individual liberty" and "the protection of democracy everywhere in the world" as a way of avoiding the appearance of "do-goodism" and of underscoring the purpose of "protecting the nation itself" (Jones 1947). Thus, the image of communism spreading throughout the world (like an epidemic, a flood, or a raging fire) motivated the concept of the Truman Doctrine and defined the national interests at stake. As one member of the team indicated, the only thing that would "sell" the public was the "necessity of holding the line. Communism versus Democracy should be [the] major theme" (State-War-Navy Departments Coordinating Committee [SWNCC] 1947).

The detailed rhetorical strategy that emerged from these deliberations received approval from the SWNCC on March 3 and became the basis of the various drafts of the presidential message, the final version of which was presented only nine days later (Russell 1971, 123). The strategy called for emphasizing the need to "set the Greek economy on its feet" to avoid the "chaos [that] might engulf a large part of the world" a world that was "highly vulnerable to the further spread of communism." The administration should sponsor "emergency measures" to "prevent collapse" then inaugurate "general economic assistance" to bring about "conditions of economic stability" and finally propose "a program of rehabilitation" to help "Greece become self-supporting as soon as possible" (Information Program 1947a, 13-15, 17). The health of a desperately ill patient depended on receiving emergency aid, followed by measures to stabilize the patient's condition and eventually a regimen of rehabilitation to prevent a recurrence of the dreaded disease.

This image of a medical crisis was reflected in three preliminary drafts of Truman's speech written over the "snowy weekend" of March 2-3. Joseph Jones's draft attempted to set a general tone for the address by referring to a "crisis in foreign policy" and "one of the gravest problems of national security ever to confront the nation." He challenged the nation to draw on its "own strength" to "extend aid" to free peoples and democratic governments who otherwise would not "survive post-war chaos" and the threat of communism (Draft 1947a, 1,3). At the same time, Gordon Merriam's (1947) initial version of the speech, which Acheson subsequently read and edited closely, characterized Greece as unable "to regain her health" after the ravages of German occupation in World War II had subjected the Greek people to "starvation and disease" leaving those who survived "tubercular" and in "a state of extreme impoverishment and physical debility." Such "deep scars" would prevent the development of a strong and democratic society in Greece if America allowed "the rot of terrorism and totalitarianism [to] take hold and spread its corruption in ever widening circles" (pp. 2-4, 7, 10). Loy Henderson's (1947) preliminary draft also referred to a Greek government and economy that were "partially paralyzed" and likely to "succumb to the destructive forces threatening to engulf them" unless American aid was forthcoming (pp. 8, 13).

As the writing of the speech progressed over the next week and a half, the image of disease and impending disaster increasingly insinuated itself throughout an evolving text. Jones's draft of March 4, for instance, incorporated a reference to the Greek government asking for "assistance to help restore a healthy condition" and subsequently was edited to remove a placid clause about "dangers" that were a threat to U.S. security even though "a step removed in time and space. "Jones's handwritten notes for revising the March 4 draft stressed that "the situation is upon us. It requires immediate, speedy, & resolute action." Acheson's editorial hand also emphasized the urgency of the situation by adding the warning that "aggressive movements sap the very foundations of international peace and the security of the United States," and Jones inserted an additional reference to the urgency of getting Greece's economy "on its feet" ([First] Draft 1947; Notes and draft 1947; [Revised] Draft 1947).

On reaching the White House, the text of the speech received the editorial attention of Clark Clifford and his assistant George Elsey. The revisions of March 9, for instance, revealed a conceptual link between the metaphor of "getting Greece on its feet" and the more conventional language of making "economic recovery possible" when Clifford proposed substituting the latter image for its more figurative counterpart. Although "recovery" was incorporated, subsequent versions of the speech continued as well to speak of getting the Greek economy "on its feet." Clifford suggested further that Acheson's image of aggression "sapping" the foundation of American security might be replaced with the similar but mundane (and therefore more literal) reference to aggression "undermining" the foundation of security to "weaken" Greece and Turkey. Intertwining medical and construction imagery, Clifford inserted another clause calling on Americans to "assist [Greece] in building an economy in which a healthy democracy can flourish." He then penned in references to "creating a stable and self sustaining economy," or what he also termed a "sound economy" (Revised draft 1947; Suggested draft 1947).

As Clifford and Elsey (assisted by William Hassett, Charles Ross, and other members of the president's staff) continued working over State's draft of the address, they turned their attention eventually to perfecting a concluding metaphor that would reinforce the basic concept of communism spreading like an epidemic. The initial effort yielded a complex cognate image that intermixed totalitarian seeds with flames of hope and tests of fortitude:
 1. The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want.

 2. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife.

 3. They burst forth in their full stature when the hope of a people for a
 better life has died.

 4. We must keep alive the flame of hope in the Greek people.

 5. Our strength must support that flame until the Greek nation can keep it
 burning bright and strong for all the world to see.

 6. We have had placed upon us, by the swift movement of events, great
 responsibilities.

 7. We shall be tested as never before. (Draft 1947c; sentences not numbered
 in original)


The predominant image of totalitarian seeds being nurtured in the evil soil of poverty and strife was strengthened by a series of revisions that left the opening two sentences of the conclusion unchanged. The third sentence was altered by replacing "burst forth in their full stature" (something more akin to ancient Greek mythology than to the evil seeds of contemporary Greek communism) with the more harmonious phrase, "reach their full growth." The bright flame of Greek hope featured in the fourth and fifth sentences was eventually condensed to "we must keep that hope alive," thus maintaining a singular focus on the deadly consequences of allowing totalitarian seeds to spread.

Next, two sentences were inserted to emphasize freedom's stake and America's role in preserving a healthy international environment:
 The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their
 freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the
 world and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.


The sense of communism advancing and the urgency of exercising American leadership without delay were intensified by a somewhat more active and direct version of sentence number six: "Great responsibilities have been placed upon us by the swift movement of events." Finally, the seventh sentence, featuring the metaphor of "testing" national resolve, was replaced by a vehicle that appealed to national will without deflecting attention from the primary figure of seeds spreading totalitarian evil: "I am confident," the revised text concluded, "that the Congress will face these responsibilities squarely."(1)

Together, these revisions achieved a greater degree of connotative consistency and a closer convergence of figurative and conventional language in the conclusion, thus calling less attention to the growing-seeds-of-totalitarianism metaphor as a rhetorical device while increasing its conceptual force as a cognate image of America's imminent peril and global responsibilities. When George Kennan (1972), the acknowledged father of containment, saw a version of what the president was about to tell the nation, he objected strenuously to making such sweeping commitments beyond the specific need for a limited intervention in Greece. "Our aid to Greece," he complained, was being placed "in the framework of a universal policy rather than in that of a specific decision addressed to a specific set of circumstances" (p. 182). It seemed unlikely to Kennan that American interests would always correspond with the needs of nations similarly threatened by communist subversion. Even he recognized, though, that his objections had come too late in the drafting process to alter the image of communism spreading perilously around the globe (p. 178).

Presenting the Image of a Global Emergency

Acheson and his colleagues at State actively cultivated public opinion immediately prior to the president's scheduled address, preparing the country as much as possible within a limited time span to endorse a request for emergency relief assistance to Greece and other countries.(2) Their information strategy called for Acheson to hold a series of off-the-record conferences with selected journalists and to participate in background meetings with other representatives of the print and broadcast media in New York City and Washington, D.C. (Information Program 1947b). As a result, editorialists and columnists foreshadowed Truman's address in terms conducive to reifying communism as an immediate threat to the public health and welfare.

The Washington Daily News, for instance, editorialized two days before Truman spoke to Congress that "there would be nothing to prevent the Red tidal wave from engulfing" most of the world if the Russians should take over in Greece and Turkey (Let the people know 1947). James Reston (1947), anticipating the president's speech, reported on March 12 that "the danger of a Communist flood" was apparent to members of Congress but the "full gravity" of the situation was not yet understood. The same issue of the New York Times carried an editorial endorsing a policy of helping Greece and other countries withstand attempts "to engulf them in the Russo-Communist tide" (Mr. Truman 1947). Newsweek also reported that prior to the president's address, "State Department officials had worked ... desperately to convince Congress and the American people that the germ disease of another world war had already taken root this time in Greece" (Policy 1947).

Thus, the president's speech was delivered before a joint session of Congress within a context cultivated by the administration to nurture national anxieties. The address itself presented a literalized image of impending crisis by weaving economic and other naturalized language into the figure of communism as a diseased seed spreading evil throughout a world of want and misery.(3) By intertwining conventional with less conventional terminologies, Truman generated a feeling of urgency without abusing the nation's sense of reality, thus fusing a demonstrable economic need of relieving human suffering in Greece with a politically unorthodox agenda of containing communism globally. Stopping the spread of communism became "literally" a matter of life or death.

The literalized threat of an impending epidemic was conveyed in Truman's opening lines announcing that "the gravity of the situation" confronting the world involved "the national security" of the United States.(4) "Gravity" provided a connotative link between the crisis in Greece and insecurity at home, suggesting the urgency of acting immediately before grave conditions, as yet unspecified, got completely out of hand. Greece and Turkey were but "one aspect of the present situation," one emergency indicative of a much larger crisis affecting the world as a whole. "The United States," Truman next revealed, had "received from the Greek Government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance [that was] imperative if Greece [were] to survive as a free nation." Thus, gravity implied an "urgent" question of "survival" and the need for "assistance," a quasi-medical image of an emergency literalized by its association with nonmedical terms from the domain of finance and economics.

By implication, the patient was freedom: Greece's "survival" as a "free nation" was at stake. The disease was aggression and chaos. In the president's words, Greece had "suffered invasion, four years of cruel enemy occupation, and bitter internal strife." Its economy and its transportation system were "destroyed," its children were "tubercular," and inflation had "wiped out" its savings. The patient had been weakened by a condition that equated economic destruction with physical illness. "As a result of these tragic conditions," Truman continued, "a militant minority, exploiting human want and misery, was able to create political chaos that, until now, has made economic recovery impossible."

The disease had progressed to the point at which Greece was helpless and needed outside assistance if it were to recover economically and politically. The victim was in "desperate need of financial and economic assistance," requiring immediate "help to import the goods necessary to restore internal order and security so essential for economic and political recovery." Greeks, by themselves, were "unable to cope" with a situation in which "the very existence of the Greek state" was "threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists."

It became readily apparent, as Truman's metaphorically framed logic was extended yet another step, that only the United States was in a position to aid prostrate Greece and restore the prospects for democracy. "Greece must have assistance," Truman asserted, "if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy. The United States must supply this assistance.... No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for a democratic Greek government." The United Nations could not be expected to "assist in this crisis," for the situation was "an urgent one requiring immediate action" beyond the resources of an infant and weak UN.

Only America was able to give Greece the kind of "aid" needed "to build an economy in which a healthy democracy can flourish." In fact, it was only because the Greek government had been weakened and disoriented by the "atmosphere of chaos and extremism" that it had made mistakes and failed to reach its full democratic potential.

The same metaphorically inspired logic was applied to Turkey, again disguised as a literal statement by the seemingly conventional language of economic "soundness," "assistance," "needs," and "help" along with political "maintenance" and "preservation." In the president's words,
 The future of Turkey as an independent and economically sound state is
 clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than
 the future of Greece.... Turkey now needs our support. Since the war Turkey
 has sought additional financial assistance from Great Britain and the
 United States for the purpose of effecting that modernization necessary for
 the maintenance of its national integrity. That integrity is essential to
 the preservation of order in the Middle East. The British Government has
 informed us that, owing to its own difficulties, it can no longer extend
 financial or economic aid to Turkey. As in the case of Greece, if Turkey is
 to have the assistance it needs, the United States must supply it. We are
 the only country able to provide that help.


Turkey was afflicted with a malady that could spread to the Middle East if America did not take action immediately.

Coercion and aggression, direct or indirect, threatened the life of every free nation, including the United States if left unchecked. Helping others abroad to resist this contagion was crucial to protecting the security of Americans at home. "Collapse of free institutions and loss of independence would be disastrous," Truman warned, "not only for [Greece and Turkey] but for the world." Thus, fully extended, a well-literalized metaphorical motive led to the expression of what quickly became known as the Truman Doctrine, a promise to "support," "assist," "help," "aid," and "stabilize" afflicted peoples:
 I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free
 peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by
 outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free people to work out
 their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be
 primarily economic and financial aid which is essential to economic
 stability and orderly political processes.


Only in the conclusion of the address did the president configure his argument explicitly as an attempt to stunt the growth of totalitarian seeds nourished by human misery.

Envisioned as a disease or evil seed (even as a fire or flood), communism signified the source, or cause, of international disharmony that threatened American security if allowed to spread out of control. Thus, Truman's argument, structured by its conceptual imagery, required the nation to assume responsibility for holding the line wherever freedom was imperiled. Treating the symptoms of the disease (subversion, terrorism, extremism, coercion, confusion, disorder, and attempted subjugation) necessitated immediate action at an urgent, fateful hour to avoid the grave consequences of one patient collapsing and others becoming infected. Ultimately, though, the tragic conditions of human want and misery would have to be alleviated by healthy economies to ensure "a way of life free from coercion."

Truman's causal argument, guided by the identification of communism with pestilence, reinforced his disjunctive premise that all nations were either democratic or totalitarian, free or slave (i.e., healthy or ill, getting well or becoming infected), and thus either resisting subjugation or subverting freedom:
 One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is
 distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free
 elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and
 religion, and freedom from political oppression.

 The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly
 imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a
 controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of
 personal freedoms.


This was the cause for which Americans had sacrificed so many lives and expended their treasure in World War II. Protecting that investment in world freedom and world peace required no less now than assisting all free peoples who were resisting communism, including those in Greece and Turkey.

Acheson's disease metaphor and related vehicles, functioning collectively as a conceptual analogy, had evolved into a definition of reality. Its logic of causal relationships entailed the principle of fighting the spread of communism to free (i.e., noncommunist) countries. Thus, the president's speech fulfilled all three reality-constructing functions of argumentation specified by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, employing forms with which political realities are initially envisioned (metaphor and analogy) to activate arguments based on established structures of reality (causal relations) and to advance quasilogical claims that carry the rational authority of disjunctive syllogisms and part-whole relationships (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 1969, 185-411).

Moreover, the organization of the speech, which functioned contrapuntally at a thematic level, extended the logic of the master metaphor sequentially at the level of argument by addressing a series of key issues anticipated by Truman's speech writers.(5) As Raymie McKerrow has observed, the arrangement of Truman's arguments drew its rhetorical potency from its responsiveness to the average, simple questions that listeners and potential opponents might raise given the administration's basic characterization of the situation. Anticipating these questions implicit in the analogy between communism and pestilence, the speech opened by linking national security to the survival of freedom and then addressed the issue of why freedom should be protected in Greece, pointing to circumstances that had destroyed the political and economic health of a courageous nation endowed with limited resources. Next, the speech addressed the questions of how America would ensure that its aid was well used (indicating that aid would be accompanied by experienced American administrators, economists, and technicians), what kind of aid was needed (military as well as economic), why the United States (instead of Great Britain or the United Nations) had to supply that aid, what criteria Greece (and Turkey) would meet to receive aid, and how American aid would fit into the larger scheme of things, that is, protecting freedom from the spread of totalitarianism.(6) Truman repeated and intertwined basic themes as he addressed each of these issues, but the speech advanced deliberately from start to finish to articulate a systematic case for engaging communism in Greece and Turkey before it became a global epidemic.

Finally, the president's plain, matter-of-fact delivery contributed to the literalizing effect of his organization, causal reasoning, and quasi-logical arguments, beginning from the moment he marched toward the speaker's rostrum carrying only a black folder (Jones 1989, vii). "In Harry Truman's dry delivery," the New Republic reported, "the march of disaster often seemed to sprint against the clock. Yet the ominous beat was unmistakable" (The Truman Doctrine 1947). The Washington Post noted that the president's delivery was slower, more deliberate, and marked by greater clarity than usual as he took a "think-it-over" approach in "asking America to be Atlas" (President's delivery 1947). Similarly, the New York Times observed that Truman "spoke earnestly, gravely, but undramatically of the situation that had called for the message" (Truman Doctrine 1947).

Truman used his matter-of-fact manner and plain style of speaking to emphasize as well as literalize the image of a global emergency, marking and underlining his reading copy of the speech accordingly. To underscore the facts of the matter while drawing on the metaphor of disease, for instance, he selected one sentence for particular emphasis: "Eighty-five per cent of the children were tubercular." At other points, he emphasized America's crucial role in the battle against communism: "No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for a democratic Greek government"; "We are the only country able to provide that help." To convey the urgency of acting, his notes indicated that the United States "must take immediate and resolute action" before the seeds of totalitarian regimes "reach their full growth" (Original reading copy 1947).

Additionally, vocal emphasis was given to key themes and images as Truman delivered the speech. His voice stressed the last clause of his fifth sentence, for instance, to underscore that assistance was imperative "if Greece is to survive as a free nation." The very existence of the Greek state was threatened by the terrorist activities "of several thousand armed men, led by Communists." A fourth of the way into the speech, Truman slowed his delivery to accentuate Greece's need for assistance "if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy." Later, immediately preceding his announcement of what became known as the Truman Doctrine, he used a pause to underscore the gravity of his proclamation. At other points, he stressed words such as collapse and disastrous to convey the ominous character of the situation confronting the United States.(7)

In the days immediately following the president's presentation to Congress, members of the administration continued the campaign to characterize the situation as akin to a medical emergency. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, for instance, engaged in a long telephone conversation with James Reston of the New York Times ostensibly to assess congressional responses to Truman's speech. Discussing the larger implications of the emergency in Greece and Turkey with his obviously sympathetic interlocutor, and seemingly anticipating the Marshall Plan that would be proposed a few months later, Forrestal asked rhetorically, "Are we going to try to keep Germany a running boil with the puss exuding over the rest of Europe, or are we going to try to bring it back into inner society?" (Excerpts 1947). The next day, Willard Thorp and Loy Henderson of the State Department appeared on NBC's Our Foreign Policy series to discuss aid to Greece. Throughout the program, they emphasized that this was a "critical period" in which the United States was attempting to put Greece "back on its feet" (State Department transcript 1947). Clearly, Acheson's original conception of the problem continued to guide administration rhetoric.

Reactions to the Speech: Envisioning a Deadly Threat

Reactions to Truman's speech reflected two rhetorical functions served by the image of a global emergency, each of which heightened the nation's sense of vulnerability and its determination to meet the threat of chaos and communism. The first reaction revealed the image's function of defining the threat in terms of disease and impending death. Truman's speech featured a language of crisis and affliction, employing terms such as suffered, tubercular, wiped out, misery, crisis, gravity, and collapse. Despite a generally shared belief that the Soviet Union was unlikely to launch a military attack on the United States, the president's language was foreshadowed, adopted, and extended by supporters and critics alike into a widespread characterization of communism as a menace to civilization's health and welfare. Metaphors of disease along with a variety of related vehicles prodded the nation to choose life over death before the emergency got out of hand.

The New York Times and at least six other newspapers editorialized that Truman's address was comparable to Franklin Roosevelt's" `quarantine' speech against aggressors, a speech made under analogous circumstances in 1937." This time, however, the nation was to follow the president's blunt warning by assuming "world-wide responsibility for the maintenance of peace and order" (Warning to Russia 1947, 26; President's address 1947).(8) David Lawrence (1947), writing in U.S. News, agreed that "the time to check a virus which leads only to war is before it makes too much headway" (p. 25). Senator Connally, in turn, warned his colleagues that "Soviet Russia, by her system of spreading creeping paralysis among smaller and weaker nations, hopes to bring about world dominion." The Soviets, he argued, were attempting to gain control of Europe by "enervating" one country at a time (Congressional Record--Senate 1947e, 3276). Senator Flanders agreed that communism was the "destructive infection by which the great totalitarian power seeks to effect its ends" (Congressional Record--Senate 1947e, 3338). Even Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado, who argued against sending funds to Greece and Turkey, acknowledged in a radio address over the Mutual Broadcasting System that "an epidemic of communism is said to be sweeping over Europe and Asia." His solution, however, was no better than to suggest that "the best cure for communism is a good dose of communism" (Appendix to the Congressional Record 1947d, A1821).

In addition to metaphorical vehicles such as quarantine, virus, paralysis, enervating, infection, and epidemic, all of which referred directly to the domain of disease and death, a variety of other images conveyed a strong implication of civilization's impending demise--short, of course, of the United States taking firm and effective action. Columnist Lawrence (1947), for instance, warned of the need "to stop the fire before it spreads," regretted that matters had "to be reduced to such brutish terms," and assured his readers that Americans were unwilling to see totalitarianism spread its claws to all of Europe" (p. 24). Senator Connally added his belief that these were "the fertile soils in which germinate and flourish communism," eroding the foundations of "civilization" and threatening to leave Greece "the tragic victim of dark and cruel forces." In addition to "evil and insidious influences," Greeks were victimized by "outlaw bands" and threatened with "submergence" from "waves of armed communism beating at their doors" (Congressional Record--Senate 1947a, 3275). Representative John F. Kennedy contributed his observation that American neutrality would play into the hands of those who "feed on the misery and despair of the postwar world .... The barriers would be down and the Red tide would flow across the face of Europe and through Asia with new power and vigor." Turkey, he argued, lived "under a heavy shadow thrown by its great neighbor to the north and to the east (Appendix to the Congressional Record 1947c, A1422-23). Thus, the language of disease combined readily with images of fire, flood, crime, and bestiality to symbolize darkness descending over the civilized world, a darkness that reminded many of the nightmare of Munich. In the words of Congressman Lanham (1947), sending aid to Greece and Turkey was fighting the spread of "Red fascism" (p. A2197).

The threat was characterized as an emergency, not as a crusade. The spread of communism had to be stopped and contained to allow free societies to survive, a point stressed by much of the press, including the New York Herald Tribune, which maintained that the purpose of Truman's request for aid to Greece and Turkey
 was a desire to prevent Soviet totalitarianism from spreading further
 through the world and thus further undermining the last remaining bases of
 the liberal-democratic system. He did not proclaim a holy war against
 Communism. He did declare a resolve to resist further "coercion," whether
 by force or by infiltration. (In support 1947)


The New York Times pointed out as well that the president had proclaimed "no crusade to overthrow communism in Russia," and that he was attempting instead "to `contain' Russian expansion," to avoid being "engulfed by a Communist tide," and to "stamp out the smoldering beginnings of any conflict that may threaten to spread" (The president's policy 1947; Truman Doctrine 1947; Our foreign policy 1947). The $400,000,000 sent to Greece and Turkey to "stem [the] tide of Communism," according to the Los Angeles Times, was "the first premium on an insurance policy" that would "buy security" by "blocking Russian expansion at all key points" (President ask 1947, 1; Americans' greatest 1947, 4). Anything short of such a policy, the Houston Post suggested, would "open the flood-gates for the spread of Communism" (The fateful 1947, sec. 2, p. 4). Thus, an editorial cartoon in the Christian Science Monitor, bearing the caption "An Ounce of Prevention" (1947), depicted Truman handing Congress a threaded needle labeled "request for aid to Greece and Turkey" while repeating the old adage, "A stitch in time may save nine" (p. 22). As Aristotle observed centuries before, the rhetorical force of speech is based on just such maxims, in this case one that affirmed the cultural validity of the president's master metaphor (Aristotle 1954, 1394.21-1395.21).

Reactions to the Metaphor: Conceiving a Heroic Role

In addition to defining the deadly threat of communism as an impending epidemic (and, by extension, an imminent flood or menacing conflagration), the metaphor of a medical crisis further underscored American vulnerability by casting the nation in the heroic role of world savior. Whereas the first function of the metaphor was to define a threat, its second function was to require bold action, thrusting the United States onto the world stage, assigning it global responsibilities, demanding unilateral action, but denying it the security even of an understudy. In Senator Connally's words,
 We are standing on the world stage. Small nations and free peoples
 everywhere on the globe are looking to us with hope in their hearts and a
 prayer upon their lips. What we shall do will be recorded in the solemn
 annals of our time. The United States, with a glorious tradition, faces the
 judgment of history. The United States, the nursery of liberty ... must
 answer the cry of impoverished and shattered Greece.... As the greatest
 champion of democracy in all the centuries ... we cannot, we must not, say
 "No." (Congressional Record--Senate 1947e, 3277)


It was America's responsibility, as Senator Vandenberg said, "to prevent hunger and confusion and misery" and thereby stop the "spread of communism" (Congressional Record--Senate 1947a, 2168). The plan of action amounted to a "calculated risk," he admitted, but the nation's "supreme task" was "to face these present realities, no matter how we hate them, and to mend the broken pattern if such be within human power" (Congressional Record--Senate 1947c, 3198, 3196). "To resurrect a whole world," advised Senator Myers, it would "take heroism--real heroism" by the "one potent democratic nation in the world" (Myers 1947, A1075, A1077).

Truman's supporters in Congress drew on a number of "healer" images to advance the hero theme. Senator Eastland, for instance, quoted Winston Churchill as saying the United States should try to stop pestilence by timely inoculation." In his view, this was the essence of a "wholesome" foreign policy for America (Congressional Record--Senate 1947f, 3324). Senator Flanders added that the United States "must seek to heal" the Greek turmoil (Congressional Record--Senate 1947f, 3340). Senator Myers spoke of the "rescue of helpless nations" from "starvation and epidemic" to secure "the future health of a world in which democracy can live" (Appendix to the Congressional Record 1947a, A1076, A1075). Senator Vandenberg referred to the president's proposal as "a plan to sterilize the seeds of war." He preferred "an ounce of precaution to a pound of cure" but acknowledged the need "to mend the imminent situation in Greece" (Congressional Record---Senate 1947c, 3195, 3197).

Designating heroic America to face this crisis alone served the purpose of fusing an undisputed humanitarian need with an otherwise controversial foreign policy, an association Truman's critics worked especially hard, but unsuccessfully, to break. As Senator Claude Pepper (1947) observed, "Robbed of the military aspects, this measure would have had no opposition in Congress, for we all favor Greek relief to the utmost." Greek relief had been married to global politics. The administration was not "thinking solely about human need and the suffering of men, women, and children, but those who obtained relief had to be politically acceptable to our dispensation." This was a motive, in his view, far less pure than a "dispensation of Christian charity" by "the Good Samaritan" (pp. 70-71). It was a motive, however, used to justify bypassing the United Nations on the grounds that the urgency of the situation dictated unilateral action by the United States.

The effect of Senator Pepper's (1947) criticism was to underscore America's vulnerability as the sole agent of world salvation. This "honest but misguided zeal" to strike out against communism would sabotage the United Nations, destroy any hope of reconciliation with Russia, launch the United States upon an unprecedented policy of intervention in remote nations and areas of the world unilaterally, ally us with the reactionary and corrupt regimes of the world," and "risk" a war that could "destroy civilization" (p. 76). Other critics, such as Senator Butler, underscored the risks of accepting "the entire burden for remaking the world" by arguing that the situation could not be "cured solely by American dollars (Congressional Record--Senate 1947d, 3237, 3239). Representative Knutson worried that Americans might "impoverish" themselves by spreading largesse all over the world and thus "open the door to communism in this country." His fear was that the United States might "drown in the sea of want and famine and disease" (Congressional Record--Senate 1947b, 2837). To "swallow" Truman's pill because "we are deathly afraid of Communists" Senator Johnson argued, was to launch a foreign policy that was "the child of desperation" (Appendix to the Congressional Record 1947b, A1117). A desperate America was vulnerable twofold, not only to the epidemic of world communism but also to the risk of failed heroics as it set out to conquer a debilitating disease single-handedly.

A Rhetorical Legacy of Vulnerability

Thus, as the conceptual entailment of a master metaphor embedded in Truman's speech, national security necessitated a cold war to eradicate communism, if not by crusade then at least by containing or quarantining it through a program of economic aid. Toward that end, George Marshall (1948) extended the language and the logic of the Truman Doctrine by advancing a multi-billion-dollar "European Recovery Program" that would reestablish the "economic health and vigor" of "free countries" in Europe and thereby avoid their "collapse into the dictatorship of police states" (pp. 207, 211). By further extension, the disease metaphor was turned against the body politic itself in a convulsion of McCarthyism intended to cut away the "cancer of communism," eliminate the "germs" of society's death, and eradicate the "infestation" of communism at the State Department; the president had unleashed a red scare that soon got out of hand and came under the control of his own critics, including those who would prefer an even harsher remedy than Truman had proposed for world communism (LaFeber 1989,454-55; Paterson 1988, 103; Black 1970, 113; see also Freeland 1972).

Truman's heroic vision of stopping pestilence and achieving total security, although fraught with frustration and doomed to failure in an inherently dangerous world, was so compelling because it engaged traditional American motives. As Howard Bliss and Glen Johnson (1972) have noted, Americans always have considered their nation a source of "moral regeneration" in "a world ill" with political "diseases." In their self-proclaimed role of "missionary doctor," they have dedicated themselves to "heal[ing] the sickness of the Old World" (p. 3). Truman's literalized language of medical crisis extended a rhetorical legacy of exaggerated fears and expectations into the nuclear age.

The conceptual imagery of the Truman Doctrine also provided the nation with an easy transition to direct military confrontation with communist forces when later faced with "outbreaks of aggression" in Korea and Vietnam. In Korea, the global emergency of impending fire, flood, and fever became, in Truman's war speeches, a "tide of atheistic Communism." Suddenly, without warning, a "roaring blaze" of communist totalitarianism had "burst out" from "behind the Iron Curtain," threatening to "swallow up" the noncommunist world unless America contained the fire by meeting force with force (Ivie 1986, 98-99). Similarly, in the opinion of Senator J. William Fulbright (1972), Truman's original image of the communist threat was the guiding spirit of America's involvement in Vietnam (see also Osgood, Tucker, and Dinerstein 1970). Indeed, throughout the cold war, presidents repeatedly drew on the specific words of the Truman Doctrine speech to justify military initiatives against communism in every corner of the globe.

Other terminologies have shaped America's cold war motives and intensified the nation's sense of insecurity throughout the last four decades, but none has been more basic than the vehicles of global emergency used by the Truman administration to implement a policy of containment.(9) Through the medium of a presidential address delivered at a key moment, the nation assumed an attitude of confrontation toward the Soviet Union that renewed Thomas Jefferson's anxieties over the "threatening, infectious nature of alien ideologies and political systems" (Chace 1985, 229).

Such an attitude inhibited the nation's ability to live with the degree of vulnerability necessitated by the complexities of the cold war era, both because it overstated the communist threat and helped to extend the cycle of Soviet-American recriminations. Truman's language elevated difficulties with a former, albeit wary, ally into the realm of an ideological conflict that was mythical in its essence, according to Louis Halle (1967, 158-59), and misleading in its characterization of Soviet capabilities and intentions to rule the world. The view that economic sickness abroad might spread communism and war to the United States led to alarmist visions of the nation's adversary, when actually the Kremlin was hampered by its own economic and military weaknesses.(10) Moreover, as Robert Tucker (1970) has argued, "the rhetoric of yesterday," whatever its validity for its own time, became "the reality of today" despite changing circumstances (p. 41). To the extent that the Truman Doctrine speech evoked an exaggerated sense of insecurity in its own day, its legacy was to compound that exaggeration over time by transforming a guiding metaphor into the "literal" truth. As John Lewis Gaddis (1972) has observed,
 By presenting aid to Greece and Turkey in terms of an ideological conflict
 between two ways of life, Washington officials encouraged a simplistic view
 of the cold war which was, in time, to imprison American diplomacy in an
 ideological straightjacket almost as confining as that which restricted
 Soviet foreign policy. Trapped in their own rhetoric, leaders of the United
 States found it difficult to respond to the conciliatory gestures which
 emanated from the Kremlin following Stalin's death and, through their
 inflexibility, may well have contributed to the perpetuation of the cold
 war. (p. 352; see also Gaddis 1992, 13-14)


As Claude Pepper, Henry Wallace, and other critics of Truman's "get tough" policy knew, "Stalin's Russia was no international saint," but fear of America's vulnerability to communist ideology and insensitivity to Soviet interests led to actions that "helped spawn international crises," caused the Kremlin to react defensively, and contributed to recurring hostilities (Paterson 1988, 102, 107; also see Paterson 1973). The cold war consensus became so compelling, in fact, that even its most vocal critics eventually succumbed, including Claude Pepper, who voted for NATO and other measures of containment, as well as Henry Wallace, who recanted his earlier opposition on the grounds that Russian communism was attempting to enslave all of humankind for its own imperial purposes (Paterson 1988, 113; Wallace 1952, sec. 7, pp. 7, 39, 46).

By conceptualizing ideological differences as a matter of life or death, cure or epidemic, Truman's rhetoric made the nation feel insecure in the extreme, more so than circumstances otherwise warranted. The mythos of his metaphor prevailed because it was so utterly common to the political culture and so thoroughly entwined with equally ordinary vehicles; the possibility of another reality simply never occurred to the administration or to mainstream America. Nor did the terministic incentives of a speech so basic to the nation's interpretive framework diminish over time. Additional metaphors configured American insecurities after Truman first declared cold war on the Soviet Union (see, for example, Ivie 1987a, 1989, 1994), but none was more thoroughly literalized, became more completely integrated into the prevailing logic of containing and eradicating international communism, or proved more immune to reassessment as a defining image of Soviet American relations. (1.) The evolution of the conclusion is revealed in the following drafts of the speech: Second draft 1947; Draft with attached note 1947; Draft 1947b, 1947c, 1947d; Draft of reading copy 1947; Original reading copy 1947.

(2.) Elsey (1947) expressed strong reservations about delivering an all-out speech before the public had been properly prepared. Its desired effect, he worried, could not be ensured without the administration engaging in a series of speeches and actions to educate and inform the public, thus building up as rapidly as possible to the great climax--the all-out speech.

(3.) For a discussion of Truman's techniques of literalizing cold war metaphors, see Ivie (1986, 176-80).

(4.) All citations to the text of the Truman Doctrine speech are from Truman (1961, 176-80).

(5.) The speech was based on a brief prepared by the State Department. See Information Program (1947a).

(6.) I am indebted to Raymie McKerrow for his observations on this point in his response to an early draft of this article.

(7.) An audiotape of the speech is available at the Harry S. Truman Library.

(8.) See also The Truman Doctrine (1947, 5), which refers to the price of quarantining East from West.

(9.) For a discussion of the impact of the language of femininity on perceptions of vulnerability, see Ivie (1987b).

(10.) This point is advanced vigorously by Paterson (1988, 33, 43, 45-47).

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Truman, H. S. 1961. Special message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey: The Truman doctrine. In Public papers of the Presidents: Harry S. Truman, 1947. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

The Truman Doctrine. 1947. New Republic, March 24, 5. "Truman Doctrine": Russia and the world. 1947. New York Times, March 16.

Tucker, R. W. 1970. The American outlook. In America and the world: From the Truman Doctrine to Vietnam, edited by R. E. Osgood, R. W. Tucker, and H. S. Dinerstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Underhill, W. R. 1961. Harry S. Truman: Spokesman for containment. The Quarterly Journal of Speech 47:268-74.

Wallace, H. A. 1952. Where I was wrong. New York Herald Tribune, September 7.

Warning to Russia. 1947. New York Times, March 13, 26.

Robert L. Ivie is a professor and department chair of communication and culture at Indiana University. One focus of his scholarship is the rhetoric of war. In addition to his coauthored book, Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology (Rev. ed, Michigan State University Press, 1997), his recent work includes "Dwight Eisenhower's `Chance for Peace': Quest or Crusade?" (Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 1998) and "Democratic Deliberation in a Rhetorical Republic" (The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1998).3
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Author:IVIE, ROBERT L.
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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