Harry S. Truman photo

Special Message to the Congress on the Threat to the Freedom of Europe

March 17, 1948

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress:

I am here today to report to you on the critical nature of the situation in Europe, and to recommend action for your consideration.

Rapid changes are taking place in Europe which affect our foreign policy and our national security. There is an increasing threat to nations which are striving to maintain a form of government which grants freedom to its citizens. The United States is deeply concerned with the survival of freedom in those nations. It is of vital importance that we act now, in order to preserve the conditions under which we can achieve lasting peace based on freedom and justice.

The achievement of such a peace has been the great goal of this nation.

Almost 3 years have elapsed since the end of the greatest of all wars, but peace and stability have not returned to the world. We were well aware that the end of the fighting would not automatically settle the problems arising out of the war. The establishment of peace after the fighting is over has always been a difficult task. And even if all the Allies of World War II were united in their desire to establish a just and honorable peace, there would still be great difficulties in the way of achieving that peace.

But the situation in the world today is not primarily the result of natural difficulties which follow a great war. It is chiefly due to the fact that one nation has not only refused to cooperate in the establishment of a just and honorable peace, but--even worse--has actively sought to prevent it.

The Congress is familiar with the course of events.

You know of the sincere and patient attempts of the democratic nations to find a secure basis for peace through negotiation and agreement. Conference after conference has been held in different parts of the world. We have tried to settle the questions arising out of the war on a basis which would permit the establishment of a just peace. You know the obstacles we have encountered. But the record stands as a monument to the good faith and integrity of the democratic nations of the world. The agreements we did obtain, imperfect though they were, could have furnished the basis for a just peace--if they had been kept. But they were not kept.

They have been persistently ignored and violated by one nation.

The Congress is also familiar with the developments concerning the United Nations. Most of the countries of the world have joined together in the United Nations in an attempt to build a world order based on law and not on force. Most of the members support the United Nations earnestly and honestly, and seek to make it stronger and more effective.

One nation, however, has persistently obstructed the work of the United Nations by constant abuse of the veto. That nation has vetoed 21 proposals for action in a little over 2 years.

But that is not all. Since the close of hostilities, the Soviet Union and its agents have destroyed the independence and democratic character of a whole series of nations in Eastern and Central Europe.

It is this ruthless course of action, and the clear design to extend it to the remaining free nations of Europe, that have brought about the critical situation in Europe today.

The tragic death of the Republic of Czechoslovakia has sent a shock throughout the civilized world. Now pressure is being brought to bear on Finland, to the hazard of the entire Scandinavian peninsula. Greece is under direct military attack from rebels actively supported by her Communist dominated neighbors. In Italy, a determined and aggressive effort is being made by a Communist minority to take control of that country. The methods vary, but the pattern is all too clear.

Faced with this growing menace, there have been encouraging signs that the free nations of Europe are drawing closer together for their economic well-being and for the common defense of their liberties.

In the economic field, the movement for mutual self-help to restore conditions essential to the preservation of free institutions is well under way. In Paris, the 16 nations which are cooperating in the European recovery program are meeting again to establish a joint organization to work for the economic restoration of Western Europe.

The United States has strongly supported the efforts of these nations to repair the devastation of war and restore a sound world economy. In presenting this program to the Congress last December, I emphasized the necessity for speedy action. Every event in Europe since that day has underlined the great urgency for the prompt adoption of this measure.

The Soviet Union and its satellites were invited to cooperate in the European recovery program. They rejected that invitation. More than that, they have declared their violent hostility to the program and are aggressively attempting to wreck it.

They see in it a major obstacle to their designs to subjugate the free community of Europe. They do not want the United States to help Europe. They do not even want the 16 cooperating countries to help themselves.

While economic recovery in Europe is essential, measures for economic rehabilitation alone are not enough. The free nations of Europe realize that economic recovery, if it is to succeed, must be afforded some measure of protection against internal and external aggression. The movement toward economic cooperation has been followed by a movement toward common self-protection in the face of the growing menace to their freedom.

At the very moment I am addressing you, five nations of the European community, in Brussels, are signing a 50-year agreement for economic cooperation and common defense against aggression.

This action has great significance, for this agreement was not imposed by the decree of a more powerful neighbor. It was the free choice of independent governments representing the will of their people, and acting within the terms of the Charter of the United Nations.

Its significance goes far beyond the actual terms of the agreement itself. It is a notable step in the direction of unity in Europe for the protection and preservation of its civilization. This development deserves our full support. I am confident that the United States will, by appropriate means, extend to the free nations the support which the situation requires. I am sure that the determination of the free countries of Europe to protect themselves will be matched by an equal determination on our part to help them to protect themselves.

The recent developments in Europe present this Nation with fundamental issues of vital importance.

I believe that we have reached a point at which the position of the United States should be made unmistakably clear.

The principles and the purposes expressed in the Charter of the United Nations continue to represent our hope for the eventual establishment of the rule of law in international affairs. The Charter constitutes the basic expression of the code of international ethics to which this country is dedicated. We cannot, however, close our eyes to the harsh fact that through obstruction and even defiance on the part of one nation, this great dream has not yet become a full reality.

It is necessary, therefore, that we take additional measures to supplement the work of the United Nations and to support its aims. There are times in world history when it is far wiser to act than to hesitate. There is some risk involved in action--there always is. But there is far more risk in failure to act.

For if we act wisely now, we shall strengthen the powerful forces for freedom, justice, and peace which are represented by the United Nations and the free nations of the world.

I regard it as my duty, therefore, to recommend to the Congress those measures which, in my judgment, are best calculated to give support to the free and democratic nations of Europe and to improve the solid foundation of our own national strength.

First, I recommend that the Congress speedily complete its action on the European recovery program. That program is the foundation of our policy of assistance to the free nations of Europe. Prompt passage of that program is the most telling contribution we can now make toward peace.

The decisive action which the Senate has taken without regard to partisan political considerations is a striking example of the effective working of democracy.

Time is now of critical importance. I am encouraged by the information which has come to me concerning the plans for expeditious action by the House of Representatives. I hope that no single day will be needlessly lost.

Second, I recommend prompt enactment of universal training legislation.

Until the free nations of Europe have regained their strength, and so long as communism threatens the very existence of democracy, the United States must remain strong enough to support those countries of Europe which are threatened with communist control and police-state rule.

I believe that we have learned the importance of maintaining military strength as a means of preventing war. We have found that a sound military system is necessary in time of peace if we are to remain at peace. Aggressors in the past, relying on our apparent lack of military force, have unwisely precipitated war. Although they have been led to destruction by their misconception of our strength, we have paid a terrible price for our unpreparedness.

Universal training is the only feasible means by which the civilian components of our armed forces can be built up to the strength required if we are to be prepared for emergencies. Our ability to mobilize large numbers of trained men in time of emergency could forestall future conflict and, together with other measures of national policy, could restore stability to the world.

The adoption of universal training by the United States at this time would be unmistakable evidence to all the world that our determination is to back the will to peace with the strength for peace. I am convinced that the decision of the American people, expressed through the Congress, to adopt universal training would be of first importance in giving courage to every free government in the world.

Third, I recommend the temporary ten enactment of selective service legislation in order to maintain our armed forces at their authorized strength.

Our armed forces lack the necessary men to maintain their authorized strength. They have been unable to maintain their authorized strength through voluntary enlistments, even though such strength has been reduced to the very minimum necessary to meet our obligations abroad and is far below the minimum which should always be available in the continental United States.

We cannot meet our international responsibilities unless we maintain our armed forces. It is of vital importance, for example, that we keep our occupation forces in Germany until the peace is secure in Europe.

There is no conflict between the requirements of selective service for the regular forces and universal training for the reserve components. Selective service is necessary until the solid foundation of universal training can be established. Selective service can then be terminated and the regular forces may then be maintained on a voluntary basis.

The recommendations I have made represent the most urgent steps toward securing the peace and preventing war.

We must be ready to take every wise and necessary step to carry out this great purpose. This will require assistance to other nations. It will require an adequate and balanced military strength. We must be prepared to pay the price for peace, or assuredly we shall pay the price of war.

We in the United States remain determined to seek peace by every possible means, a just and honorable basis for the settlement of international issues. We shall continue to give our strong allegiance to the United Nations as the principal means for international security based on law, not on force. We shall remain ready and anxious to join with all nations--I repeat, with all nations-in every possible effort to reach international understanding and agreement.

The door has never been closed, nor will it ever be closed, to the Soviet Union or to any other nation which genuinely cooperates in preserving the peace.

At the same time, we must not be confused about the central issue which confronts the world today.

The time has come when the free men and women of the world must face the threat to their liberty squarely and courageously.

The United States has a tremendous responsibility to act according to the measure of our power for good in the world. We have learned that we must earn the peace we seek just as we earned victory in the war, not by wishful thinking but by realistic effort.

At no time in our history has unity among our people been so vital as it is at the present time.

Unity of purpose, unity of effort, and unity of spirit are essential to accomplish the task before us.

Each of us here in this chamber today has a special responsibility. The world situation is too critical, and the responsibilities of this country are too vast, to permit any party struggles to weaken our influence for maintaining the peace.

The American people have the right to assume that political considerations will not affect our working together. They have the right to assume that we will join hands, wholeheartedly and without reservation, in our efforts to preserve the peace in the world.

With God's help we shall succeed.

Note: The President spoke at 12:30 p.m. His address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.

For the President's statement upon signing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, see Item 64.

On June 24, 1948, the President approved the Selective Service Act of 1948 (62 Stat. 604).

Harry S Truman, Special Message to the Congress on the Threat to the Freedom of Europe Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232488

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives