Truman became convinced that Stalin meant to extend Communist influence throughout Europe. By early 1947, the president had a new foreign policy in the making. In its later stages it was called “containment” and was aimed at blocking Communist expansion anywhere in the world. Under Truman, the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were the major manifestations of containment and committed the United States to a role of world leadership it had never before been willing to assume. The war years had brought America out of its isolationism.
Implemented in 1947 and 1948, the Marshall Plan was a massive American-financed reconstruction program for war-torn Europe. At the time, NATO was a military alliance established in 1949 to provide a common defense against potential Soviet and later Communist Chinese military aggression, and it was the first peacetime military alliance the U.S. had ever joined.
Truman’s Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, desegregated the military. The order declared: “There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” Truman also established a presidential committee to oversee the desegregation of military units. By the end of the Korean War in 1953, 90 percent of the units were integrated.
Truman presided over major domestic events and trends in the late forties and early fifties:
- The GI Bill (passed in 1944) provided assistance to veterans for college tuition and to buy houses with low-interest mortgages.
- Eighty-five percent of new houses were constructed outside of central cities.
- Automobiles and highways became essential for the “American Dream.”
- The postwar “Baby Boom” (1946 to 1964), was the largest generation in history.
- Defense companies laid off one million workers; three million workers became unemployed by March 1946.
- Inflation jumped 25 percent weeks after price controls ended in June 1946.
- In 1947, Taft-Hartley anti-labor legislation was passed over Truman’s veto.
- Truman insisted upon a strong civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform, prompting southern Democrats to bolt from the party.
- Truman’s Fair Deal program managed to extend Social Security to 10 million additional people, provided flood control, and raised the minimum wage to 75 cents an hour, but failed to win national health insurance and more assistance for farmers.
- The “McCarthy Hearings,” brought on by several U.S. Cold War setbacks and an increasingly anti-Communist political atmosphere at home, persisted for more than five years.
- Truman’s approval ratings dropped to 23 percent by 1951, with the public unhappy with the war in Korea, doubts about Communist subversion, and the “loss of China” to Communism.