Tuesday September 21, 2021
In the early months of 1947, President Harry Truman and Dean Acheson, his secretary of state, made up their minds to prop up Greece’s openly fascist monarchy against a popular revolt they had cast as a Soviet threat. After much hand-wringing, Truman went to Congress on March 12 to ask for $400 million in aid, not quite $5 billion today when adjusted for inflation.
Truman and Acheson knew the Greek intervention would be a hard sell: Congress was in no mood to spend that kind of money, and the war-weary public harbored hope for FDR’s vision of a postwar order built on the principle of peaceful coexistence. As the speech went through its multiple drafts, Arthur Vandenberg, Republican senator from Michigan and a presence in the planning of America’s postwar posture, offered advice that must be counted elegantly forthright, if diabolic in its cynicism.
It comes down to us today, and for good reason. “Mr. President,” Vandenberg said during White House deliberations, “the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare hell out of the American people.”
Truman made his since-famous “scare hell” speech. The Greeks got their $400 million (a remarkable proportion of which was embezzled by government ministers), and the American public was kept scared for the next 40–odd years — the Cold War years.