January 20

This Day in History

Cold War

Jan 20, 1949:

Truman announces Point Four program

In his inaugural address, President Harry S. Truman calls for a "bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped nations."

The resulting Point Four program (so-called because it was the fourth point in Truman's speech) resulted in millions of dollars in scientific and technical assistance--as well as hundreds of U.S. experts--sent to Latin American, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African nations.

Though Truman did not mention communism or the Soviet Union during his discussion of Point Four, it was clear that the program was part of a foreign policy designed to contain the Soviet threat. As the president noted, over "half of the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery." While the "material resources" that the United States might offer to these nations was limited, its technical superiority was "constantly growing" and was "inexhaustible." Truman believed that this technical expertise could be used to foster economic development and opportunities for capital investment in the Third World. Such action would also benefit the United States, since past experience demonstrated that "our commerce with other countries expands as they progress industrially and economically." "Democracy alone," Truman announced, "can supply the vitalizing force to stir the peoples of the world into triumphant action."

The program drew some criticism in the United States and abroad. In America, some U.S. businessmen and agricultural producers were wary that programs aimed to help other countries with the production of goods and crops might be at odds with their own interests. The Senate, reflecting many of these concerns, passed the program by the margin of only one vote in May 1950. Abroad, suspicions arose that Point Four was merely another form of economic imperialism designed to force Third World nations to increase their natural resource production for the benefit of Western industries. Despite these concerns, America's technical assistance initiatives to other countries continued throughout the duration of the Cold War, though they came to operate under a variety of different program and agency names.

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