July 20

This Day in History

Cold War

Jul 20, 1948:

Truman issues peacetime draft

President Harry S. Truman institutes a military draft with a proclamation calling for nearly 10 million men to register for military service within the next two months. Truman's action came during increasing Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union.

Following World War II, the United States moved quickly to demobilize the vast military it had constructed during the conflict. During the war, more than 16 million men and women served in the U.S. military; when the war ended in August 1945, the American people demanded rapid demobilization. By 1948, less than 550,000 men remained in the U.S. Army. This rapid decline in the size of America's military concerned U.S. government officials, who believed that a confrontation with the Soviet Union was imminent. During the years following World War II, relations between the Russians and Americans deteriorated rapidly. In 1947, the president issued the Truman Doctrine, which provided aid to Greece and Turkey to oppose communist subversion. In that same year, Secretary of State George C. Marshall warned that Western Europe was on the brink of political and economic chaos that would leave it defenseless against communist aggression; the following year, Congress approved billions of dollars in financial assistance to the beleaguered nations. In June 1948, the Soviets cut all land traffic into the U.S.-British-French zones of occupation in West Berlin. The United States responded with the Berlin Airlift, in which tons of food and supplies were flown in to sustain the population of the besieged city. In light of these events, many Americans believed that actual combat with the Soviet Union was not far away. In response to this threat, President Truman announced on July 20, 1948, that the United States was re-instituting the draft and issued a proclamation requiring nearly 10 million men to register for military service in the next two months.

Truman's decision underlined the urgency of his administration's concern about a possible military confrontation with the Soviet Union. It also brought home to the American people in concrete terms the possibility that the Cold War could, at any moment, become an actual war. In 1950, possibility turned to reality when the United States entered the Korean War, and the size of America's armed forces once again increased dramatically.

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