Even though he had initially complained about his new responsibilities as president after Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Truman decided to run for reelection as the prospect of another world war loomed. Party leaders nominated him only halfheartedly after World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to run on the Democratic ticket. Conservative southern Democrats in particular disliked Truman’s New Deal–esque commitment to labor, civil rights, reform, and social welfare spending. When Truman received the formal party nomination, southern Democrats split from the party and nominated their own candidate, Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Progressive Democrats also nominated former vice president Henry Wallace on a pro-peace platform.
The Republicans, meanwhile, nominated New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. Most Democrats and even Truman himself believed victory to be impossible. On election night, the Chicago Tribune printed an early version of the election returns, proclaiming a Dewey win with the infamous headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” As it turned out, however, Truman received more than two million more popular votes than his nearest challenger, Dewey, and 303 electoral votes. He owed his victory in part to his adoption of the policy of containment but mostly to his commitment to expand Social Security and provide increased social welfare spending as part of his proposed Fair Deal program. Continued Republican and southern Democrat opposition in Congress, though, blocked the majority of Fair Deal legislation during Truman’s second term.
With the mandate from the election, Truman pushed ahead with his programs to defend Western Europe from possible attack. In 1949, the United States joined Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Portugal in forming a military alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO). The NATO charter pledged that an attack on one of the member nations constituted an attack on all of the members. Greece and Turkey signed the treaty in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955.
Perhaps the greatest significance of NATO was the fact that it committed the United States to Western Europe and prevented U.S. conservatives in the future from isolating the United States from the world as they had after World War I. Outraged and threatened, the USSR and the Soviet bloc countries it dominated in Eastern Europe made similar pledges of mutual defense.
Meanwhile, events unfolding in China had enormous repercussions on the United States and ultimately on the Cold War itself. For decades, the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek (sometimes written as Jiang Jieshi) had been fighting a long civil war against Communist rebels led by Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung). The U.S. government under Roosevelt and Truman had backed the Nationalists with money and small arms shipments but overall had little influence on the war. Mao’s revolutionaries, however, finally managed to defeat government forces in 1949 and took control of mainland China.
While Chiang and his supporters fled to the island of Taiwan, Communist Party chairman Mao became the head of the new People’s Republic of China(PRC). The so-called fall of China was a crushing blow for the United States, primarily because it suddenly put more than a quarter of the world’s population under Communist control. Moreover, previous U.S. support for Chiang Kai-shek also meant that the PRC would not look favorably upon the United States.