This Day In History: Truman Signs the National Security Bill (1949)

On this day in history, President Truman signs the National Security Bill and passes it into law. The Bill establishes the Department of Defense. The new department was necessary for the new kind of war that was being fought between the Democratic West and the Communist East.

In 1947, the National Security Act established the post of the secretary of defense. The secretary of defense  was to have a brief that included coordinating the defense of America and her allies. This position superseded the positions of the  secretaries for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Cold War was exceedingly complex and it was essential that the armed forces and the intelligence forces of the US needed to be coordinated and not to make any mistakes. If they did it could result in a World War with the Soviet Union and its communist allies. Soon it could lead to a nuclear war when the Soviets, with stolen American secrets developed the atomic bomb.

Truman with Nehru in 1949

In 1949, the National Security Bill rationalized the defense agencies of the U.S. government. The 1949 bill replaced the National Military Establishment with the Department of Defense.  It was a more modern approach to the armed forces and the defense of the country. The  secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, were now subordinated to the Secretary of Defense. The first Secretary was the experienced Louis Johnson. Finally, the bill provided for the office of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in an effort to bring to an end to the in-fighting that was endemic even during conflicts, between the army and the navy in particular. In the Cold War, this was no longer unacceptable, this was because of the gravity of the threat faced by the US from International Communism. The great  World War II commander,  General Omar Bradley was appointed the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1949.

The National Security Bill of 1949 was the result of the realization that more coordination and efficiency were needed at this most dangerous time. It appeared to many in America that Communism was on the advance and that it was actually winning. Stalin had seized most of Eastern Europe after the war and the communists were winning the civil war in China.  The America’s military-defense bureaucracy, which had experienced tremendous growth during and after World War II needed to be better organized in the face of such a threat. The Cold War was a new and dangerous kind of war for America, and it needed the Department of Defense. Today the Bill of 1949 is seen as one of the most important decisions taken by Truman in the early years of the Cold War.