Harry S. Truman
(President from 1945-1953)
By Richard E. Noble
Truman was another of our non-lawyer, non-General/war hero presidents. He arrived at the office without a formal education. He and Andrew Johnson were both self-taught. At least Andrew was a tailor and had a trade. Harry was a public high school graduate and a failed entrepreneur. He and a buddy, Eddie Jacobson, tried to sell hats after World War I but went bust because “they” went an elected a damn Republican. Harding and Hoover both went to college. Harry, though having a really rough go, is obviously the most successful of our non-lawyer, non-General crowd thus far. Andrew Johnson was impeached, Harding was disgraced, and Hoover was a flop. Truman was controversial but got reelected on his own in 1948 even though the press had already awarded the victory to Dewey.
Harry who wore thick glasses and therefore had to be an empire rather than play on the local ball team as a kid, claims to have read every book in his hometown library. He didn’t claim to have understood them all but he says that he did read them.
Harry was in World War I. He started as a private in the Missouri National Guard. He attends all his meetings, takes a gov’t mandated and publicly financed trip to Europe and ends up a Captain.
Roosevelt had been elected for the forth time and within three months he had a brain hemorrhage and was dead. Harry Truman had been chosen as vice president over the previous vice president Henry Wallace. Wallace was considered more to the left than even Roosevelt. Right wingers even accuse him of being a communist or Russian spy, but, of course, they said the same thing about Roosevelt. Harry was more center or right for a Democrat, so he got the job.
It may be every boy’s dream to become president of the United States, but who could envy Harry Truman? Roosevelt, no matter what his critics might say, was the most popular president ever in American History. He had been elected four times in a row and it was never close. His last run against Dewey was the closest, and he won by nearly four million popular votes and an electoral vote of 432 to 99. Nobody was really that wild about Harry, not the American people (God save us from Truman, they chanted); not the Republicans, not the Democrats; not the American press; not the ex-president’s staff and cabinet, not General MacArthur; not even Winston Churchill.
Winston told Harry many years later that he had resented seeing Harry in his old friend Franklin’s place and felt that Harry was not up to the job.
Harry came in just in time to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and totally alienate Uncle Joe and all his staff. So Harry gets the Historical credit for not only dropping the “big one” but starting the Cold War.
Uncle Joe sends Harry his first test by blocking off the road to Berlin. Harry avoids a physical confrontation by the famous Berlin Airlift. He flies in supplies to Berlin for over a year. It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t World War III either.
Harry then gets the pleasure of dealing with the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was only a blip on the American history radar screen but he became very powerful politically, and very quickly. Thousands of people were fired and lost their jobs through this man’s fabrications and accusations. He called everybody a dirty, commie, pinko traitor, even General George W. Marshall whom Truman called the greatest living American.
Truman and Marshall, together, instigate the famous Marshall Plan which basically seems to have been the U.S. Plan to buy back Europe from the Communists who appeared to be taking over everywhere. Not only Russia and China but Spain, France, Italy, Germany; nearly all of Europe was going Communists. One has to wonder, with the Fascists and Nazis all defeated why the Communists were so popular. Where were all the Democrats, or even the democratic Socialists?
In any case, Marshall claimed that his plan was not political and was designed to relieve the poor and devastated of Europe. He even offered help to the Russians but Uncle Joe refused. He refused the American Capitalist pig’s money and he even refused Harry’s offer to the United Nations to share, mutually, nuclear technology, which even shocked the Hell out of Harry. It does also seem rather strange that at one point we are offering the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians as a method of assuring world peace and then a few years later we are executing people who were accused of doing just that.
Harry then had Korea to deal with. The North Koreans invaded the South Koreans. What we were doing in Korea, I don’t know but after the War an “Iron Curtain” had fallen over Europe; lines had been drawn in Vietnam and Korea; the Jews had been recognized as a Nation in Israel; and Truman had started his Cold War and the Truman policy of containing the communist threat.
General MacArthur, who had been given the task of reconstructing Japan after the war, was now given the job of fighting the North Koreans. It wasn’t easy, but after a number of initial setbacks “Dugout Dug” MacArthur had chased the North Koreans back to where they had come from. But suddenly the Chinese come swarming over the Yalu River by the millions. MacArthur wanted to take the war to the Chinese, but Truman who had petitioned the support of the United Nations, and feared the start of a third world war, had promised to keep the conflict contained.
MacArthur felt that a war had to be fought to win, not to be “contained”, He voiced his views publicly, even after he had been ordered by Truman to shut the hell up. MacArthur wouldn’t shut up and after several warnings and direct orders, Truman fired his butt.
Well, while MacArthur was getting ticker-tape parades in New York, Truman was getting beer bottles and paper cups thrown at him at the ball park, as he threw out the first pitch of the season in the Taft tradition. As it turned out, MacArthur didn’t even get the Republican nomination in 1952, his secretary, Eisenhower got it. So there you go.
Harry, it seems, got no respect. I guess that he didn’t look like a president. Or maybe he didn’t look like “the” president. Roosevelt, known as “the” president had been the only president that many people had ever known. It doesn’t seem that there was any leader out there that wasn’t man enough to challenge old four eyes, Truman. But “give ‘em hell Harry” gave ‘em hell. He fired Mac. He dumped staff and cabinet members. He challenged bosses and unions alike. He threatened to punch newspaper reporters in the nose if they continued to make fun of his daughter’s piano playing. He actually chased John L. Lewis and other union leaders back to work. At one point he was before Congress, about to draft a whole union membership into the army and order it back to work when it was whispered into his ear that they had gone back to work voluntarily. At another point he had the gov’t take over some coal mines and threatened big business with the nationalization of their industry.
They are still arguing about Harry today. Was he good or bad; was he right or left; was he wise or a nit-wit. Well Harry has written his own memoirs which should be a real trip. Harry is one politician who didn’t practice double-speak and never worried about being politically correct. Those memoirs should be fun.