Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

The Presidential Libraries

Two weeks ago I toured the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and I can't stop talking about it.  Last night my travel buddy begged me to change the subject.  "Can't we talk about something else for a change.  Please.  Please."

Perhaps it's because of the upcoming presidential election.  I am bombarded by political party bashing.  It's become so demoralizing I can no longer read or view the news.  Will I even vote?  The two presumptive candidates do not inspire greatness.  One in particular is a crass, bombastic racist who makes me shudder every time he opens his mouth.

Where, oh where, are the Harry Trumans of the world?
Visiting the library made me very much aware of the importance of the running mate.  Few people could even name FDR's vice-president on the day of his death.  And yet . . . and yet, this unknown and untested man went on to win the war and lead our country and all of Western Europe into economic prosperity.

Of course, Harry S. Truman is known as the president who dropped the first atomic bomb.  But the museum put things into perspective for me.  For one thing, the decision to use the bomb against Japan had already been made by Roosevelt and Churchill.  A time-line had already been put in place and Truman only had a few months to digest it all and give the final nod.

Should he have?  The debate will rage for eternity.  But, as the museum pointed out, "During Truman's first days in office, he faced some of the most difficult decisions encountered by any president in our history."

And he kept having to make them.
Veterans came back to shortages, unemployment and inflation.  As a liberal Democrat, the unions had always backed him, but when they started to strike, he ordered temporary government takeovers of the mines and railroads and he lost the support of organized labor.  It was imperative to keep things moving and move they did.  By 1947, only two years after the war ended, the economy was beginning to boom and America's standard of living soared.

Europe, too, was helped by the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the formation of NATO.  Despite this progress, he continued to lose popularity in the United States because of tough, tough decisions that he was not afraid to make.  To me, one of the greatest things he did was sign two executive orders to end racial discrimination within federal employment and the armed forces.

This caused the Southern Democrats to leave the party and he barely won a second term.
 I love how this museum gave me a refresher course in U.S. History.  The fifties were both prosperous and terrifying.  My travel buddy remembers the air raid drills that were held in elementary schools back then.  The Cold War had begun and with it, a fear of communism and another war.

Once the Soviets started building atomic bombs, we were no longer the sole possessor of these destructive weapons.  And they only got more and more destructive.  Truman approved the building of the hydrogen bomb, 1000 times more powerful than the bomb used against Japan, and of course, the Soviets followed suit.

However, I give him credit for not escalating the war in Korea.  Yes, he sent troops there, but he refused to bomb cities in China like General Douglas MacArthur wanted.  Again, he made a tough decision.  He fired MacArthur and the public was not happy about it.

He also recognized the nation of Israel, and again, it was an unpopular decision.  And he just kept on making them, one after another.  Following his gut.  Keeping calm.  But not caring a hoot if he pissed people off.  His "Fair Deal" increased social security benefits, increased minimum wage and strengthened anti-trust laws.  He wanted the government to sponsor a national healthcare insurance program, can you believe it?  But this one didn't get through Congress.

What a shame.

There's so much to admire about the man.  When he left office in 1953, he had no secret service detail, no pension and no job.  He had some savings and that was it.  He refused to join corporate boards or accept large fees for lectures.  He felt it was wrong to profit from "serving the people."


He went back to Independence, Missouri, and devoted the rest of his life to creating the Harry S. Truman Library.  All gifts, papers and records from his presidency belonged to the American people and not to himself.

Strength and humility.  These are the attributes a president should have.  These are the attributes this president had.

Where, oh where, are the Harry Trumans of the world?


  1. Thank you for your kind comments. I have just read some of your previous posts sounds like you have had such a busy few months. The museum looks fascinating, I too will look forward to more of your interesting travel posts.

  2. The museum sounds fascinating and yes, he was a great President. I admire him immensely. I'm a Brit and have just recently come back from a cruise with many Americans on board. Politics came up a lot in our conversations (we have our problems and Trump-like politicians too!) and neither presidential candidate was liked, but please do vote. We have to remember that, certainly in the UK, women suffered and one died so that we can vote. Whatever you feel about your candidates we must vote, I feel, to honour those women. All the very best to you and I love hearing about your travels and the history of the places you go to x

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Don't worry, I promise I will vote. The thought of the U.S. having a woman president is an exciting prospect.