What should you do when in Kansas City? The answer is drive out to the Harry S Truman library in Independence, Missouri.
This is the 4th presidential library I have visited and I have to say I am absolutely hooked. Each one is excellent and needs to be seen by anyone who is a fan of this great country. Fortunately for someone living in Oklahoma there are several within a long drive of me, including the Bush 41, Bush 43, Eisenhower, Truman, Hoover and Clinton libraries.
We all know Truman dropped the bomb and that’s what comes to mind first for many of us, however I learned quite a few things yesterday. Your top ten list for tonight is titled “Things I learned about Harry S. Truman”:
1. Truman was a puppet. He was just a farm boy from rural Missouri and when he decided to go into politics he curried the favor of the Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, who thought it was convenient to install Truman as his puppet in the Senate and then later as VP. Nothing is more telling of Truman’s puppet upbringing than his acceptance of the Democratic party’s VP nomination. You literally see him stand up and wave to the crowd. When the dem. party leader does not think he is making a good 1st impression he literally grabs Trumans right arm and holds it up high and forces Truman to wave to the crowd. This would be equivalent to Hillary Clinton when she gets the dem. nomination next year, one Debbie Schultz (chair of the national committee) would push Bill and the rest of Hillary’s family off the stage and grab Hillary and force her to raise he arms above her head. Can you possibly imagine that?
2. Truman was Vice President for a scant 12 weeks. The major decisions he did (drop the bomb, Hitler’s death) were within were within the 1st 16 weeks of his presidency. That’s a heck of a burden to put on someone — from one of 100 senators to president to emphatically end WWII, all within 5 months . Tough. The library tells the story of the conversation between FDR’s wife and Truman on the day he became president:
(Elanor Roosevelt) “My husband is dead”
(Truman) “I’m so sorry, is there anything I can do for you”
(Elanor) “Wrong question, is there anything I can do for you”
Some other person (Henry Wallace) was vice-president for FDRs 3rd term, but he must have pissed someone off (excuse the French) and Truman was at the right place / right time.
3. The world was a crazy, crazy place prior to my birth. Evidenced by this footnote in the paper:
Also look at the note just above the Goering headline. With today’s incredible communication platforms it is hard to imagine how bad they were just a couple generations ago. That’s the same way people got other to stop firing arrows in 1000 AD.
4. TVs and fridges are better today than they were 70 years ago. OK, OK, I didn’t learn that yesterday, but I think it is good to reflect on what the living room looked like for our grandparents:
5. Truman had one hell of a to-do list. He wrote the following to-do list a few months after dropping 2 bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing ~200,000+ people. I’d take him pretty seriously. Apparently one morning after the war was over and he was trying to stave of inflation at home he decided he was not happy at some union bosses. Here is his to-do list, as best I can read it:
-Call in Phil Murray, William Green, Carpenter Hutchison, Daa Tolin (Teamsters Union), RJ Thomas (Longshoremen) and Sidney Hillian (SOB of Musicians). Tell them that patience is exhausted.
-Declare an emergency – call out troops
-Start industry and put anyone to work who wants to go to work.
-If any leader interferes court-martial him
-Lein (?) ought to have been shot in 1942, but Franklin didn’t have the guts to do it.
-Pass Ball-Burton (?) Bill
-Adjourn Congress and run the country
-Get plenty of atomic bombs on hand– drop one on Stalin
-Put the U.N. to work
-Eventually set up a free world
Yeah. My to do list includes doing my expense report, entering activity into salesforce.com and set up a lunch appointment. I think his list was more substantial.
6. Europe was truly starving in the late 1940s:
7. Today’s red states were yesterday’s blue states. Today’s blue states were yesterday’s red states. Take a look at the electoral college map from Truman’s re-election in 1948. Note the colors are reversed to what we are used to now — in the picture red represents democratic and blue represents republican.
If you take out the green for the 3rd party candidate and paint those all red it is so similar to today’s political map– except most state are now for the opposite party. I don’t know what’s harder for me to believe — New York and Vermont going republican or Texas going solidly Democratic?
8. Dewey defeats Truman. We all know the picture and the headline, but look at this from an original copy of the paper. The printing is upside down? I guess they were in a hurry to go to press? Is this what news looked like back then? How could you trust it?
9. Truman’s atomic weapon was no so bad. I know that sounds nuts to say, but he was briefed that the singe A-bomb would be about equivalent to 2,000 B29s firebombing the city. Considering a few weeks before Hiroshima, an air raid went over Tokyo with 500 B29s dumping on the city and you see he just approved a raid only 4x greater than he did the week before. What we have today with nuclear weapons makes Hiroshima/Nagasaki look like nothing.
10. This purple heart and accompanying note got to me.
the text says:
“Mr. Truman: As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son’s life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room, as a memory of one of your historic deeds.
Our major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.
Signed, William Banning, Nursery Rd, New Canaan, Connecticut”
Unfortunately for me, I ran out of time at this point. I can’t wait to go back and get to all these libraries one day soon.