Monday, January 3, 2011
Harry S. Truman
Nickname: Give 'Em Hell Harry
Truman, more than perhaps any president, made tough decisions. Truman was given the presidency after FDR's death and all of a sudden felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Truman had only met with FDR twice since becoming his vice-president and was unaware of the atomic weapons program that was nearing completion. Truman met with Churchill and Stalin at the Potsdam Conference and made preparations for the end of the war. This was were Truman realized that he could face up to two more years of fighting with the Japanese and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides if they chose to invade the Japanese mainland. Seeing no other choice, he issued the Potsdam Declaration which was an ultimatum demanding that Japan surrender unconditionally or face total annihilation from the atomic bomb. After surrender did not come, Truman authorized the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. Still not getting a surrender, a second bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing 70,000. Shortly after, Japan unconditionally surrendered and thus ended the Second World War. There is much discussion, even today, about the dropping of the bombs, whether it was necessary or not. Some feel that since Russia had recently declared war on Japan, it would only be a matter of time before Japan surrendered. Others feel that we may of been able to take the mainland with less death then projected. Some feel that any course of action would of been better than dropping an atomic bomb. The amount of radiation and continual damage done to the areas was unforeseen by America, as it really didn't know what would happen when they dropped the bombs.
Though he had ended the Second World War, Truman's hardships had only begun. The issue of Communism was looming and caused Truman to make his "Truman Doctrine" speech to Congress. In this speech, Truman asked for $400 million dollars to battle communism in Turkey and Greece. He was concerned that if they became communist, then the rest of the middle-east would follow. This "domino effect" theory would be the overlying reason given for sticking our noses into other people's business during the Cold War.
Truman's popularity around the end of his first term had been waning and his election to a true full term was not guaranteed. In fact, he was the clear underdog to Strom Thurmond and Thomas E. Dewey. Dixiecrats, or Southern Democrats, were enraged at Truman for his pro-civil rights agenda and sought to get rid of him in favor of a segregationist candidate in Thurmond. In a surprise to everyone, especially the Chicago Daily Tribune, Truman defeated Republican Dewey. Having lost the House and Senate to Republicans in the mid-terms, Truman also saw the Democrats take both back. It was a blow to the Republican party.
Truman's next arduous task was the Korean War. When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman felt it was the U.S.' job to help them out so Communism would not spread. The fighting went back and forth until General Douglas MacArthur pushed the North Koreans to the border of China. This proved to be a mistake as China was secretly supporting North Korea and pushed the Americans back down to South Korea. MacArthur was in favor of using atomic bombs on China to get them out of the way, but Truman was convinced he was done dropping bombs on countries and refused. What followed was a very public bickering fest between the two, and ended with Truman canning MacArthur. This proved to be extremely detrimental to Truman's popularity. Though he left the office with low approval ratings, he may of kept the Korean War from going on any longer than it did, as an attack on China would of brought the U.S.S.R. into the fight against us too.
Among these tough decisions and mountains that Truman had to climb, Truman tried to make a difference. Under Truman, the CIA was created for the expressed purpose of running surveillance on foreign countries. He signed the Emergency Housing Bill, which provided for the construction of 2.5 million housing units for WWII vets. Truman officially declared the Philippines independent, ending our acquisition of the country from Spain in 1898. Truman created the President's Commission on Civil Rights which recommended more adequate means and procedures for the protection of the civil rights of the people of the United States. Truman is the first president to address the NAACP. The National Security Act is passed by Congress which allows for the creation of the United States Air Force and the Cabinet position of secretary of defense. Truman signed the Foreign Assistance Act, which proved $5.3 billion for the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan called for foreign aid for European countries affected by the war. The United States first recognized Israel as a country during Truman's presidency. Truman signed the Displaced Persons Bill, which allowed for the admission of 205,000 displaced Europeans to the U.s. Two years later, the bill is amended to raise the number to 415,000.
Truman, though he did much in his years as presidency, and a lot of good, left under a dark cloud.
Truman in the view of many contemporary historians and even in Winston Churchill's opinion, saved Western Civilization. Many believe that he shortened the Korean War and WWII by his decisions and saved countless lives. Others believe that he was a monster for letting atomic bombs drop on Japan. I personally do not support the dropping of the bombs, though I do realize that it may of saved more in the end. What happened happened, so we can either look at it as the destruction of two cities, or the key to the end of conflict. I chose to see it as both. Those who curse Truman for his decision though like I have should remember that this was not an easy decision and wasn't a spontaneous move by the president. Truman picked what he considered to be the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, this is still a hotly debated topic, that even I still feel mixed feelings about. Truman had to follow the performance that was FDR and he did it better than a lot of people would have. Though his methods were questionable, Truman accomplished much for the United States in his time as president.