A few days ago, I had the good fortune of visiting the Truman Presidential Center and Library based in Independence, a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. It was an amazing experience spending a couple of hours there. In the past, I have visited similar centers for President Bill Clinton in Little Rock, Arksnsas; President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Georgia; and President Lyndon Johnson in Austin. President Truman’ story was quite different and simply inspiring.
Truman had been a fresh Vice-President for just a couple of months when the super-popular President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) died in April 1945. This fairly young President at that time made the momentous decision of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the World War II. The jury is still out on whether this was the right decision, but he saw it very clearly and had no regrets even much later in his life, as he saw its as a way of saving many more lives.
Truman oversaw the formation of United Nations Organization, which endures till this day.
Truman crafted the Marshall Plan to deliver aid to Europe and help the vanquished countries of Germany and Italy and Japan rebuild; this helped stave off the real possibility of Communist guerillas take over Italy, Greece and and many other countries. He chose to name the plan after his Secretary of State George Marshall who was a very popular man and thus the plan would win Congressional backing and release of funds. He even innovated and resisted the Russian blockade of Berlin by supplying them exclusively through airplanes, till the Russians gave up. This ‘Berlin Airlift’ would mean more than a quarter million flights!
Truman fought the Korean War against the Russians. After a bit of back and forth victories by the two sides, he let it become a Cold War, a stalemate, rather than make it a hot war by attacking China who had begun to back North Korea. He relieved the super-popular hero General Douglas MacArthur when he began to defy the President, after the President refused to accept his advice of attacking the Chinese.
He was not quite as successful in getting his domestic policies on healthcare and others pass. However, the great postwar growth of the American economy happened on his watch!
‘The buck stops here’, said this diminutive ordinary man who would become a consequential President under extraordinary circumstances. Truman does not get nearly as much respect and adulation as the other Presidents. May be it was because he was considered to be a creature of Democratic Party bosses, and had little political base of his own. However, on the basis of his overall accomplishments, I think he should be up there with the likes of Abraham Lincoln.