The Truman Show
September 21, 2007
by William P. Meyers

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I'll probably be writing a fair amount on former U.S. President Harry S. Truman during the next few weeks. I picked the two-volume Memoirs by Harry S. Truman and a used book sale recently. Many people, including myself, have overlooked the Truman era. Mostly we know he became President when President-for-Life Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12 1945. He ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everyone thought he would lose to Thomas Dewey, who ran with future liberal Supreme Court justice Earl Warren as the Republican Presidential candidate.

I picked up the book because I wanted to know more about the period of Truman's presidency on three counts. I am writing a book, The U.S. War Against Asia, and want to know more about the circumstances of the U.S. invasion of Korea and support for the Nationalist government in China. President did some good, even some brave things, but he is best known for being the war criminal, the only political leader who used atomic weapons. I want to know more about the circumstances of that decision. And I want to know more about the civil rights situation in the U.S. and the Democratic Party's ongoing failure to support civil rights for African-Americans during the New Deal and until Lyndon Johnson became President.

But my book is accumulating sticky tabs, some about these issues but mostly marking facts that give the lie to typical U.S. mythology. Memoirs is very detailed, with practically daily ramblings on who Harry met with and what they said. In this entry to my blog I'm going to mention some of what I found. In future entries I hope to follow up in detail on some of the issues raised.

Adolph Hitler died on April 30, 1945, just 18 days after Roosevelt. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Roosevelt became President on March 4, 1933, just 32 days after Hitler became Chancellor.

Biggest surprise to Harry when he became President: the atomic bomb project. Even though he had been vice-president and had been on the Senate committee that had oversight of the astronomical funds for the project, he had never been told the nature of the project.

Neither Roosevelt nor Truman had any problems meeting face to face with Joseph Stalin to divide up the world. Funny that Americans are not allowed to go down to Cuba and talk to non-Communist people. But then big fish make different rules for themselves.

Stalin and his Russian Communists supported Chiang Kai-shek in the closing days of World War II. That surprised me. Apparently they underestimated Mao's Chinese Communists. But then everyone did. It was noted by Truman that the Japanese were being forced to give up their colony in China, but Winston Churchill and the British were not willing to give up Hong Kong.

Truman, by his own light, was neither a corrupt politician nor a nobody when Roosevelt selected him for the vice-presidential spot. Harry had been chair of the U.S. Senate committee that had investigated fraudulent and wasteful practices in the U.S. military, and did a good job at that. He always supported Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.

My favorite Truman quote so far: "When the underdog gets power, he too often turns out to be an even more brutal top dog."

There is a lot of discussion of the creation of the U.N. The main take away so far is that it was designed as a mechanism for the Big Three victors of World War II (Britain, United States, and Russia) to get their way. True, they wanted peace, but only if they could keep their colonies and spheres of influence. The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council was set up to insure that.

Truman was against colonialism and pushed for the independence of the U.S. colony of the Philippines. However, there was no question of giving up U.S. bases in the Philippines.

I have found only one case of a clear-cut lie by Truman so far. Japan had suffered some setbacks in the war at this time, but was nowhere near defeat. Truman writes, "There was no way for us to get troops into China to drive the Japanese from the Chinese mainland. Our hope was to get enough Russian troops into Manchuria to push the Japanese out." But by then the U.S. had naval and air superiority plus control of the Philippines. A glance at the map shows there should have been no problem with conveying U.S. troops to the south China coast. Elsewhere Truman reveals that he and Winston Churchill hoped to avoid English and American casualties by letting Russians die, just as had been done against Germany.

Again, in May, soon after taking office, with Hitler dead and mopping up going on in Germany, Truman notes that the "Russians have 2 Korean divisions trained in Siberia." Koreans had been fighting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese since the turn of the century. They had a pro-west government-in-exile in China and a large underground network in Korea itself. In U.S. and South Korean history books it is stated that the Russians invaded what would become North Korea, so to prevent them from grabbing all of Korea the U.S. had to invade what would become South Korea. Now I'm wondering if it wasn't actually Koreans who invaded North Korea. They were certainly communists, trained by the Russians, but Koreans invading Korea with Russian advisers looks a lot different than an invasion by Russians with a few token Korean communist hacks.

There is more, but clearly I'll have to do another installment just to hit the high points. So far I've noted the grabbiness of France, as pointed out by Stalin; attitudes towards the fascists in Spain and Argentina; how the same standards of ethics were not applied by Truman to the British and the Russians (one of my notes says "our puppets v. your puppets"). I'm sure there will be more because I am only two months into the Truman regime (but about 1/3 of the way through the Memoirs by volume).


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