Thursday, November 20, 2008


I love remaindered books, especially when they are as good as this one was. Not only was this book well written, but I learned an amazing amount of stuff.

Truman came from Jackson, Missouri. His family had been there since before the Civil War and suffered a lot during the war. I knew that there had been a lot of violence in Kansas but I didn't know that the violence in Kansas was in part because of gangs from pro-slavery Missouri came over the border. Then gangs from Kansas retaliated. I had heard the expression "Bloody Kansas" (look it up) but I didn't know that there was an evacuation order for Jackson County, Missouri. The Union was in control of the state and they made everyone in that county leave, with only a few hours notice. Truman's grandmother had many nasty things to say about the Union soldiers and Abraham Lincoln. When, as president, he offered to let her stay in the Lincoln bedroom, she said she would rather sleep on the floor.

He was an amazingly honest man. though he got his political career because of the "bosses" of Kansas City, he refused to play the crony game. He didn't take bribes and refused to change his decisions because of pressure from the guys who thought they were in charge. Oddly, this made him more popular with the gangs and he was respected for his integrity. When he went to the Senate it caused a bit of trouble and he was accused of being corrupt, but he refused to repudiate his old friends.

He didn't get along with Roosevelt and was not in his confidences. Though most people knew he had a good chance of being president being in with Roosevelt wasn't one of the criteria for VP. R. was very ill in 1944 and this knowledge was kept from the public because of the election. Truman had been happy being a senator, and having a moderately useless job like that of Vice-president bothered him. He wasn't happy about the way he became president but he enjoyed having the ability to be in charge and do things the way he thought they should be done.

The thing that impressed me the most about the strength of his character was the way he handled the Korean War. Because of how the Russians had taken over Eastern Europe after WWII, there was a great fear that they would use similar tactics all over the globe. When fighting began in Korea, Americans really worried that if it wasn't stopped, China, and by extension Russia, would take over all of Asia.

As MacArthur became almost insanely aggressive, Truman worked very hard to hold the line; US troops were not to go into China, and, despite MacArthur's urging, they were not going to use the atomic bomb to make a no-man's-land between China and Korea. Though the war resulted in North and South Korea being divided exactly as it had started out, it was Truman's will that kept it from becoming either a huge war with China or letting nuclear weapons become just another tool of war. He felt that this was his greatest achievement while in office.

On a personal note. he didn't marry until he was thirty because he felt he needed to be successful before he could ask his sweetheart to marry him. But she stayed faithful through all the years he was trying, a remarkably patient woman. He wrote letters to her almost every day while they were apart. She was his best friend and he missed her terribly when they were separated. In fact, one of the funniest parts was the little paragraph describing how an embarrassed Mrs. Truman had to ask the staff secretary to get a replacement bed because the old antique one they had been sleeping in had broken "some time during the night." Its nice to know at least one president this century was completely faithful to his wife.

This book gave me some hope about our country. Yes, Harry Truman was a product of a different age, but I think that a lot of people go into politics for the same reasons he did, to help people and get things done the right way. It is statistically impossible for all of them to have been corrupted by the process. I know that there are men of integrity in politics today, I just wish it was easier to identify them.

Truman. David McCullogh. Simon & Schuster. 1992

1 comment:

jendoop said...

Great review, thanks for the insight!