Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Give ‘Em Hell, Harry

We visited the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO, which is a suburb of Kansas City. This is the second presidential library/museum we’ve visited on this trip – Lincoln’s was the first.


The library was dedicated in 1957  The home he and his wife Bess lived in is just down the road from the library.


DSC_0200 President Truman used this office at the library daily from 1957 until 1966.

Truman was Vice President in 1945 and was elevated to the most powerful office in the world when FDR died. These were tumultuous times in America, and Truman was not the most popular guy to ever occupy the White House.DSC_0194

For Truman, an overriding purpose of the library was to help Americans understand the presidency and the sometimes awful consequences of decisions every president has to make.DSC_0193

The museum includes a replica of the oval office as it looked in 1950. When one realizes the decisions Truman faced during his presidency, its easy to understand why so many presidents seem to develop prematurely grey hair. Among Truman’s issues: end WWII by dropping the atomic bomb on Japan; manage a booming economy in post-war America; recognize Israel as an independent nation at a time when such recognition wasn’t very popular but also at a time leading up to a presidential election; deal with a new war in Korea; manage the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union. There were no easy solutions to any of these issues, but the buck stopped with the guy in the oval office, and decisions were made.


In 1948 Truman won a full term as president against Tom Dewey, in a huge upset. Not bad for a farm boy from Missouri.

One fascinating exhibit at the museum is an interactive  decision center in which visitors are asked a series of questions related to the issue of “spies in the government”. In context, this had to do with events related to the McCarthy hearings and the search for communists under every rock and in ever closet. But the questions raised were incredibly timely in light of the Patriot Act and the current controversy about the NSA monitoring phone calls and e-mails. If you were president, what would you do? Protect the nation or protect the right of privacy?


Truman died in 1972 and he and his wife Bess are buried in the library garden.

A final anecdote about what might have been America’s last citizen-president. He went on a road trip.

The trip is detailed in the 2011 book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. An Amazon reviewer explains: “On June 19, 1953, Harry Truman got up early, packed the trunk of his Chrysler New Yorker, and did something no other former president has done before or since: he hit the road. No Secret Service protection. No traveling press. Just Harry and his childhood sweetheart Bess, off to visit old friends, take in a Broadway play, celebrate their wedding anniversary in the Big Apple, and blow a bit of the money he’d just received to write his memoirs. Hopefully incognito.

            “In this lively history, author Matthew Algeo meticulously details how Truman’s plan to blend in went wonderfully awry.”


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