Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Harry S. Truman by Margaret Truman.

New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc.

Why read it? Some of the highlight events of Truman's Presidency were his sudden assumption to the Presidency, negotiations with Churchill and Stalin, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the shift from a war-time to a peace-time economy, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, Palestine, the Korean War and the dismissal of MacArthur. While these facts are carefully documented in his own memoirs, Margaret Truman, his daughter, shows the human side of the President, his feelings under the pressure of events during his Presidency. She also provides a good summary of the events and the principal people involved in them. She shows his sense of humor, his pride in his family, and his knowledge of history that often served to guide his actions.

She shows the man behind the scenes, because Harry S. Truman never said in public what he was really feeling. And as a politician, he expended a lot of emotion on people who disagreed with him and who double crossed him on issues he cared greatly about.

I have no doubt that Harry S. Truman is one of the five or six great presidents in American history. Any person in a leadership role can learn much about leadership in a democratic organization by studying the leadership principles of Harry S. Truman as revealed in his own memoirs and this biography by his daughter. I was struck again and again by how often the principles of Truman and JFK were similar and suspect that Truman's apparent dislike of JFK was rooted in the differences between Truman's blue-collar background and self education and JFK's Ivy League education and affluent background. In fact, Truman had said about Adlai Stevenson, when talk turned to who should be Truman's successor, "I don't believe the people of the United States are ready for an Ivy Leaguer." I don't know how much JFK modeled his presidency on Truman's, but their leadership styles resembled each other a great deal.

For example, Truman and Kennedy clearly thought through the purposes for their decisions and explained those purposes. They were both plain speaking, saying directly what they thought. They could both be patient and negotiate tirelessly with their antagonists. They both had to deal with the deadening thinking of the "permanent government," the State Department, etc. Both were undermined by the members of that "permanent government." They both believed in educating the public about their decisions.

They both recognized the limitations of the power of the presidency.

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
HST: "On that trip coming home I ordered the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a terrible decision. But I made it. And I made it to save 250,000 boys from the United States and I'd make it again under similar circumstances. It stopped the Jap War."

"Admiral Leahy...pointed out that in the bloody Okinawa campaign just ending, American losses (41,700) had been 35% of the attacking force. The Japanese still had an estimated 5,000 planes ready for kamikaze assaults. There were an estimated 2,000,000 troops in the Japanese home islands. Facing the Americans in Kyushu would be seventeen well-equipped battle-ready divisions."

"On both Kyushu and Honshu [islands in Mainland Japan], Japan's soldiers would, if their performance on Okinawa was any indication, fight with total fanaticism to defend their sacred home soil. Based on this assumption, General George C. Marshall predicted total American dead on land and sea might reach 500,000 men."

HST: "I believe in the brotherhood of man, not merely the brotherhood of white men but the brotherhood of all men before the law.... In giving the Negro the rights which are theirs we are only acting in accord with our ideals of a true democracy."

"HST's image was that of the average man. But 'average' did not mean mediocrity."

HST on his Cabinet: "I told the Cabinet members the story about President Lincoln--when he was discussing the Proclamation--every member of his cabinet opposed him in making the Proclamation. He put the question up to the whole Cabinet and they voted no. That is very well the President said. I vote yes. That is the way I intend to run this [his Cabinet]."

HST: "Even though Soviet leaders profess to believe that the conflict between capitalism and communism is irreconcilable, and must eventually be resolved by the triumph of the latter, it is our hope that they will change their mind and work out with us a fair and equitable settlement when they realize we are too strong to be beaten and too determined to be firghtened."

HST on the difference between communism and democracy: "Communism is based on the belief that man is so weak and inadequate that he is unable to govern himself, and therefore requires the rule of strong masters. Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual govern himself with reason and justice."

HST: "A President may dismiss the abuse of scoundrels, but to be denounced by honest men, honestly outraged, is a test of greatness that none but the strongest men survive."

"Most important was not failure, but the way HST handled it."

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