Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman played a significant role in world events when he became President after FDR had died. His experience was being a farmer, a WWI captain of an army battery, a haberdashery, a Jackson County Judge, a U.S. Senator from Missouri, and the Vice President under FDR. Truman’s presidency focused on the ending of WWII with Japan and dealing with what to do with Germany after World War II. Truman had to make a tough decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan in order to end the war. He helped Europe after World War II, which was damaged in the war. He sent aid through the Marshall Plan. He was the first President to support civil rights by issuing an executive order to end discrimination in the army.
In Lamar, Missouri, Truman was born May 8, 1884, to Martha Truman and John Truman. Harry never went to college due to his dad’s gambling problems, so he headed to Kansas City to look for jobs around age 17. In Kansas City, he worked at many jobs to support his family such as, a mailroom clerk for a newspaper, a timekeeper that helped schedule the railroad construction workers, and a bank clerk (Truman). When the U.S. was entering World War I in 1917 Truman signed up to join the U.S. Army. With his poor eyesight, he only was able to get into the army by practicing memorizing an eye chart before the examination. During World War I when he was in Europe, he was selected to be captain of Battery D. While he was captain of Battery D in Germany, there was a battle during the night against the Germans. The Germans were more powerful, and he was able to lead his men to safety without losing anyone (Truman).
After World War I, Harry married Bess Wallace at a church in 1919 and later had a daughter, Margaret, in 1924. Truman went into business with Eddie Jacobson, his close friend from WWI, who also served in Battery D. In Kansas City Jacobson and Truman opened up a haberdashery. Their business dealt with making men’s clothes and adjusting sizes for their clothes. During the Great Depression, their business failed. Tom Pendergast recruited Harry to run for Jackson County Judge in Kansas City. The Jackson County Judge’s responsibility was determining how the money could be used to fund projects to help communities. His campaign focused on building good roads to help reduce traffic, creating more jobs for county employees, and improving pay wages for workers. As a county judge Truman helped improve relationships with the Catholic, Irish, and black communities and helped improve Jackson County by getting funds to build highways (Hargrove 33-37).
In the 1934 Senate election, Truman decided to run for the U.S. Senate for Missouri as a Democrat. As a result of the election, Truman won the Senate seat for Missouri. As a Senator, he supported FDR’s New Deal programs (Truman). After his reelection for a second term in the U.S. Senate, Senator Truman started to investigate the military industry due to misuse and abuse in military spending. During his investigation, Truman traveled to different military work industries and had conversations with employees which resulted in Truman finding that the industries had not produced very much for the war, nor were the workers who were paid in the industries actually working. After doing investigations into the military spending, Truman created The Truman Committee, which was to do investigations (Truman; Foley 18-19; Ferrell 104-105). FDR was running for a fourth term for presidency for the 1944 Presidential Election. The Democratic Party helped FDR pick Truman to be his vice presidential nominee instead of Henry Wallace who was previously FDR’s vice president or James Byrnes, a former senator. The reason FDR didn’t pick Wallace or Byrnes was that some senators didn’t like Wallace due to Wallace’s lack of experience in politics and Byrnes was a segregationist who was from the South. Truman didn’t want to be the Vice President nominee because he believed that the he was not ready for it. However, in June 1944 Truman agreed to be FDR’s running mate after The Democratic Party Chairman Bob Hannegann and Truman had a telephone conference with FDR. During the telephone conference, FDR warned Truman that if he did not accept the nomination he would break up the party (Truman; Ferrell 106-110).
After FDR’s death in 1945, Truman became the 34th President of the United States. In his first term, Truman dealt with deciding what will happen after World War II with Germany and dealing with war against Japan. Harry Truman went to the Potsdam Conference to meet with Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Joseph Stalin, Head of the USSR, to discuss what to do after defeating Germany and dealing with Japan. In The Potsdam Conference, Truman wanted Stalin to let Eastern Europe, which was controlled by Stalin, to have free elections. Stalin refused Truman’s idea. As a result of the Potsdam Conference, the Allies agreed that Germany should be divided up and Japan must surrender (Truman). Truman received the news that the Manhattan Project finished building the atomic bomb. Truman had a hard decision about whether to use the atomic bomb on Japan or not. First, Truman had warned the Japanese military to surrender along with warning them about the bomb. The Japanese refused his offer and warning. On August 1945, Truman gave the military the order to use the atomic bomb. The U.S. plane called Enola Gray dropped the 1st bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. This resulted in many Japanese being killed and some of them had radiation poisoning. After the first bombing on Hiroshima, Japan still refused demands from the U.S. to surrender. With another warning from Truman, Japan still ignored his request and another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. After the two atomic bombs had dropped, Japan finally surrendered. Truman’s main reason for the use of the atomic bomb was to reduce the deaths of American troops and to end the War with Japan quickly (Truman, Foley 28-37).
In domestic affairs, Harry Truman became the first President to support Civil Rights. At The NAACP, Truman gave a speech at the Lincoln Memorial calling for every American to have equal rights. In February 1948, Truman gave a speech in Congress about Civil Rights by making lynching a federal crime, ending the poll tax in elections, and ending segregation in the army (Truman). Executive Order 9981 was designed to end segregation in the military for minorities like African Americans, Asian Americans, and Mexican Americans. The Executive Order 9981 also formed a Civil Rights Commission, which is now called the Fahy Committee. The Fahy Committee investigated discrimination in the army and other places (Foley 66-70). Another thing that Truman tried in his presidency was to try to have reforms passed like healthcare for everyone, education improvements, and help for farmers along with veterans and their benefits, and to end discrimination in housing under his idea called the Fair Deal. Congress refused to pass Truman’s ideas due to the many conservatives in the Republican Party because they didn’t want to expand the government and many Southern Democrats who didn’t want to support minorities’ rights (Foley62-64). However Congress passed a few parts of Truman’s Fair Deal like setting the minimum wage to 75 cents an hour, creating houses to help the poor under the Housing Act, and adding some benefits in social security (“Truman Delivers”).
The Cold War started during the Truman administration with the Soviet Union taking over Eastern Europe and spreading communism. Western Europe was damaged as a result of WWII. As a response to Europe being damaged by the war, Truman and George Marshall worked together to create an economic package called the Marshall Plan, where the U.S. government would send 17 million dollars to European countries to help rebuild what was damaged. Another thing the Marshall Plan required was that Europeans buy American goods in order to help the U.S. economy (Truman). Truman asked Congress to send aid to Greece and later Turkey to help fight against the spread of communism under the Soviet Union in March 1947. The 80th Congress, which was controlled by Republicans, passed a bill to send aid and send military weapons to Greece and Turkey to fight against Communism, which was called the Truman Doctrine. The reason Truman wanted to help Turkey and Greece is that he was afraid that if communism took over Greece and Turkey, then the Soviet Union would take over other countries in the Mediterranean and control the sea (Jenkins 101; Foley 50-53).
Joseph Stalin, who was the head of the Soviet Union, blocked access to West Berlin by stopping the transportation of supplies, which was through shipping and through trains (Truman). As a result of Stalin’s blocking supplies, many people who lived in Berlin were starving and many of them even didn’t have medical supplies (Truman). When Stalin blocked supplies from going to West Berlin, Truman responded by having U.S. army airplanes fly to Berlin, and they delivered supplies by dropping them into the city, which was called the Berlin Airlift. The Berlin Airlift helped many Berliners get supplies and it reduced hunger. Another result of the Berlin Airlift was that the Soviets ended the blockage of Berlin and Truman didn’t have to get into conflict with them by sending troops (Foley 56-57).
Truman decided to run for a second term in the Presidential Election of 1948. During the Presidential election, The Democratic Party had a problem because many Southern Democrats had split into another party called the Dixiecrats, who were in favor of segregation and opposed Truman, who favored Civil Rights. Strom Thurmond, who was a Southern Democrat and the governor of South Carolina, became the running mate for the Dixiecrat party. Another thing that split the Democratic Party was Henry Wallace, who had been vice president under FDR and also had previously served under Truman’s administration, became the Progressive Party nominee due to disagreeing with Truman on being aggressive on foreign policy against the Soviet Union. For the Republican Party, Thomas Dewey, who was the governor of New York, and had been previously an opponent of FDR during the 1944 Presidential Election was in the race. In the 1948 Election, Truman did a “Whistle-Stop” campaign where he would travel on trains to meet with voters. He warned that if the Republicans took control of the Presidency, then the country would go back into depression, and they would get rid of FDR New Deal Programs that played a part in helping the economy. In the election Truman won 28 states, while Dewey won 16, and Thurmond, a Dixiecrat won, 4 states. Truman was able to win a second term because he was able to get African Americans’ votes by endorsing Civil Rights and got votes from people who benefited from the New Deal programs (“American President”).
After President Truman won reelection, he had to deal with the Cold War. In 1949, Truman created an alliance with the Western Europe countries that had not fallen under communism and with Canada by creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The goal of NATO was to work together to have a safe world and to promote democracy. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization also allowed Spain and Poland to join. Later, Italy joined NATO, but some countries didn’t want Italy to join due to being the enemy in WWII. Another thing that the nations in NATO agreed on was that if one of the nations got attacked by an enemy then the other nations would go against the aggressor (Foley 54-55).
Before the Korean War, Korea was free from Japan’s control after World War II ended. Korea played a huge part in the Cold War because the Soviets influenced the north part of Korea to be communist while the south part of Korea didn’t want to be a communist so the U.S. supported the South. With the Cold War, Korea had different elections. The North picked Kim II Sung as a leader with Communist views and with his election it created the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The South picked Syngman Rhee and created the Republic of Korea. As a result of two different elections in June1950, the North went into the South and took over. When the North took over the South, Truman decided to go to the U.N to get them to declare war instead of Congress. U.N. decided to declare war and sent U.N. troops and U.S. troops to Korea to fight against the North. General Douglass McArthur, who was a U.S. general in the Pacific War in World War II, led the U.N. Forces to fight. McArthur was able to free Seoul from the North and moved to push the North from the 38th parallel (Foley 74-80). Truman wanted McArthur to only push the North up to the 38th Parallel and not to cross the parallel because Truman got a warning from the Chinese that if they advanced to the North the Chinese would get involved in allying with the North. McArthur didn’t listen to Truman’s advice and advanced through. As a result of McArthur not listening to Truman’s warning, the Chinese Communist army became allies with the North and killed a lot of troops. The result of attacks from the Chinese, McArthur had plans that included asking to use the atomic bomb on China and to invade China to get rid of communism. Truman didn’t agree with McArthur and fired him because Truman believed that attacking China would create World War III and more troops would be lost (Truman).
In the Presidential Election of 1952, Truman decided not to run for reelection due to believing that he would not be reelected again because the Korean War was not winnable. Americans were being killed and China gave the North a strong military. Also, another reason he didn’t run for reelection was that Joseph McCarthy criticized Truman for not doing enough to battle communist ideas (Truman). When Truman was not running for reelection for the Democratic nomination, he endorsed Adlai Stevenson, the Governor of Illinois, to become the Democratic Presidential nominee. The result of 1952 Presidential election was that Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II general and the Republican Presidential nominee, won. After his presidency, Truman wrote Years of Decisions and Years of Trial and Hope which describe his presidency and his decision on foreign policy. A presidential library was opened in his hometown in Missouri, where the museum focused on his life before his presidency through to his presidency (Foley 87-89).
In conclusion, from being a farmer, a WWI captain of Battery D, a county judge, a two term U.S. Senator from Missouri, a Vice President under FDR’s fourth term, and finally becoming the President of the United States, Harry Truman changed the world. Truman made history by becoming the first President to support civil rights and by breaking with his own party, which favored segregation that included reforms to end racial segregation. Truman integrated the military, which benefited minorities groups, and created a Civil Rights Commission to investigate discrimination. “The Fair Deal” was another plan that Truman envisioned to help people such as civil rights legislation, helping improve workers with benefits, educating everyone, providing people with universal health care, and instituting tough civil rights legislation. The Fair Deal played a big role in the future. President Truman had to play a critical role in ending World War II by deciding whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan or not. After the war Truman helped Europe recover from being damaged in World War II with money, aid, and supplies under the Marshall Plan. He built alliances with Greece and Turkey by giving money and weapons to help them fight the aggression of the Soviet Union. He assisted many citizens of Berlin with the Berlin Airlift by allowing planes to drop aid into Berlin. His downfall was the Korean War, which was hard to end. Overall, Truman was a great president with new ideas to help improve equal rights and relations with European countries that had not fallen under communism.
“American President: Harry S. Truman.” Millercenter. 7 Nov. 2013. Web.
Donovan, Robert. Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman 1949- 1953. New York: Norton, 1967. Print.
Ferrell, Robert. Truman: A Centenary Remembrance. New York: Viking, 1984. Print.
Foley, Michael. Great American Presidents Harry S. Truman. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Print
Hargrove, Jim. Encyclopedia of Presidents: Harry Truman. Chicago: Childrens, 1987. Print.
Jenkins, Roy. Truman. New York: Harper and Row, 1986. Print.
Truman. Jason Robards, narrator. 1997. American Experience. 1997. DVD.
“Truman delivers his Fair Deal Speech”.History.com. 9 Nov. 2013. Web.
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