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Harry S. Truman: 33rd President: The Most Awful Responsibility

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Official Presidential Portrait

The Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Upon entering the White House after Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman told newspaper reporters, "I've got the most awful responsibility a man ever had. If you fellows ever pray, pray for me." He was referring to the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Though he knew it would end the war and save lives, it was unknown what the lasting effects would be, as it had never been used before.

Although he was FDR's Vice President, before going into Office, he knew very little about the war and nothing about the development of the atomic bomb. FDR did not communicate much with his Vice President. FDR chose Truman not because he was the preferred man for the job but because he was a compromise between Roosevelt and the Democratic party. Although Roosevelt eventually chose him, he did not know him well and had not yet grown to trust him before he died. Due to being kept in the dark, when Truman unexpectedly became President, he told reporters, "I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."

Fortunately, Germany surrendered on May 7, less than a month into his presidency, but he still had to decide how to defend the US against Japan. A team tested the first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert in Alamogordo to see what effects it might have. A fantastic sight appeared as a mushroom cloud rose 41,000 feet into the air, leaving behind a crater with a glassy, radioactive crust a half-mile wide.

After this test, the US sent an urgent plea to Japan to surrender. They did not; therefore, Truman made the tough decision to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, waited three days then another on Nagasaki. He felt that doing so was saving millions of Americans' lives. Japan finally surrendered six days after the second bomb, ending WWI on August 15, 1945.

Atomic Bomb Poll

Early Years

Before becoming President and making his infamous decision, he lived a much more modest life. He was born in Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884, and grew up in Independence. For many years he managed the family farm, but what he wanted to do was go to West Point. Unfortunately, poor eyesight stopped his dream from coming to fruition, so he did the next best thing and joined the National Guard, where he fought in France during WWI as a captain in the Field Artillery.

When he returned home, he married Elizabeth Virginia Wallace and ran a clothing store in Kansas City. He was very active in the Democratic Party, which eventually allowed him to become elected as a judge in the Jackson County Court in 1922 and became Senator in 1936. He was a very successful Senator and led an investigation into waste and corruption. Some believe that he saved the government 15 billion dollars due to these efforts.

His great success as Senator eventually earned him the Vice-Presidential nomination alongside FDR, which ultimately led to him becoming President and having to make the atomic bomb decision. Although he is most well-known for bombing Japan and ending WWII, he accomplished many notable things as President.

The Fair Deal and the Truman Doctrine

In June 1945, immediately upon coming into office, he witnessed the signing of the charter of the United Nations. He supported many of the policies Roosevelt had begun, then began establishing many of his own. He presented a 21-point program, including public housing, the Fair Employment Practices Act, and the expansion of Social Security. It eventually became known as the Fair Deal.

Due to the state of Europe, after WWII ended, he wrote the Truman Doctrine and, eventually, the Marshall Plan, which gave a lot of U.S. aid to Europe to rebuild and recover from the trauma of the war. Specifically, it assisted Turkey and Greece in hopes of stopping the guerrilla attacks against Turkey by the Soviet Union and protecting Greece from Soviet threats.

In 1948, Truman ran for reelection. The media had stated that he had no chance of being reelected since the early polls had indicated just that. They stopped running campaign polls, which did not slow his election campaign. His slogan was "the buck stops here." Surprisingly, he won.

In June 1950, during his second term, he sent U.S. troops to Korea with the support of the United Nations after Communist North Korea attacked South Korea. He did well balancing his war involvement while keeping peace with neighboring countries, China and Russia. Had he been too aggressive, it may have led to conflict with these countries. Peace talks began in 1951; two years later, the fighting ceased.

He decided not to run for another term and moved back to his home state in Independence. He died there the day after Christmas in 1972 at 88 years old.

Truman Initiating Korean Involvement

President Harry S. Truman is shown at his desk at the White House signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency.

President Harry S. Truman is shown at his desk at the White House signing a proclamation declaring a national emergency.

Fun Facts

  • He was a judge before becoming President.
  • He was an artillery commander during WWI, though poor eyesight kept him from going to West Point.
  • Although he was FDR's vice-president, the President did not know him well and chose it as a compromise with the Democratic party. Because of this, FDR did not trust him with information about the war, which he had to learn on his own after FDR died, and he instantly became President.
  • He survived an assassination attempt, but one of his guards did not. In 1950, when the White House was renovated, he stayed at the Blair House. His guards stopped two Puerto Rican nationalists, one was killed by the same guard whose life was taken, and the other was captured.
  • His middle name is just the letter "S" to honor a few different relatives whose names started with S.
  • Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment while he was in office, stating that "no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice."

Basic Facts

Question Answer

Born

May 8, 1884 - Missouri

President Number

33rd

Party

Democratic

Military Service

Missouri National Guard United States Army United States Army Reserve

Wars Served

World War I

Age at Beginning of Presidency

61 years old

Term of Office

April 12, 1945 - January 20, 1953

How Long President

8 years

Vice-President

None (1945–49)[a] Alben W. Barkley (1949–53)

Age and Year of Death

December 26, 1972 (aged 88)

Cause of Death

multiple organ failure

Sources

  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Harry S. Truman. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/harrystruman.
  • Http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/author/ncc/. "10 fascinating facts about President Harry S. Truman." Constitution Daily. May 08, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2016. http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/05/10-fascinating-facts-about-president-harry-s-truman/.
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.

© 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz

Comments

marion d coath from aiken sc on December 20, 2016:

We almost destroyed ourselves along with planet earth cause it was really given to man to govern for positive and we took it and made it evil! Now here I go as a 2nd wave volunteer for yall...so y'all wont destroy yourselves along with mother earth! Youre WELCOMED! :-)