Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.
Harry S. Truman became President of the United States in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died. During his eight year presidency, Truman dropped atomic bombs on Japanese civilians, brought about the creation of Israel, entered the Korean War, began the Cold War, and created the CIA with a mandate for foreign intervention and assassination.
Truman is highly ranked in polls of the best US President, with an average ranking of 7th. However, many of these polls rely on popular opinion, or are limited to events that occurred during his presidency. While dropping atomic bombs on civilians was barbaric, and entering the Korean War was ill-advised, lesser known decisions had a far more protracted and disastrous effect on the world.
This article will focus on what Truman did wrong in his presidency. It will explore the fallout from a plethora of calamitous decisions, citing examples that still resonate today. A number of factors will be collectively considered in order to make the case for Harry Truman being the worst president in US history.
Harry Truman: "a revolutionary increase in destruction"
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
After the defeat of Germany in WW2, Harry Truman travelled to meet Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Here he boasted to Stalin that the US was about to use a new destructive weapon against the Japanese.
When Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he killed approximately 250,000 people, 90% of whom were civilians. Many took months or years to die from radiation sickness and cancer.
The academic community is divided over whether the bombings saved or cost lives. Regardless, it is always wrong to willfully kill civilians by dropping bombs on populated cities. An exclusively military target may have been a far better choice. Truman remarked in his diary that the bomb "may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark". He clearly saw himself as the man to wield this Biblical power.
The Creation of Israel
At a 1943 rally, Truman assured Zionists of his support for a Jewish state in Palestine. Following his meteoric rise to the office of President in 1945, Truman reiterated his support, ignoring the recommendations of diplomats, advisers, and his own government. When diplomats said he was playing with fire, Truman replied "I have few Arabs among my constituents". Not only was this an acknowledgment of favoring one race over another, but it suggested Truman was receiving a little more than verbal support from American Zionists.
Truman campaigned for the creation of a Jewish state at the UN. War-torn Europe, dependent on the US for aid, was easily convinced and voted in favor of Truman's partition plan. All of Israel's neighbors voted against the plan, but America and her dependent allies carried the vote. America became the first nation to recognize the state of Israel in May 1948.
Following the creation of Israel, Truman's 1948 election campaign miraculously turned from complete disaster to surprising success. The Zionist dominated press was chiefly responsible for this reversal via the creation of positive propaganda. Truman won a second term but later regretted his decision and even derided the Jewish people, writing in his diary:
"I fear very much that the Jews are like all underdogs. When they get on top they are just as intolerant and cruel as the people were to them when they were underneath. I regret this situation very much because my sympathy has always been on their side."
Indeed, since Truman's partition plan, Jewish Zionists have seized almost all of the country, and have breached numerous UN resolutions against settlement building in Palestinian areas. The Palestinian people are now refugees in their own country.
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Creation of the CIA
Truman signed the National Security Act in 1947, which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The CIA would go on to interfere in the internal politics of numerous foreign nations, organizing coups, assassinations, and regimes of torture for several decades.
Operation Ajax was a 1953 CIA coup that removed the elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, from power. The US installed a ruthless dictator whose oppressive rule led to the Iranian revolution 26 years later, and the current animosity between the US and Iran.
About 30 countries from 5 different continents were denied their democratic right to choose their own leaders. The CIA systematically destroyed democracy around the world, subjecting populations to oppressive dictatorships that were loyal to the US government.
As many as 6 million individuals died as a direct or indirect result of CIA interference and intervention. This is perhaps the main reason why America is hated so much around the world.
The Cold War
In 1947 Truman initiated the `Truman Doctrine' to counter Soviet influence in Greece and Turkey. Eventually, this spread to the rest of the world, contributing significantly to the emergent Cold War. Truman painted his doctrine as an attempt to help free people escape the tyranny of Soviet oppression. What actually transpired was the use of the CIA to deny free people the right to choose any kind of remotely left-wing government, whether mild socialism or communism.
Truman's declaration began four decades of armament and espionage. Indeed, it was a policy of the Truman government to arm quicker than the Soviets. When the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949, Truman responded by detonating a hydrogen bomb, which he announced to the world in 1953.
The Korean War
Without consulting Congress, Truman ordered troops into the Korean War in 1950. After a successful counter-attack against North Korean forces, China intervened on the side of the North Koreans, forcing the war into a stalemate at the 38th parallel.
The stalemate lasted two years, with 30,000 Americans killed in action. Truman's approval rating dived to 22% as he attempted to blame General MacArthur. Eventually an armistice was signed in 1953, ending the brutal and unnecessary conflict.
In another dictatorial move, Truman instructed his Secretary of Commerce to take control of steel mills that were inactive due to labor disputes. Truman claimed he needed the raw materials for the Korean War effort. A group of 9 justices decreed Truman's actions unconstitutional, and reversed the order.
Immaturity and Nastiness
When Truman's approval rating dropped to 32% in 1946, Senator Fulbright suggested that he should resign. The president's infantile response was that he "didn't care what Senator Halfbright said."
This jejune, embittered attack was followed by another in 1950. After a music reviewer failed to appreciate his daughter's singing, Truman wrote to him: "It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. ... Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! ... I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry."
In 1973, Truman was posthumously quoted about firing General MacArthur in the Korean War, saying "I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a <expletive>, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail." He had previously called the General's speech about the war "a bunch of damn bull<expletive>."
Should someone so childish and unstable have been put in a position to drop two atomic bombs, and shape world events for half a century?
Truman's presidency was one of the most unpopular in history, with approval ratings lower than Nixon after Watergate. His presidency was also plagued by corruption concerns, such as his favoritism in judicial appointments, though nothing could be conclusively proven. Despite this, Truman was allowed to preside over America's transition from reluctant WW2 participant to world policeman. The America hated around the world today was formed on Truman's watch.
The number of people who died during Truman's presidency pales in comparison to the number who died over 40 years of foreign intervention and interference as a result of his policies. However, the number in both cases was far too high and preventable.
For dropping atomic bombs that killed thousands of Japanese non-combatants; for creating the CIA with a mandate to destroy undesirable democracy around the world via assassination and coups; for instigating the Cold War; for involvement in the Korean War; and for playing a major role in the establishment of Israel, Harry Truman should be known as the worst president in US history. Perhaps in the decades to come, historians will begin to realize when America lost its way, and who was at the helm when it happened.
© 2013 Thomas Swan
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 06, 2020:
Spot on, Alex. I think Japan even tried to surrender (maybe after the first bomb), or at least communications were intercepted about their plans to do so before both bombs. Truman knew what he was doing.
Alex on July 03, 2020:
for people talking about the invasion of japan, saying that over a million americans would had died has fallen to pure propaganda. The highest estimate the generals told Truman was 30,000 could be lost. all of the US generals also told Truman that Japan was ready to surrender if the US promise them to leave their emperor alone (which still ended up happening at the end anyways) and that they didn't even need invasion of the mainland. The use of the A bombs was nothing more than a show of force, not to Japan but towards Russia and was used as leverage during the negotiations during potsdam conference, which Truman used against Stalin to get what he wanted.
Jim on June 16, 2020:
The Japs killed 14 million before the A bombs dropped. I think Truman was an idiot for giving the French millions in 1950, so they could fight the Vietnamese who were our allies against the Japs.
FDR was a damned communist but at least he wanted colonialism to die, Truman helped keep it alive.
Jim Haan on June 21, 2019:
You're missing a more detailed analysis on the a-bombs. I've read that Japan surrendered because the USSR entered the war NOT because of the a-bombs. This makes Truman look even WORSE. Thank you for your article.
Ned Haughney on April 02, 2019:
Don't think we will ever know who the worst president was. How can this be determined. It is most regrettable that we had a president that acted the way he did. The future looks ominous.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 19, 2019:
Thank you "Nobody". I didn't say Truman's Administration supported a coup in Iran.
Nobody on February 19, 2019:
I would like to point out that you are incorrect in stating that Truman's Administration supported a coup in Iran. They were actually against it. It was Eisenhower's Administration with persuasion from Churchill of the U.K. to go ahead and stage a coup in Iran. Please check your facts throughly in the future.
Georges Reivres on December 18, 2018:
He was. Well, until Willie Clinton came along to abet the Republicans in finishing off what remained of the New Deal, that is.
Justice Lee on September 11, 2018:
You say intervention in Korean War dictatorial? Look at Korea today. Tens of millions in south are free. You would take that away? You would be the executioner of ten millions?
Josefine Kynvi on July 14, 2018:
In 1945, it was estimated that perhaps one million Americans and perhaps several million Japanese civilians would die in the event of an invasion. The Japanese government was actively preparing civilians to fight American troops. Ultimately, fewer Japanese and Americans died than would have had Truman not dropped the bomb.
It’s incorrect that Japan would have surrendered anyway. The US detonated the first bomb over Hiroshima, and warned that more such attacks would come if Japan failed to surrender. Even in the face of this immense threat, the Japanese stood firm. It was only after Nagasaki was bombed that, against the wishes of his generals, the emperor decided to capitulate.
From our comfortable 21st century point of view, it’s easy to call much of what Truman did barbaric. With regards to the use of nuclear weapons: it was cold, calculating, and cruel. But it was also probably the right decision. Millions lived who might not have, both Japanese and American.
Tom on May 15, 2018:
people say that thousands of American solider were saved, but what makes one life with more than another, why should an American man take priority over a Japanese man if we are all equal. At most around 20,000 American soldiers would have died during an invasion of Japan because the Japanese military was beaten and weak, cop air that to the 12 times more Japanese CIVILIANS that died
Would you rather 20,000 men who signed up to die for there county die or 250,000 civilians who don’t know they are going to die to be obliterated by an atomic bomb, and those are the lucky ones, don’t forget about the other thousands who were deformed or slowly and painfully being killed by the radiation. I know which I would pick
Azale on February 28, 2018:
First of all, Pearl Harbor was Japanese military plane attack on U.S. military bases, HIroshima and Nagasaki were civilians attacked with atomic (nuclear) weapons by the U.S. government. Only racists would have no regrets or no understanding of the vast night and day difference in the attacks. Secondly, Truman kept it hidden from Americans the fact that Japan was planning to surrender, yes he lied.
oi on February 01, 2018:
Somehow all of you kind of forgot about pearl harbor? remeber that lil thing, The total number of military personnel killed was 2,335, including 2,008 navy personnel, 109 marines, and 218 army. Added to this were 68 civilians, making the total 2403 people dead. 1,177 were from the USS Arizona. They were kinda cruisin for a bruisin
Steve Hopkins on December 10, 2017:
President Truman was one of the best presidents of the USA. He ordered the dropping of two Atomic Bombs which saved thousands of our soldiers in Japan during the second world war...
Ak on November 24, 2017:
Sounds alot like what we have in office now
Jake on November 02, 2017:
"Lies my History Teacher Told Me" - says once Russia joined the allies in the pacific front the Japanese decided to surrender; BEFORE the bombs. It was a complete waste.
Azale on February 17, 2017:
Moral goodness is required for greatness so favoring one race over another, dropping an atomic bomb to slaughter innocent, unknowing civilians (without warning) out of arrogance and manipulation (a message to the Soviet Union) rules out Truman without a doubt, regardless of any stupid subjective list.
And to the white supremacists who feel only white men belong in America, this land belonged to non Europeans.
Peter on January 09, 2017:
I have to laugh at all of the people who still repeat that tired old lie about the atomic bombs saving countless Americans from having to perform a ground invasion of Japan. Japan was defeated, it had no navy, no air force, and barely any troops left. Who the Hell were we going to fight if we started a ground invasion, unarmed old men and women? This was a lie Truman's people came up with to get Americans behind the murder of 250,000 civilians. Truman was a small man and wanted the world to respect him so he just had to murder a couple hundred thousand people to boost his ego. He should go down in history as a war criminal.
John on December 01, 2016:
For sure the worst. Started the whole American "holier than thou" attitude and meddling in foreign affairs. A definite racist at heart. Lobbyists and outside influence controlled the path he led America down. If you look at what he did this it was all wrong. Henry Wallace would have been the best man at the time. It was a critical time and quite honestly, Truman crapped the bed.
Alec on November 25, 2016:
Truman once wrote
"I think one man is just as good as another so long as he's honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman. Uncle Wills says that the Lord made a white man from dust, a nigger from mud, and then threw what was left and it came down a Chinaman. He does hate Chinese and Japs. So do I. It is race prejudice I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion that negroes ought to be in Arica, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America."
Michael on October 16, 2016:
Truman was an awful president. Only a staunch nationalist would agree with dropping nuclear weapons over civilian populations. The Japanese did nothing of the sort to our civilian populations. His policy of escalation towards our former ally was undoubtedly a huge error in the course of human history. After we've established colonies on new planets, hundreds of years in the future, we'll see Truman for who he was. He must have been a bitter man to establish such conflict-driven policies between the cold war and the establishment of the CIA. It was never our business, and I am quite certain that nearly every founder would agree, to involve ourselves in a crusade against communism. We made the world the dangerous place it is today by interfering in the natural political processes of countries all across the globe. Truman is only one of the worst because of the precedents he set. He's only surpassed in evil by the Bush/Nixon cartel.
Al on July 01, 2016:
Palestine was never a diplomatically recognized state. During and as part of the UN resolution you describe, region and tribes occupying Palestine were offered to become a state - they refused. Israel accepted. Simple as that. Also use of 'zionist' implies that the author is a racist and an anti-Semite. Just another liberal idiot who learned how to blog hiding behind his physics degree.
Greg on June 22, 2016:
Truman was a fan of history. He knew you must be careful not to judge the past by a present standard. Even the present standard will change. Arguments become skewed when selected pieces of information are presented and placed in a current standard.
Greg on June 20, 2016:
I would rank Truman among the very best of our presidents. I believe Truman will still rank among the very best one hundred years from now. I enjoy reading opposing view points but I am sorry to say that your point of view is not based on the facts.
Monks on May 17, 2016:
I would say the president in office prior to Truman was truly the worst. The only reason why people like FDR is because he initiated social welfare and gave us "hope" to get us through the depression. Perhaps people need to be reminded of the numerous other depressions in American history.
1819, caused by overspeculation in land, Monroe did little to approach the depression, it ended within a few years.
1837, also caused by land overspeculation, Van Buren made some adjustments in banking fiscal policy such as creating so-called "pet-banks," but otherwise stayed out of the affair, this also ended within only a few years.
1873, overspeculation in industry, possibly quickened by Grant but not intentionally as his fellow politicians were corrupt and participated in scandals, this ended within two years (seeing a trend yet?)
1893, business overspeculation, Cleveland's laissez-faire approach allowed this panic to move smoothly along and the economy completely recovered by 1896.
Great Depression, caused by stock overspeculation. Arguably, Hoover did allow this to happen because of his inactivity or ignorance, whatever you want to call it, but he did implement some measures to ease the depression. Once FDR steps into office, the Depression gets chronically worse as his economic policies not only maliciously violated the Constitution, but also exponentially increased the federal debt to unprecedented rates. And as if that weren't enough, there was a RECESSION inside of a DEPRESSION in 1938, caused by the massive amount of debt that had accumulated and the inability of FDR, or for that matter all Western economies collaborated, to reduce it effectively. Economic levels did not return to pre-October 1929 levels until the early 1950s. If anything, government involvement is what made the Depression as bad as it was, and if Hoover continued to do nothing, the economy most likely would have recovered within the 1930s by natural economic laws. This is why FDR should be considered the worst president ever.
Mark S on April 13, 2016:
Truman was a terrible President but the one thing he did get right was dropping the bombs, thereby saving 100's of thousands of US soldiers who would have been killed in a ground invasion of Japan. With Dean Rusk as his right hand man the idiotic UN was born and our military was fighting for the first time in our history with no objective for victory and thousands of US soldiers lost. Communists were all over the Truman government and his and Roosevelt's inept handling of Russia and Stalin to go along with Truman's support of Mao over Chiang Kai-Shek helped bring about the slaughter of 100 million under communists in the 20th century.
DLawrence on April 05, 2016:
Most of the dates are incorrect, Truman died in 1972 and the H-Bomb was detonated in 1954. Full of exxegaration, and US became the world policeman under the Eisenhower administration.
Nori on March 28, 2016:
We can find a 'revolving door situation' in a couple of the things Truman did. Yes he bombed Japan, he dropped those nukes on innocent people. But Japan has risen from it's ashes like a phoenix and...completely destroyed our economy in the 70's and the 80's by buying every last thing available ( I'd like to note what the CEO of Sony, Akio Morita said 'If you don't want Japan to buy it, don't sell it'). Not exactly a 'quid pro quo' but we're getting there.
With Israel there's another story though. Israel was founded as a secular country in 1948, but they keep constantly relying on the Bible contingent that tells people that they were first on that land because is ... good for business (the church idiots that prefer to listen to what some ignorant preacher tells them, instead of picking up the book and read for themseves!) But that's another story :)
First of all, the Israelis were certainly not the first people there (read the Bible and you'll see that the Canaanites, were the first people there) and second of all, after renouncing God, they got invaded by pretty much everybody (Romans, Arabs in 'different forms' for a lack of a better term) until they LOST that land to whatever occupier was there last!
Now GERMANY for example was once part of the Holy Roman Empire. Do you see Italy whining because they want that huge chunk of land back?!?
Bottom line, Israel WAS once briefly on that land. They lost it to other people. Well...go cry about it now, nobody is going to let you take it without paying it with the blood of our children the way that all empires did it. The only LEGAL PROPERTY Israel has in that land is the Cave of the Patriarchs which was bought by Abraham, who, by the way, is the reason of all your problems because he is the patriarch of BOTH religions (Judaism and Islam!).
So, Nicky boy, hit the books and do your research first if you want to spew here ineptitudes about 'Israel was first there...crapola' I can understand you have some ultrazionist agenda behind you, and, while I applaud your enthusiasm, it would be even better if you could defend your arguments with facts (if you can get some...kinda hard in this case, I agree, but still...I'm open to discussion :)
Nick on November 08, 2015:
Israel was owned by Israelis long before the Palestinians decided to attack and steal it from them. You can't claim something is your property when the only reason you have it is you stole it from the original owner. Israelis are the original owners of Israel, I am tired of hearing people who don't know what they are talking about whine about it.
Bruce Jensen on November 06, 2015:
Here is a poll of polls that rely ONLY on historians.
Truman comes in at 6.
Samiam on November 05, 2015:
Blaming Truman for the avarice of the CIA is disingenuous. Truman formed the Central Intelligence ORGANIZATION- the CIO- with the goal of intelligence gathering and analysis ONLY. It was changed to CIA with the advent of the Eisenhower Administration. In fact, there's a little commented-on dynamic that happened- Ike passed up one of his closest aides, Walter Bedell Smith- then in charge of the CIO- with Allen Dulles, Foster's little brother. Smith felt betrayed, understandably so.
In specific, Operation Ajax was a British MI-6 operation that was designed as a response to Mossedegh's nationalization of Iranian's oil industry. Truman would have none of it, and held the CIA strictly to it's intelligence gathering duties. British foreign policy operative CM Woodhouse took another run at getting American aid for their project, originally named "Project Boot". Woodhouse had meetings with JF Dulles in the interim between the 1952 election and the 1953 inauguration of Ike. Not surprisingly, Dulles was all on board.
Operation Ajax, with General Kermit Roosevelt (TR's grandson) took place in May of 1953, just four months after Ike's inauguration- the first time the CIA took part in the overthrow of a democratically elected government. One year later, they did the same in Guatemala- then Vietnam, The Congo, Indonesia, Cuba.....
It wasn't Truman.
Larry Wall on October 30, 2015:
I believe it was Hary Turman that integrated the military ranks. I found this comment on the Internet, "On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed this executive order establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the segregated military." The source is: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&...
Thomas we first met with I wrote a response to your conclusion. I do not believe your conclusion has not supported by the majority of Hubbers or any other group. Certainly, you are entitled to your opinions, and your conclusions are apparently drawn on research you conducted. I contend your research was too limited. I respect your right to voice your conclusion and opinion. You are a highly intelligent person and please do not try to find a hidden meaning. I have known many bright people accepted. My 11th grade English teacher was from Alabama, and used to brag that she and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mocfking Bird fame" ) went to the same school (in different decades), and she thought George Wallace would be a good president. Word was that he has changed his view, but he was carrying too much excess luggage tobe believable.
Jesse Campbell on October 30, 2015:
Without saying anything disrespecting. ....if it was not for Truman. ...our necks would be broken from looking over our shoulders at who would be coming at us next....
jerome on October 10, 2015:
Truman didn't do anything for us blacks. I grew up in Alabama and all the racists and retard Klan members in my small community were staunch Franklin Roosevelt new deal supporters. FDR appointed Klan member Hugo Black to supreme court. Mbuggieh your right about war wrong about segregation. This is why us blacks don't like politics. The republicans use black soldiers for various wars in 3rd world nations while the economy falters.the democrats seem to sweep their racist past under the rug and they also seem to like voting for war and then playing peacemaker when it's starts to lose popularity
GlendaGoodWitch from California on May 09, 2015:
He was not a good president but, I do believe that Obama is worse.
Larry Wall on May 07, 2015:
I have drafted three different responses to this and eliminated all of them. You are an intelligent person. You are entitled to your opinion, or as you might put it the conclusions of your research. There is a lot you do not understand.
Have a good day.
Larry Wall on May 07, 2015:
Yes, Harding was a worse president. It is all a mater of what data you choose to examine and determine the impact on the country at that time in history. It is really hard to compare Presidents. Nixon, who resigned to avoid impeachment did some stupid things regarding Watergate and extending the Vietnam war into Cambodia. However, he was a very intelligent person and his opening of relations with China has been beneficial.
It is all a matter of perspective. Hoover, did nothing to end the great depression and to help the people who had no money and no way of earning it. Virtually every President has made decisions that some people have not liked. Every person is entitled to their opinion. Polls show that today's population rank Truman near the middle of the Pact. Plenty of people today dislike Pesident Obama for a number of reasons. History in years to come will probably rank him as a progressive president who, despite an opposing Congress did much well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and are entitled to voice that opinions. Others have the right to disagree. Our views do not change history.
robert turmell on May 06, 2015:
Warren Harding should have been included
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on October 26, 2014:
Thanks for dropping in Larry.
Larry Wall on October 17, 2014:
Interesting this disussion showed up again. Just passing by. No debate. I disagree with you on virtually all the points you made but believe we could find some common ground. You might convince the U.S., but not the other countries around the world. I have no other comments and spend little time on hub pages any longer.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 31, 2013:
Thank you for your opinion mbuggieh. I believe the world would be a better place if countless countries had been allowed to democratically choose their own leaders (even if they picked a leftist candidate). I believe a country should be capable of defending itself, not of destroying the entire world several times over.
mbuggieh on July 31, 2013: