March 9th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Even his reverential biographer, Merle Miller, admitted in the Truman biography “Plain Speaking” that later in life “privately Mr. Truman always said ‘nigger’; at least he always did when I talked to him.” He also often privately referred to Jews as “kikes.”
Truman’s racism and anti-Semitism may surprise many Americans because he has been sanctified in recent years by hagiographic biographers such as David McCullough and by Democrats and Republicans who admire his leadership during the Cold War. As the country has moved to the right politically, Truman, who toward the end of his presidency had the lowest approval ratings of any modern president, has risen to “near great” status.
As a product of the corrupt Tom Pendergast machine that ran Kansas City, Truman was largely shunned during his first term in the Senate by his colleagues. After barely winning reelection without Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support, he was put on the ticket in 1944 by conservative party bosses intent on ousting the crusading liberal Henry Wallace from the vice presidency. They chose Truman not for his convictions or qualifications but because he was pliable, with few enemies.
A Gallup poll released the week of the 1944 Democratic Convention asked Democratic voters whom they wanted as vice president. Sixty-five percent chose Wallace; 2% favored Truman. Roosevelt thought so little of his new vice president that during the 82 days before Roosevelt died the two met just twice. Roosevelt did not even inform Truman that the U.S. was building an atomic bomb.
Limited in vision, ill prepared and plagued by self-doubt, Truman stumbled through his early presidency, and his missteps would chart the course of future history. He quickly replaced the New Dealers and progressives with conservatives like Jimmy Byrnes, who encouraged Truman’s confrontational stance toward Washington’s wartime ally — the Soviet Union — at a time when the Cold War might have been averted.
We’ll never know if Truman’s attitudes toward minorities — including his comment in 1911 to Bess that he hated “Japs” — influenced his decision to drop two atomic bombs at a point when the Japanese were already militarily devastated and seeking acceptable surrender terms. Truman understood that he was embarking on a course that could ultimately bring the extinction of mankind.
Truman always insisted that he felt “no remorse” over that decision, about which, he commented, he “never lost a minute’s sleep.” Condoleezza Rice picked Truman as man of the last century in an interview with Time magazine, but he was no hero to most of his contemporaries. Those who subsequently orchestrated his historical revitalization have often used his refurbished image to justify a conservative political agenda.