What I’ve been thinking about…
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
With so much self-promotion on the airwaves during our national party conventions – last week the Republicans, this week the Democrats – these words are a refreshing relief from so much pompous self-aggrandizement.
Over the last few weeks I’ve binge-watched Season One of the political intrigue Scandal on Netflix. My curiosity had been piqued by all the office “OMGs!” from Scandal’s story line. So with my husband out of town on business I tucked-in on the sofa for a number of nights with the cat. It was in one of the episodes that the chief of staff counsels the president something along the lines of “Men don’t make heroes. History does.” It was this line that made me think of Truman.
This may not make it into my blog but our current Presidential race has brought him to mind.
Harry Truman would probably be a foggy high-school history-class memory for me if it wasn’t for a handshake deal I made with my mom. A few years ago I mentioned that I’d always wanted to see a U.S. Presidential Library. Just curious. Mom reminded me that Harry Truman was from Independence, Missouri, so his library was just four hours away. She’d be willing to go with me. “Excellent! Nice and close by. But first we need to read a biography.”
Who chose it, Mom? You or me? All I know is we ended up with biographer David McCullough’s 992-page volume, Truman, as Christmas gifts.
Our first attempt to visit the library got high-jacked by Congress. In one of the budget stand-offs that led to temporary closures of government buildings, the library was closed the first weekend we planned the trip. Undeterred we drove out anyway. Yes, the library was completely closed-up but my daughter Cristina lives in Kansas City so we salvaged the weekend with an eclectic girl mix of an Italian dinner, the movie Gravity, and, a meandering walk guided by a brochure treasure-map to find all the Henry Moore sculptures on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Several months later we made our second library attempt: Success! Mom and I ended up spending nearly five hours there. Absorbed by the multi-media exhibits we walked through history with the help of films and artifacts, letters and photos. There’s even a replica of Truman’s office with “The buck stops here” nameplate.
This short essay can’t possibly give Truman justice. He served as our 33rd U.S. President (assuming office upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt). During his time in office he oversaw extraordinary events: the end of WWII, the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war with imperial Japan, the founding of the United Nations, the issuance of the Truman Doctrine to contain Communism and the enactment of the Marshall Plan in order to rebuild Western Europe. He was also behind the creation of NATO and asked for UN approval to respond to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea with U.S. troops -- a stalemate that continues today.
Remarkably, at the center of these out-sized events was a really simple man. In my journal I wrote that Truman was consistent in the small decisions, not just the large. He is an example of ego-less leadership. Vilified by the media, government adversaries and industry leaders, Truman bore the weight of a country that scapegoated and turned sour on him by the time he left office.
Yet, just as the fictitious Scandal official commented, history has gradually provided perspective.
For such a humble man Truman led our country toward a bigger vision of itself. Instead of being isolationist, he encouraged global involvement and leadership. Instead of punishment and revenge, he enacted the means for governments we’d conquered in war to recover with supervision.
He said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
It would be wonderful if we could hear similar words from today’s politicians. Leading away from fear instead of toward it.
You know as a young teenager my husband got to meet Truman. In the late 1950’s, after Truman had left office, Juan spoke with President Truman several times when Truman visited New York City. The President was known for his daily “constitutionals,” or the walks, he faithfully enjoyed every morning throughout his life. Juan tells the story that as a school monitor at Wagner Junior High he’d lounge outside the school doors every morning with his friends “supervising” kids as they entered the building. He remembers President Truman striding down 76th Street with two bodyguards. On many occasions the President would stop and talk with him and his friends.
I asked Juan if he remembers any of the conversations. No, they were kids. Just that he was always dressed impeccably in a shirt and hat. And really friendly.
Friendliness, humility, courage, taking responsibility…sounds refreshing, doesn’t it?
Thank you for reading!