Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Truman, Harry S (1884–1972)

Title: Harry S Truman
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U.S. political leader and president from 1945 to January 1953. Born in Lamar, Missouri, on 8 May 1884, Harry Truman grew up on the family farm in Grandview. Poor eyesight kept him from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy. Truman never formally attended college, but he read for the bar at night at the Kansas City School of Law. He enlisted in the National Guard as a young man and served in combat in France during World War I as a field artillery battery commander.

Following the war, Truman entered politics, and with the backing of "Boss" Tom Pendergast, he was elected a judge in the court of Jackson County, Missouri. He served in that post from 1926 to 1934, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri. Truman remained active as a reserve officer, rising to the rank of colonel and only retiring from the Army Reserve after he left the presidency. He was reelected to the Senate in 1940, but he remained relatively obscure until his service as chairman of the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, when he helped eliminate millions of dollars of waste in defense contracting. His efforts contributed significantly to the efficiency of the U.S. defense industry on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II and thereafter.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected Truman as his running mate in 1944, and Truman was sworn in as vice president in January 1945. Roosevelt did not share with Truman his thinking on many significant war-related issues, and Truman was thus poorly prepared to become president when Roosevelt died suddenly on 12 April 1945. Yet despite his almost blind start, Truman made some bold moves virtually immediately. He supported the San Francisco Conference of Nations that established the United Nations, and he mustered popular and bipartisan support for that fledgling organization, with the intention of altering the nation's traditionally isolationist outlook in favor of a postwar internationalist foreign policy.

When the Germans surrendered only 26 days after he assumed office, Truman appointed General Dwight D. Eisenhower to head the American occupation zone in Germany, and he supported a vigorous program of de-Nazification and war crimes prosecution. He opposed, however, the draconian Morgenthau Plan, the goal of which was to convert Germany into an agricultural state. Attending the July 1945 Potsdam Conference, Truman worked with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to build on the agreements that had been reached by Stalin, Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill at Yalta. Truman also decided to employ the atomic bomb against Japan, a decision he later said he never regretted or agonized about.

As it became increasing clear that the Soviet Union was systematically acting contrary to the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, Truman concluded that a strong Anglo-American stand was the only means of preventing a total Soviet domination of Europe. But rapid American demobilization had reduced U.S. military strength in Europe to 391,000 men by 1946, whereas the Soviets still had 2.8 million troops under arms. Truman used U.S. economic power and the country's momentary nuclear monopoly to blunt the Soviet aspirations in postwar Europe. He also effectively blocked the Soviets from assuming any role in the occupation of Japan.

Truman was wary of Soviet conventional military power in Europe, but he also tried to maintain the wartime alliance that he considered essential to the viability of the United Nations. When Soviet intentions finally became crystal clear—first with the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia and then with the Berlin Blockade—the defining Cold War American policy of containment solidified with three landmark decisions: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Truman laid down the principles of the Truman Doctrine in a speech before Congress on 12 March 1947, when he stated he believed the United States had to adopt a policy to support free peoples resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside influences. In response, Congress approved his request for $400 million in economic and military aid for both Greece and Turkey. Greece was then being torn apart in a civil war, and Turkey was under heavy pressure from Moscow over control of the Dardanelles. The support package for Greece also included U.S. military advisers.

The $12 billion Marshall Plan was the engine of economic recovery in Europe, and it effectively prevented Moscow from stoking and exploiting economic chaos. The Soviet Union rejected aid under Washington's conditions and forced what were now its Eastern European satellites to do likewise. In March 1948, Britain, France, and the Benelux countries, with American backing, formed the Brussels Pact, which developed into the Western European Union in 1955.

Truman decided on an airlift as the answer to a Soviet blockade of Berlin, demonstrating U.S. resolve to block the spread of communism in Western Europe. In April 1949, the United States entered into its first (and still its most durable) standing military alliance since 1800 with the establishment of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Truman also put Moscow on notice that the United States was willing to use its fledgling nuclear arsenal to defend Western Europe. In May 1949, when it became clear that the Soviets had no intention of allowing all of Germany's four occupation zones to reunite under a democratically elected government, Truman supported the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany, formed from the three western occupation zones. The Soviets retaliated almost immediately by establishing the German Democratic Republic in the east.

In what he described as his most difficult decision while in office, Truman authorized the employment of U.S. forces in Korea in June 1950, within a week of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. He also supervised the reorganization of U.S. defense and intelligence establishments along the lines that remain familiar at the start of the twenty-first century. His administration established the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, and the Central Intelligence Agency, and it formally established the Joint Chiefs of Staffs and the global network of joint military commands.

Truman's decision to remove General Douglas MacArthur as U.S. and UN commander in Korea and the negative American public reaction to this, together with the stalemate in the war there, led Truman not to run for reelection in 1952. He left office in January 1953.

Harry Truman played an important role during World War II, and his postwar policies rebuilt Western Europe, integrated the greater part of Germany into the West, and prevented the spread of communism outside the Soviet occupation zone. Truman died in Kansas City, Missouri, on 26 December 1972.

David T. Zabecki


Further Reading
Beschloss, Michael R. The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941–1945. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.; Hamby, Alonzo S. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.; McCoy, Donald R. The Presidency of Harry S. Truman. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984.; McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.; Pemberton, William E. Harry S. Truman: Fair Dealer and Cold Warrior. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.; Truman, Harry S. Memoirs. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955–1956.
 

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