The new Newsweek is, in the words of an old song, just wild about Harry.
There he is, pictured on the cover with the line, “Wanted: A New Truman” followed by the question, “Does Anybody in the ’08 Field Have What It Takes?” Inside, the answer is maybe, accompanied by an essay and a chapter from an historian’s new book on Presidential courage relating Truman’s decision to recognize Israel.
In 1945 Harry Truman may have saved my life and I have been troubled by what he did ever since. After victory in Europe, I was a 21-year-old foot soldier waiting to be shipped to the Pacific when he made America the only country in history ever to set off nuclear bombs and kill civilians.
What he did, despite the pleas of scientists who had developed the nuclear weapon, ended World War II but left a moral stain on the victory of the Greatest Generation.
If the blast over Hiroshima was questionable (and many military commanders, including Eisenhower and MacArthur, were against it because the Japanese were ready to surrender), the second at Nagaski was indefensible, adding 74,000 more deaths to the 140,000 caused by the first.
A machine politician who had failed in business, Truman nonetheless became an effective President in many ways, but does he rate today’s idolatry?
After the war, under Republican pressure, he instituted loyalty oaths for and investigations of government employees, paving the way for McCarthyism. If that’s the kind of Presidential courage now being celebrated, we should rethink our definition of the term.