Harry Truman assumed office as the 33rd president of America after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. His swearing-in as the president was in line with the country’s Constitution, which allows the vice president to be sworn in as the president following the latter’s demise. As it is recorded in historical accounts, Truman had only two-one-on-one with his predecessor, meaning that he had limited first-hand knowledge on how his predecessors directed matters of the country (Foner 909). According to many people’s opinion, Truman did not possess the relevant executive experience to qualify for holding the highest position in the country. His appointment was a big surprise not only to him but also to the majority of American citizens. Assuming the presidency office in such an expected manner at the moment when the country was facing myriad threats was definitely a daunting task. This essay will examine the experiences and choices Truman had to take in crucial matters facing America during his tenure as president.
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David McCullough’s article, “Harry Truman: One Tough Son-of –a Bitch of a Man,” gives an account of Truman’s experiences in the office. From this article, it is evident that Truman faced serious challenges, which called for candid decisions on behalf of the country. As reported in the article, Truman at first expressed fears when he learned about Roosevelt’s death by telling some reporters to pray for him as he prepared to assume the top leadership (McCullough 252). He likens the incident to a load of hay falling on him and further says that the news of Roosevelt’s death made him feel as if the moon, stars, and the planets had fallen on him. This shows that he was fully cognizant of the fact that a difficult task lay ahead of him. Even though he was not conscious of his predecessor’s military secrets and war strategy, Truman accepted the job with enthusiasm. He assertively made the decisions, which let the country win the Second World War.
According to David McCullough, in his term as the president, Truman had to make some tough decisions to safeguard the country’s interests. Throughout his leadership, he was known as a man who never reprimanded subordinates. When 260,000 Chinese troops stormed Korea, it was one of the hardest times in his tenure. Following this incident, Truman had to make the most difficult decision to call on Korea in 1950. However hard the decision was, Truman felt it was the most important choice he ever made during his tenure. According to him, the resolution was the most ideal as opposed to undertaking the use of the atomic bomb (McCullough 254). Truman feared that his fierce reactions might lead the country into a nuclear war, which would adversely affect its stability. These actions by Truman shaped the relationship the U.S had with other countries.
North and South Korea had different government manifestos where the former was communist and the latter anticommunist, aligned with America. North Korea had attacked the South with the aim of unification under communism. At that time, many people expected the president to directly rescue South Korea from being overrun by the North Korean blitzkrieg. The fact that his decision to visit Korea was the least expected from the president would mean the loss of public trust in handling matters of grave concern to people’s safety. Truman’s method was perceived as leaning towards a get-tough containment approach based on his previous war reactions, unlike his predecessor, who, at times, tried to appease the Russians and made it hard to realize communism. Truman’s harsh approach helped block the expansion of the Soviets while saving the world from the effects of socialism. Truman decided to use atomic bombs against Japan to stop the attack. The president’s main doctrines to contain the spread of communism involved military action and dialogue as was the case in Japan and Korea.
The assaults by North Korea on the South created rifts. The easing of tensions between North and South Korea would ideally call for crisis decision-making, which involves resolving the way forward within the shortest time possible. The abrupt decision by North Korea to cross the parallel, which divides it from South Korea, subjected Truman’s government to an emergency. The president faced a tough verdict at that time; one such choice was to resolve whether to support South Korea’s military or otherwise. Each of these resolutions impacted Truman’s political career and painted a picture of the country’s position in promoting communism.
As mentioned earlier, it was one of the toughest choices because it challenged Truman to deal with international affairs. His approach to how he intervened in the war between North and South Korea defined a man who was not bowed by the public pressure but was confident to deliver what was the best for the country. The lesson drawn on Munich had a great impact on the decisions made by Truman. He decided not to replicate Munich’s mistake were the European authorities condoned and appeased Hitler’s expansionism, which the region would later come to pay the cost of their choices. As McCullough mentions, Truman’s involvement in the war brought him more harm than good. His popularity plummeted as a result of failing to secure military success in Korea.
While he was in Congress, Truman expressed strong support for both sides. This explains why the press could praise him throughout the country. As it would be later witnessed in the summer of 1950, the war went sour and ended up being referred to as “Truman’s War.” However, according to McCullough, there was no correlation between his popularity and ease or difficulty making choices (McCullough 256). As illustrated, it was not difficult for him to make the least popular decision. For instance, firing MacArthur was by far the most controversial action during his presidency (Foner 915). Despite the negative reaction from the public, the president carried on his duties as usual. He believed that the citizens would appreciate his resolutions as working for their best interests in the long run. Besides, he claimed that he would fulfill his duty to lead the country on the right path in the decision to visit Korea, he changed his approach and ceded the war to pursue other avenues for liberating South Korea. This approach was more inclined toward the United States’ original goal of ensuring the dominion of South Korea. At a particular point, the Korean War came to a standstill. Despite the setbacks which he faced, Truman’s resolution to fight in Korea was a crucial landmark in the Cold War’s early years. The president was able to reassure the American European friends that the U.S. dedication to Asia would not be the result of Europeans’ contribution.
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Although Truman did not have executive experience and his career did not attract public confidence, it is indisputable that he made tremendous contributions to U.S political relations during a highly volatile period. His courage to execute some of the tough decisions was admirable. He made the choices necessary for the prevailing situation at the time, and though he is gone, some of his contributions shape the current day America.
Foner, Eric, editor. Give Me Liberty! An American History. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
McCullough, David. Truman. Simon & Schuster, 1992.