Harry S. Truman was an unassuming 33rd. U.S. President and
succeeded to the office upon the death of illustrious President Franklin D.
Roosevelt. He was born at Lamar, Missouri, was of Scottish origin and the second
son of his parents. His educational background in the initial years was not
noteworthy. In 1901 from Independence High School, he got his first formal
academic recognition. It is amazing to know that the ‘S’ in his
middle name doesn’t stand for anything. His parents just gave him the
initial ‘S’ to please his grandfathers.
In between odd jobs for five years, in 1906 he went to his maternal grandmother’s
farm and stayed there till 1917 before joining the Military Service. This
farming experience stood in good stead during his formative years in the
Military. His participation in World War and commanding the Battery D Unit was a
transformative experience which brought out Truman’s leadership quality.
He was married to Bess Wallace in 1919.
In 1922, he was elected a judge of Jackson County Court. A Kansas politician,
Thomas Joseph Pendergast, greatly influenced his political career and Truman was
his chosen candidate for Senate election from Missouri. He defeated his
Republican opponent in 1934 and in his first public speech as a Senator he spoke
bluntly on malpractices of the corporate world and warned against Wall Street
During World War II, he was in command of War Investigating
Committee checking waste consumption which saved up to $15 billion. Truman’s
political career took a beating after his mentor, Joseph Pendergast, was
imprisoned for insurance fraudulence. However, he was still able to retain his
seat and became the Grandmaster of Missouri Grand Lodge of Free Masonry.
This was the turning point of his political career. His advocacy on cost saving
measures for the military attracted much attention and in 1945 and in 1948, he
was named “Man of the Year”.
The Truman Committee brought him in the limelight. He was sworn in as the Vice
President in 1945 but served less than three months. The sudden death of
President Roosevelt catapulted him to the Presidential seat. When he became the
President, Truman was completely uninformed about all the major political,
economic and defense initiatives due to severe communication gap between him and
Roosevelt including the top secret “Manhattan Project” for
developing the Atom bomb.
On joining the office, though he retained all the old cabinet members, the
decision making process was left to him. Truman’s foreign policy was
marked by many historical occurrences primarily his usage of nuclear bomb on
Nagasaki and Hiroshima after Japan rejected the “Potsdam Declaration”.
Though his decision to drop the Atom bomb was mired in controversy,
some experts felt this was the best way to reduce American casualties in the
Pacific Theater. The war against Germany was also coming to an end.
Harry S. Truman was one of the architects behind formation of 1945 Charter of
United Nations as a tool for international peace and co-existence. His other
notable initiatives included Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe, occupation of
Japan, Truman Doctrine for containing Communism, creation of North Atlantic
Treaty Organization and other similar military alliances and the Cold War.
During his tenure, the Korean War began in 1950 between the Communist North
Korea and South Korea which was an American ally. When Soviet Union blockaded
West Berlin 1948, he arranged a massive air-lift of much needed supplies to the
At the domestic front he presented the “Fair Deal”, a 21 point
program where in the expansion of Social Security, a Full Employment Program, a
Fair Employment Practice Act, extensive public housing and slum clearance
projects took place. When he was in office, the nation was in throes of economic
recession post World War II.
Labor management conflicts surfaced in many spheres specially the National
Railway strike of 1946 which further crippled the economy. Truman retaliated by
hinting seizure of Railway controls and threatened to induct the striking
workers in the Armed Forces. This threat had an instant effect as the strike was
immediately called off. However, this had a deep repercussion on his political
career as he totally lost the labor vote bank. Also, corruption in various
Departments in his Administration reached its peak and became the central issue
in the 1952 campaign. This discouraged him and he decided not to run again for
U.S. President and retired from public life.