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Harry S. Truman, the Accidental President

In Education, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 10:03 am

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By Gery L. Deer

Probably the most famous photo of Truman. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Probably the most famous photo of Truman. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I’ve always been interested in politics and, given how public I am in some ways it’s not unexpected to have people come up to me and ask why I don’t run for some public office. Given my work and family commitments, I don’t really see that as a viable option. If I did run, though, I know where my inspiration would come from.

While everyone else is quoting Lincoln and idolizing Thomas Jefferson, I would probably try my hardest to emulate Harry Truman. My generation probably doesn’t know much about our 33rd president. I know I didn’t until I watched a documentary about him recently. Then I did some research of my own.

Truman is featured in many pages of America’s history book but is most noted as the man who made the final decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, forcing their surrender to end World War II. Upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, Truman was sworn in on April 12, 1945, but the presidency was a job he never had any ambition to hold.

Harry was a man of short stature (5-foot, 8-inches in height) but big accomplishments. He didn’t even enter politics until he was 33 years old and, by that time, he had, in his own words, “failed at everything he tried.” As a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, practicing for hours on end. His mother was a college graduate, a music teacher who, to some, probably seemed a bit over protective of her small, bespectacled son.

Socially awkward, young Harry rarely roughhoused or played sports like the other boys his age and he was thoroughly terrified of girls. That is, until he summoned up the courage to talk to Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace, a girl he’d virtually grown up with and finally married many years later after numerous rejections to his courting.

His father held many jobs, finally tending his mother-in-law’s farm before being severely injured and incapacitated. Harry was forced to leave his job as a bank clerk and forget his dream of college to work the farm and help pay off the family’s mounting debt. Later, he joined the army during World War I, where he became an officer. After the war, he and an army buddy opened a haberdashery which later went bankrupt. But, as usual, Truman didn’t give up.

Shortly afterwards, Truman ran for the office of district judge, essentially a county commissioner, in Jackson County, Missouri. Though he weathered his share of scandal in the corrupt, good-old-boy system of Kansas City, his straight-forward honesty and no-nonsense demeanor seemed to resonate and he eventually won a seat for the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate in 1934. His rise to the second-highest seat in the government came almost by accident and with great trepidation by many in the party.

When Roosevelt died, it was immediately apparent that Truman’s White House would be run quite differently. His “regular guy” persona was in stark contrast and a welcome change from FDR’s upper-class style. His impoverished upbringing probably had something to do with his detest of wasteful spending and Truman became known as the chief of all budget hawks. At one point, he even had the entire White House gutted and refurbished to protect it from further deterioration while also saving public money on excessive repair.

In the end, however, the simple clerk from Independence, Missouri proved to be much more than the accidental president. He had managed to create foreign policies that are still the basis of modern diplomacy, he was one of the first presidents to work towards equality in the workplace for African Americans and he helped restructure the country’s economy after World War II.

I could go on and on about this man, but you should look him up on your own. Harry S. Truman’s is a story of great struggle, fortitude and achievement from a man who many considered a lifetime failure with no focus or ambition. With today’s staggering level of corruption and waste in government, America certainly could use another, “Give ‘Em Hell Harry.”