Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States, and is famous for working with Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union to create the Cold War.
Harry Truman was born in 1884 in a small Missouri farming town to small-town farming parents. Truman joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905, where he had to memorize the eye chart to pass the eye exam. He served until 1911, but rejoined upon the American entrance into World War One, where he served with honor as a battery commander in the 129th Field Artillery.
After the war, Truman got involved in Missouri politics, serving as Jackson County’s judge from 1922 to 1933, when he was appointed the Director of Missouri’s Federal Re-Employment program. In 1934, Truman ran for the US Senate, which he won handily.
For the next six years, Truman spoke against corporate greed, financial irresponsibility, and other popular Great Depression topics. Truman was good enough to get himself re-elected, however narrowly, in the 1940 Senate race. During his second term, Truman stated:
“If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word.”
Despite (or maybe because of) this Machaevellian thinking, Truman was chosen to be President Roosevelt’s running mate for the 1944 election. As the previous three elections had, 1944’s delivered a landslide victory to FDR, and Truman went to the White House as Vice President. He wouldn’t stay there for long, though.
Four months into his fourth term, President Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage (his brain bled to death), and Truman was sworn in as the new President. As the Commander-in-Chief, Truman fought World War II just as tenaciously as Roosevelt had, and, just a few weeks after taking the oath of office, Germany surrendered.
With the war in Europe over, Truman focused all his attention on Japan, calling for their surrender in the Potsdam Declaration. When they refused, Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons on Japanese cities. While the fallout was still settling from the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.
After ending WWII, Truman set his sights on the next enemy of America: the Soviet Union. Truman watched uneasily as the USSR bear-hugged Eastern Europe and attempted to expand their influence across the globe. To combat this, Truman and his cabinet put their heads together and came up with a series of plans to check Soviet influence. They called these ideas the Truman Doctrine, and they formed the core of US foreign policy for the next 50 years. Truman and his unorthodox methods of passive-aggressiveness helped prevent nuclear war during the Cold War.
Post World War II
The Marshall Plan: This plan proposed to rebuild European infrastructure and economies through massive financial aid, with the thinking that American influence would come hand in hand with American economic involvement.
Containment: The Truman Doctrine called for ‘containing’ Soviet influence and keeping it from spreading across the globe, rather than directly confronting it and eliminating it where it already existed.
NATO: NATO was the West’s response to the growing threat of the Soviet Bloc, which consisted of all of Eurasia, from the Bering Strait to West Germany, minus Japan, South Korea, India, Greece, and the Middle East. NATO drew a line in the sand, and its member states pledged support to each other in the event of a Soviet attack.
Although he did nothing to contain or diminish the Soviet Union, Truman helped form the United Nations, he recognized the state of Israel, and introduced the very first Civil Rights legislation to Congress.
Four years after Truman had assumed the Presidency, an election rolled around. Truman easily won, squeaking by with 303 electoral votes. Unfortunately though, he would have been better off losing, as the next four years were turbulent, troubling times.
First off was the Communist victory in China in 1949. Communist rebels under Mao Zedong destroyed the Chinese Nationalist government and seized control of China. This was a terrible blow to the Truman Doctrine. Even worse, however, was the Korean War, which pitted the Soviet-backed aggressor, North Korea, against the NATO-backed South Korea. The war was a massive bloodbath, and resulted in very little change. There was also this little issue in French Indochina (Vietnam and Cambodia) with a Communist independence group led by a guy called Ho Chi Minh, but it wasn’t too bad.
Domestically, Truman had to deal with the massive witch hunt and paranoia that was Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Truman chose to not run again in 1952, and passed the responsibility of stabilizing the world to President Dwight Eisenhower. After leaving office, Harry Truman published his memoirs, toured Europe with his wife, and generally puttered around until December 1972, when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He died of organ failure three weeks after being admitted, at the age of 88.