Wednesday, August 1, 2018

President Harry Truman's Lessons in Decision Making

A reproduction of Harry Truman's oval office at the Truman Library and Museum in Kansas City.
    On a recent visit to the Harry S Truman Library and Museum in Independence we had trouble finding a parking space.  This had never happened to us before.  Two large school buses were also present.  As we entered the lobby, we found ourselves among many tall good looking men dressed in suits.  What was going on?
    A guard told us these were 150 army majors who are presently assigned to advanced training in Leavenworth at the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. Frankly they looked much too young to be majors.  He said they were here to study Truman's decisions that had been so historically important.
    As we took our own tour, it became evident that many events had prepared Truman to make a series of critical decisions that were major factors in U.S. and world history.  His decisions were not appreciated at the time he made them. When he left his office, his rating by the public was very low with only around 30% approving his decisions.  He left the presidency with many thinking he was a failure. 
    With the passage of time his decisions began to look much better and the most recent ratings by professional historians place him as number 6 as one of our great presidents, just below Thomas Jefferson and just above Dwight Eisenhower. 
    His first major decision was the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.  This is still debated, but most military experts agree it saved many American lives that would have been lost as the result of an invasion of the Japanese homeland.
    At the entrance to the post war exhibition we stepped into a dark area of ruined buildings and ominous wind sounds.  In a number of crevasses TV's were showing the results of  the destruction of the war and the poverty and hardships of the survivors.  We were introduced to the chaos of what the war left behind.
    Truman had seen the punishment of Germany after WWI which set the stage for Hitler. After WWII Truman worked on a number of programs to insure Europe was safe from communism and that the economies could be helped to rebuild. The Marshall plan was an important element in  providing funds and supplies to help the European economies. 
    The Truman Doctrine established support to free countries like Greece and Turkey that were in danger of becoming a part of the communist bloc.  Truman helped form NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to defend Europe against a Soviet attack. This also included the Berlin Airlift to bring supplies by air to a Berlin that had had its road supply routes cut off by Russia.  Obviously Europe owes it present good state of affairs to Truman's foresight.

The Democratic Party was split over Truman during his Presidency.

    Some of his early decisions were controversial and in the elections of 1946 the Congress and the Senate became Republican and very resistant to his liberal programs. 
    More was to come. Truman racial integration of the military was a major step forward and he would have done more against segregation, but the resistance was too great.
    Against the advice of his secretary of state, George C. Marshall, he decided to recognize the new nation of Israel moved in part by the horrors of the Holocaust and the thousands of displaced Jews in Europe. A less noble factor was that this decision would unite Jewish Americans behind him in the 1948 presidential election that he was expected to lose.
    Then came the North Korea communist attack on South Korea.  Truman drew a line and General Douglas MacArthur did some clever moves that brought China into the war.  A disagreement led to firing of MacArthur, a very unpopular decision despite the fact it prevented a full out war with China.
    In 1950 Truman approved the development of the H-Bomb and a month later the Cold War arms buildup.
    Decisions, decisions: his administration had more important decisions to make than practically any other president in history.   This is emphasized by two special features of the museum; small theaters where visitors can sit exposed to the decisions Truman had to made and record their own reactions.   
    The first one says: "Enter this interactive theater to see now Truman handled some tough election year decisions.  Register your own opinions about presidential decision making."
    There is much more to see and interact with at the Truman Museum, but this should make it clear why the U.S. army officer training program exposes officers in training to understand the decision making of Harry S Truman.

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