The Truman Library
Before I met the two Goddesses I talked about in part 1, I visited the home of 2 of my heroes. I met them at the Truman library in Independence, Missouri, just east of Kansas City. Truman is obviously one of the men I am talking about.
The other of my heroes is Thomas Hart Benton, the artist. You may have read about him in my ongoing ‘Artists I Love’ series I have been doing the past few winters. He has one of his large murals in the lobby of the Truman Library.
One of the most famous sayings in Presidential history is from Truman. ‘The Buck Stops Here’ was his motto and has been restated by virtually every president since. He actually had the saying on his desk, and you can see it right as you enter the museum. Much of the museum is dedicated to the many decisions only Truman, as President, had the power to make.
Truman’s most controversial decision of his Presidency was one of his first. He chose to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan. It led to their surrender but the decision was never unanimous within his inner circle nor among the military. It still is debated today.
One of the things I most admired in the Truman Museum was they did not shy away from bringing this controversy out in the open. they had a whole section dedicated to the arguments pro and con about the decision and allowed visitors to voice their opinion as well.
Here is a book visitors could write in giving their opinion and here is mine, in a drawing.
My opinion has always been that it wasn’t the dropping of the bomb that was the problem, it was dropping it on a population. I think that if they had dropped it 5 miles off the coast of Tokyo, the Japanese, who already were trying to figure out how to sue for peace and still save face, would have seen what was coming and surrendered pretty much along the same time table they did after the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Off in the corner of the downstairs are of the museum there are two examples of war. The first, in the background, is a 5,000 year old helmet from a Greek warrior. In the foreground is a small reproduction of the sculpture commemorating the raising of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima towards the end of WWII. It’s a cruel testament to how incessant war is for us humans.
But often out of the worst of events great efforts can arise. While we in the US were starting to come out of the trauma of war, Europe was not. Truman’s Marshall Plan was our initiative to help Europe make it’s way back.
While Secretary of State Marshall’s name and face was front and center in the plan to help all of Europe back on it’s feet, it really was Truman’s initiative. He knew however that due to his own political baggage a plan with his name on it would not have the universal support it needed to succeed. Marshall, the leader of the overall US War effort was one of the most popular men in the country and he was able to lead the project to fruition.
A number of Benton’s paintings were on display at the museum in a temporary exhibition titled ‘Truman and Benton: Legends of the Missouri Border’ that documented the interrelationship between the two over the course of their lives.
During the middle of WWII Benton painted this painting. It was pretty controversial at the time. It depicted an American soldier, but it was a ‘Negro’ soldier, not something white America was used to seeing or celebrating. His choice to depict an African-American was his way of forcing people to see the black person as equal in war. Not long after the war was over Truman, in spite of a typical Missouri upbringing of his era that was rooted in the racism of slavery and segregation, signed an executive order desegregating the US Armed forces. It was met with much resistance in the south, breaking apart the Democratic party at the time, but very likely helped Truman win the 1948 election due to increased support in the north and west.
One of the reasons I like Truman is that, while by today’s standards he wouldn’t be considered enlightened on race, he certainly grew and moved beyond his own upbringing to move the country forward into racial equality as best he could at the time.
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the cold war got hot. The policy of containment of communism had been fleshed out by the US and allies and it included not allowing the USSR or China to push into any areas they weren’t already occupying. The amount of fear that pervaded the US at that time regarding communism is hard for most of us to understand now but it was real. Some fears were valid but much was due to ranting demagogues like Sen. McCarthy and high pitched propaganda as seen below.
While the President and the Painter did not enjoy a friendship early on in their careers, they did become friends during the painting of the mural. Benton did a painting of Truman later in his life.
The museum was well worth the trip to Independence. If you are anywhere near Kansas City I highly recommend it.