Boomers Lived Through and Celebrated Presidential History

Another Presidents Day is here. Mister Boomer has noted how the federal holiday came to be, and that boomers remember a time before Presidents Day (Boomers Said, “Hail to the Chief”). At this point in history, boomers have been living through the terms of fourteen presidents. However, the man who was POTUS when the first Baby Boomer was born in 1946 was Harry Truman, and not many boomers know much about this president.

If you are a boomer like Mister B, you were not taught much about President Harry Truman, other than he made the decision to drop first one, then another atomic bomb on Japan in an effort to end World War II. Germany had previously surrendered in May of 1945 following the suicide death of Hitler one month earlier. Two weeks prior to Hitler’s death, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly, thrusting his Vice President, Harry Truman, onto the international stage. The fight with Japan continued.

It was surprising for Mister B to learn that the Vice President of the United States was kept in the dark about the program to develop the atomic bomb — the Manhattan Project. Historians record that Truman only learned of it after becoming President. The Russians, however, did know about it in great detail, due to a network of spies in the U.S. and around the world. Thus, the Russians were working to develop an A-bomb of their own, which ultimately led to the Cold War.

As boomers recall their history lessons, President Truman, when faced with the prospect of a prolonged bloody conflict with a ground invasion of Japan, ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When Japan failed to surrender after the destruction of that city, the president ordered a second bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Together, nearly a quarter million Japanese citizens were killed in the bombings. Japan signaled surrender, and on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced it, ultimately signing a formal surrender declaration on September 2.

In 1946, President Truman dissolved the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and other war-related agencies that were created to gather intelligence during the War. To replace them, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Council (NSC) and others were created under The National Security Act of 1947. The purpose of these agencies was to oversee the gathering and sharing of intelligence that both military and political figures felt was necessary to protect a post-war America.

In early 1950, paranoia over the rise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the War led some American political figures, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy, to conduct hearings under the authority of the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, in a speech in West Virginia, specifically charged that the State Department was harboring Communist “traitors.” A reporter asked President Truman for comment, and Truman stated, “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” The official response to the committee from the Truman Administration, residing in the National Archives, calls the charges rumors, lies, or based on no evidence.

An in-depth look at this underpublicized president is far beyond the scope of a boomer blog; Harry Truman was a complex man filled with contradictions and human emotions. His penchant for speaking his mind is why the phrase, “Give ’em hell, Harry” was attached to him when he began his political career. Records show, in his personal life, he was conflicted by ideas of racial equality. Yet in 1948 he ended segregation in the military, and supported civil rights legislation soon after the War.

In 1950, Truman’s fear of the threat of the spread of Communism led him to bring the U.S. into what was called a “police action” in Korea. Truman’s administration assembled a group of international allies to serve alongside United Nations troops. With the involvement of China and the Soviet Union, it became apparent that victory in Korea was far from a sure thing. Truman was advised to again use nuclear weapons. A World War I veteran himself, and in the wake of his overseeing the end of hostilities in World War II, he refused to do so. Ultimately, the U.S. and U.N. troops retreated to the 38th Parallel, which became the basis for the DMZ that marked the division between North and South Korea.

In January of 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States. Boomers then began witnessing a new era of presidents.

Do you have any memories of learning about President Harry Truman, boomers?