Sizing up Stalin
Truman's first impression of Joseph Stalin was favorable. "Truman had that very American idea," says historian David McCullough, "that if he could just meet the fellow, shake his hand, look him in the eye, size him up, then they could work together, work things out, and everything would be okay."
Narrator: "A few minutes before 12:00," Truman wrote. "I looked up from my desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway."
"I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled."
One day Truman and Stalin would confront each other as enemies in the most dangerous ideological conflict in all of history. But on July 17 the United States and the Soviet Union were allies who had just defeated a terrible enemy. Both men were cordial and friendly.
Alonzo Hamby, Biographer: Truman was rather impressed by Stalin. He thought that here was a tough guy. Stalin struck him as frank and straightforward, a sort of political boss type, who would keep his word once he gave it.
Narrator: Truman said later that Stalin reminded him of the Missouri kingpin Tom Pendergast.
David McCullough, Biographer: Joseph Stalin was nothing like Tom Pendergast. This was one of the most blood thirsty, murdering, evil men of our time.
But Truman had that very American idea -- that old, American idea - that if he could just meet the fellow, shake his hand, look him in the eye, size him up -- that they could work together, work things out. And everything would be o.k.
Narrator: "I can deal with Stalin," Truman wrote. "He is honest but smart as hell." Stalin was less sanguine. He told an aide that Truman was worthless. The Soviet dictator had already determined that he would surrender nothing of any consequence when the bargaining began.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?