NARRATOR: In 1944, a little-known Senator from Missouri was campaigning for the office of Vice President. New Orleans, Houston, Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, St. Louis -- he criss-crossed America.
One night in his private pullman car, he awoke in a cold sweat. He had dreamed that Franklin Roosevelt had died, and he, Harry Truman, was President of the United States. In all his life, Truman told a reporter, he had never had such a terrifying nightmare.
April 12, 1945. Vice President Harry S. Truman received a call urging him to come quickly and quietly to the White House. As he ran through the corridors of the Capitol, he refused to face what lay ahead:
"I thought I was going down there to meet the President," Truman said later, "I didn't allow myself to think anything else."
NARRATOR: At 5:25 P.M. Truman entered the first lady's second floor study.
Eleanor Roosevelt put her arm around his shoulder.
"Harry," she told him. "The President is dead,"
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Truman asked.
"Is there anything we can do for you," Mrs. Roosevelt replied, "For you are the one in trouble now."
NARRATOR: He was only a high school graduate, a farmer until he was 33, a haberdasher gone bankrupt at 38. No one in Washington had ever even heard of Harry Truman before he was 50.
Now at 60, he was President of the United States.
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: Here was a little haberdasher from Missouri, a small businessman, for him to step into the shoes of the great FDR, there was an enormous feeling of let-down.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: For many people, it was as if the Presidency had died, not just the President. People were shaken, not just by Roosevelt's death, but, what did this mean to have this unknown quantity step in to such a powerful and important position.
NARRATOR: "If Harry Truman can be President," Americans everywhere were saying, "so could my next-door neighbor."
ARCHIVAL FILM TRUMAN: Our hearts are heavy. The cause which claimed Roosevelt also claims us. He never faltered. Nor will we.
VERNON JARRETT, Journalist: I felt that the man was out of his element. And I think many other Americans expressed the same fear. We got an incompetent that we know nothing about in the White House. It was kind of frightening thing to contemplate.
NARRATOR: Of all the men who had been President, he was one of the least prepared. Vice President for only 82 days, excluded from Roosevelt's inner circle, he knew nothing about the war raging across three continents and two oceans except what he read in the papers.
But within four months, Harry S. Truman would have at his command the most terrible weapon ever devised by man, and he would have to decide whether or not to use it.
AN ACCIDENT OF DEMOCRACY
NARRATOR: "Now Harry, you be good," Martha Truman had told her 11-year-old son. And Harry Truman had wanted to be good. He dreamed of becoming a concert pianist and practiced with the same determined, optimistic spirit his pioneer grandparents brought with them when they first came West to Missouri.
Born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Harry was six when his family settled in Independence -- a town still close to the rugged life of the American frontier. Men carried knives, or guns. Fistfights were common.
Independence, Missouri was not a place where young boys played the piano.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He's this young kid who looks sort of like a sissy. There is a surviving picture of him that was made around the time he was 11. You see this kid who looks sort of like Little Lord Fauntleroy dressed up in his Sunday best, sort of pudgy, wearing these big thick glasses in a day when it was very unusual for a kid to wear eyeglasses.
NARRATOR: "The popular boys were the ones who were good at games and had big, tight fists," Truman remembered years later. "I was never like that. Without my glasses I was blind as a bat, and to tell the truth, I was kind of a sissy. If there was any danger of getting into a fight, I always ran." But in spite of the teasing, Harry kept on playing the piano. All his life, Harry Truman would show the same dogged perseverance.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: There was that little boy up every morning at 5 o'clock, for two hours in absolute earnest before going to school, sitting there in the half-light working away at Mozart or Chopin.
NARRATOR: It was Harry's mother who first urged him to play the piano and encouraged him to practice. Harry was the sort of boy, a friend recalled, "who seemed to do whatever his mother told him."
The daughter of a pioneer farmer, Martha Truman had gone to college and studied music, art, and literature. Before Harry was five she sat him on her lap and taught him to read from the family Bible.
CHARLES BABCOCK, Truman Family Neighbor: I think Harry's mother wanted him to be a real gentleman. And do things just right. She actually babied Harry a good deal if you want to say that. But she had no other choice because he couldn't do the rough and tumble with the other kids.
NARRATOR: Harry's introduction to politics was rowdy and boisterous. Election day at the end of the 19th century was marked by high spirits, carousing and brawls. And in Independence, Harry's father, John Truman, was always right in the middle of the action.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: His father was about five foot four, or so, but tough. He would fight at the drop of a hat. He would take after people, particularly on election day... And once when a man in a courtroom accused him of being a liar, he chased the fellow out into the street and threatened to beat him up.
NARRATOR: Like Harry's mother, John Truman also came from pioneer stock. He earned his living trading horses and mules.
"A fiery fellow," people said of him, "very stubborn, but on the square... A man of his integrity and industry... you excuse a whole lot of things."
All his life, Harry would try to earn John Truman's respect.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Once his father got young Harry a pony. And the father was leading the pony, and the little boy fell off the pony and started to cry. And the father said, "Any little boy that cries when he falls off the pony has to walk home." So he had to walk all the way back.
And Mrs. Truman, Harry's mother, didn't like that at all.
NARRATOR: "Mamma thought I was badly mistreated, but I wasn't," Truman remembered. "In spite of my crying all the way home, I learned a lesson."
Harry learned that a man kept trying until he succeeded, that a man never admitted he was afraid, that a man had to speak bluntly and be prepared to fight.
But no matter how hard he tried, Harry could never quite measure up.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: My own impression is that he really wanted to relate to his father. He felt that their relationship was not as good as it should have been, it was not as close as it should have been.
NARRATOR: Harry was not his father's favorite. His younger brother John Vivian was. John Vivian shared his father's interest in trading horses and mules. Harry preferred to read. Harry was one of the few boys in town who went to high school. Most of the students in his class were girls. He spent his spare time going to concerts... when he wasn't devouring books.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He claimed to have read every book in the little town library. He particularly liked biography and history. George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee... They were his heroes and he wanted to be like they were.
NARRATOR: Everything he learned reinforced his native optimism and taught him to admire the simple, old-fashioned virtues.
"A true heart, a strong mind, and a great deal of courage," he wrote in a school composition, "and I think a man will get through the world."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman grew up in a town where there were certain standards of behavior. Selfishness is not tolerated -- hypocrisy is detested -- you were put down if you started acting a little too big for your britches and you judge people by the work they do, doing a good job.
NARRATOR: Independence, Harry said, was a place where "Right was right and wrong was wrong, and you didn't have to talk about it." Throughout his life, Truman would idealize his home town. But Independence was also a place where Catholics and Jews were not to be trusted, Italians and Irish not to be hired. Blacks lived in a cluster of shacks called "Nigger Neck."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Independence, Missouri was more like the South than it was like the Midwest. It was a Jim Crow town. When the Civil War veterans gathered on the town square for reunions they were confederate veterans. And Truman grew up in a family where racial slurs were used. Where old habits of the mind and the mouth prevailed.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Harry's grandmother especially just hated Abe Lincoln.
Harry's mother didn't feel very good about Abe Lincoln either. Her big hero was Robert E. Lee, and you get the impression from what you learn about Truman's mother that she thought John Wilkes Booth was a great man.
NARRATOR: Harry began life with all the prejudices of his family, and most of his friends and neighbors. The best and worst of small town America helped shape his moral imagination.
In 1900, Harry and his father went to the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City. John Truman was a life-long Democrat, who passed his staunch party convictions along to his son.
It was the 16-year-old boy's first taste of national politics, and he loved it... the crowds, the hoopla, and as the new century began, the spirit of optimism that filled the air -- the dreams of better and better times ahead.
John Truman had his own dreams. Fiercely ambitious, always attracted to the big score, he began speculating in grain futures.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He wanted to get rich. He thought you had to work hard. He was an enormously hard worker, but he thought you needed some luck in order to get rich. And he bet the family savings and indeed eventually the family home in Independence on the grain markets.
NARRATOR: "Youth, the Hope of the World," read the Latin slogan above the heads of Harry Truman's 1901 high school graduating class.
But now at 17, Harry's own hopes were shattered. He had wanted to go to college. But his father's gamble on the grain markets proved disastrous, and the Trumans lost everything they owned.
But Harry never complained about his luck. He never would.
Determined to help support his family, he headed for nearby Kansas City.
For a 17-year-old boy just starting out in life, Kansas City was brimming with possibilities.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: It's a big, rough, boisterous, overgrown cowtown.
It's got everything, including lots of opportunity for sin if that's what you wanted. Prostitution, gambling, and wide-open, all night hell-raising.
To what extent Harry experienced any of that we'll never know. My suspicion is not at all. He was a good boy.
CHARLES BABCOCK, Truman Family Neighbor: Harry was a nice guy. And his mother had raised him very well. I don't think he was about to get in trouble in Kansas City even though a lot of people did in those days, you know. Harry didn't have a lot of money so he worked all the time, so he couldn't get in very much trouble that way because his time was spent working.
NARRATOR: Mailroom boy for a newspaper, timekeeper for a railroad construction company, bank clerk -- Harry took what jobs came his way, and made the most of them. Kansas City, Harry reported, was a place with "things doing." He went to concerts, theater and vaudeville, saw the four Cohans and Sara Bernhardt. Once he heard Theodore Roosevelt speak from the back of a railroad car. The President, Harry thought, appeared to be surprisingly short. He joined the National Guard and enjoyed the company of other young men. Women, though, were another matter. "I was always afraid of girls," he once wrote.
After four years, Harry was drawing a good salary as a bank clerk and finding new friends. He was 21 years old, just beginning to make a life for himself, when once again his father thwarted his ambitions.
Down on his luck, John Truman had been forced to sell his house, all his livestock, and had even taken a job as a night watchman. He saw his chance to get back on his feet when his wife's mother asked him to take over the family farm 15 miles south of Independence. But he knew he couldn't run the huge 600 acre farm without the help of both his sons. He told Harry to quit his job and come home. Again, without complaint, Harry did as he was told.
CHARLES BABCOCK, Truman Family Neighbor: I don't think he was by nature a farmer. I think he liked people better. So it was tough on him. He didn't want to do it, I'm sure.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: It was hard work, hard, hard work, and blistering heat in the summer time in western Missouri. And cold, cold winters where the whole landscape turned to iron. And he'd never done this before, this was new to him. He'd grown up in town, he'd gone to work in the bank, he had clerks jobs, he looked like a clerk.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He remembered in later years friends who told him he wouldn't last six months. And he'd be back at work at the bank.
NARRATOR: John Truman was a stern taskmaster.
"If a crooked row, or a blank space showed in the cornfield or wheat," Harry remembered, "I'd hear about it for a year."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He's working for his father, and working for John Truman wouldn't have been easy... but he was determined to prove he could do it. I think he was still dissatisfied with his relationship with his father and thought that maybe this was his last opportunity to repair it.
NARRATOR: For nearly eight years, Harry worked at his father's side.
"We were real partners," Harry remembered. "He thought I was about right. I knew he was."
"Dear Bessie, I've been sowing oats all week, and hauled about six tons of hay yesterday.... You know the wind blew something fierce last Tuesday and Wednesday and the sun also had some effect. Between them I look like raw beef."
To escape the drudgery of his daily life, Harry stole time to write a young woman from his high school graduating class -- Elizabeth Wallace -- Bess.
SUE GENTRY, Editor, The Independence Examiner: The story he tells, they were in Sunday school together when they were six years old. There was a year's difference in their age. And from that moment on, he thought of no one else but that blue-eyed, golden haired little girl.
NARRATOR: It took five years, Harry said, before he could summon the courage even to talk to her. He would remain in awe of Bess for the rest of his life.
Bess was popular, outgoing and a great athlete. A superb tennis player, the best female fencer in town, and a terrific third baseman.
SUE GENTRY, Editor, The Independence Examiner: She belonged to a special family in Independence. A family that was prominent and recognized. Of course Harry came -- was from a farm family.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Bess Wallace and her family lived in one of the biggest houses in Independence. They had a servant to wait on the tables, there were lace curtains in the windows and Brussells carpets on the floor.
And you walked up those steps onto the Wallace front porch and you rang the doorbell and when you crossed the threshold into that house, if you were Harry Truman, you were stepping into a different world, where people didn't work with their hands, where to all that he knew at least, they had no such thing as debt or worry, or concern about weather and insects and all the -- all the burdens of farm life. And he courted her with a determination that is very expressive of the kind of man he was. It was his first campaign.
And he didn't give up.
NARRATOR: He wrote her letter after letter, day after day.
"Dear Bessie, I don't care what kind of paper you write on. I should be just as pleased to get a letter from you on wrapping paper as on the finest stationery."
.....You certainly did write me one fine letter (put the emphasis on fine, not on one, because they're all fine)..."
"Dear Bess, I shall sure be glad to go to Salisbury's for dinner Sunday. But don't you think I am a terrible tightwad if we walk?"
Harry was in love, but Bess held herself aloof.
SUE GENTRY, Editor, The Independence Examiner: She had lots of beaus. And her mother always thought, so I'm told, that Bess could do better than Harry, a farm boy.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: I once asked Mae Wallace, Harry Truman's sister-in-law, if it was true that Mrs. Wallace, her mother-in-law Madge Wallace, didn't think that Harry was good enough for Bess. And she said, "Oh, yes, that's right. She didn't think Harry was good enough for Bess, but she didn't think anyone was good enough for Bess."
NARRATOR: Madge Wallace would never think Harry was good enough.
Once a beautiful girl from a much admired family, she had become a reclusive troubled woman, grown more and more dependent on her only daughter, ever since the tragic death of her husband.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Precisely why David Wallace got up very early one morning, climbed into the family bath tub, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger we don't really know. Some accounts have it he was depressed because he was heavily in debt. But why would such a fine man do this?
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Bess' father was an extremely popular, charming man who often rode the horse at the head of political parades. But he was an alcoholic. And like the character in the poem Richard Cory he went home one night and put a bullet through his head. And his wife, Bess' mother, came apart. She never was able to cope again.
NARRATOR: Her husband's suicide scandalized the small town. Madge Wallace became, someone said, "a prisoner of shame."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: It cast a pall over the rest of her life. Mrs. Wallace gave Bess the impression that it was Bess' duty to take care of her. Her mother became very reliant on her.
NARRATOR: Bess was just 18. A neighbor remembered how, in the hours immediately following her father's suicide, "Bess was walking up and down in back of the house with clenched fists."
"Dear Bessie I certainly enjoyed myself the evening I was there and you may be assured that I shall repeat the offense as often as I can or you will allow me. The cake and coffee couldn't be beat.... there's nothing better than cake but more cake.
Bess was 25 when Harry first began to court her. She was a young woman on the verge of spinsterhood, the bonds forged by maternal need and filial duty drawing ever more tightly around her.
But Harry idolized her. All through elementary and high school, he had shyly loved her -- from afar. Even as a young man in Kansas City, he had dreamed always and only of Bess.
Now he was 26. And he had never had a girlfriend.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman from the time he was a kid had always been somewhat uneasy with the opposite sex. Maybe Bess' distance and his idealization of her provided an excuse for not getting involved with women for a long time. He's been hooked on this woman ever since he met her at the age of five, and he has never been able to get interested in any other women since.
NARRATOR: Harry saw Bess whenever he could, nearly every Sunday.
They enjoyed concerts, plays, and continued to exchange letters:
Dear Bessie, You may be very, very sure that your letters cannot possibly come too often or too regular for me...
Dear Bessie, My voice is somewhat weary from yelling at the horses. Please write me when you have the time as I enjoy your letters very much...
Finally Harry drew up his courage and proposed -- in a letter:
Dear Bessie: You may not have guessed it but I've been crazy about you ever since we went to Sunday school together. But I never had the nerve to think you'd even look at me. I don't think so now but I can't keep from telling you what I think of you.
Were I an Italian or a poet I would use all the luscious language of two continents. I am not either but only a kind of good-for-nothing American farmer... If you turn me down, I'll not be thoroughly disappointed, for it's no more than I expect. Please write as soon as you feel that way. The sooner, the better pleased I am.
More than Sincerely,
It took Bess three weeks to respond. She refused.
And Harry wrote to thank her for not ridiculing him.
"You know you turned me down so easy I am almost happy anyway. I was never fool enough to think that a girl like you could ever care for a fellow like me.
NARRATOR: But Harry wouldn't give up. He bought a second-hand Stafford touring car to take Bess courting. When he learned that she liked tennis, Harry built her a grass tennis court out behind the farmhouse and threw a tennis party in her honor. She didn't come.
"I really worked all day Sunday getting that court ready for you," he wrote her. "We also had a supply of watermelons on hand. But you can make it some Saturday, and Mamma says you must come to dinner next time."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Persistence is a very strong theme in Harry Truman. He doesn't give up very easily. He really set his mind that Bess was the one. And she always would be. Never any variation in that. He just kept at it--
NARRATOR: Two years after she had turned him down, Bess began to change her mind. She told Harry that if she ever married anyone, it would be him.
"Dear Bess, "It doesn't seem real that you should care for me... I've always thought that the best man in the world is hardly good enough for any woman. But when it comes to the best girl in all the universe caring for an ordinary gink like me -- well, you just have to let me get used to it. I'm all puffed up and hilarious and happy."
But Bess would never marry a farmer. The farm was $12,000 in debt, and Harry was still working for his father. Then, in 1914, John Truman, straining to remove a boulder from a road, severely injured himself. X-rays revealed a tumor blocking his intestine. Doctors recommended surgery, but held out little hope. The operation failed. Harry saw his father grow weaker and weaker. Near death, the wiry, once ambitious man looked back on his life. "I have been," he told his son, "a failure." On the evening of November 2, 1914, Harry rested at his father's bedside. "I had been sitting with him and watching a long time," Truman said later. "When I woke up he was dead." Years later, when a writer asked Truman if his father had been a failure, Harry told him, "How could he be a failure if his son became President of the United States?"
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: The death of John Truman was a liberation for Harry.
Once he gets past the point of grief and shock at his father's death, he is finally free to set out in directions of his own. And he decides pretty quickly that those directions are going to be away from the farm.
NARRATOR: After hearing tales of easy money to be made in Oklahoma, Harry headed south.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He's going to do as his father had done, only make what his father had tried, work. His father gambled. His father gambled and lost. He was going to gamble and win.
NARRATOR: Harry borrowed several thousand dollars against his livestock, and gambled it on a zinc mine.
CHARLES BABCOCK, Truman Family Neighbor: He decided he'd get rich quick to catch up with Bess, because Bess was well to do.
NARRATOR: "Dear Bess, Our foreman says we have a much better mine than he expected... When I see you I hope to tell you that we are going full blast and making ore so fast it makes our heads swim."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He seems to assume that things are not going to go wrong, you work hard, lady luck will be on your side and you'll make it.
But what Harry doesn't understand and what he's never good at is that you buy low and you sell high.
NARRATOR: "Dear Bess, The mine has gone by the board. I have lost out on it entirely. There was never one of our name who had sense enough to make money. I am no exception.... You would do better perhaps if you pitch me into the ash heap and pick someone with more sense and ability and not such a soft head."
But he sank another $5,000 in an oil well company and convinced Bess to risk some money too.
"Dear Bess, People seem to think our... project has some merit. We got $225 yesterday.... Hope to see you Sunday, and be so full of oil that I'll float."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He is always optimistic. He comes out of this culture that says people can get ahead if they work hard. And then it also says if they have a little luck too.
NARRATOR: Harry's company ran out of money and went bust. Bess lost everything she had invested. Harry sold his stake to a better-financed outfit. The new company kept drilling, and struck it rich. If Harry had hung on, drilled just a little deeper, he would have been a millionaire.
"Dear Bess, I seem to have a grand and admirable ability for calling tails when heads come up. My luck should surely change. Sometime I should win. I have tried to stick. Worked, really did, like thunder for ten years to get that old farm in line... and I have had a crop failure every year. Thought I'd change my luck and see [where it's got me]."
Harry Truman was 33 years old and had failed at everything he had tried. But Harry didn't feel sorry for himself for long. He closed his letter by asking Bess, "Can I come over Tuesday night? Just remember how crazy I am about you and forget all the rest."
When America went to war in 1917, young men from small towns all across the nation responded with patriotic fervor. Harry Truman was one of them. That spring Harry left the farm in the hands of his mother and sister and joined the army. And at long last, Bess agreed to marry him. But now Harry refused.
"I don't think it would be right for me," he told her, "to ask you to tie yourself to a prospective cripple."
The Great War had already taken the lives of an entire generation of Europe's young men. One million men died at the Somme. Nearly another million more at Verdun. But for Harry, like other raw recruits, war still shimmered with romance. He later said that he was "stirred by the flame."
"I felt that I was Galahad after the Grail."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: There was no need for Truman to have ever gone to war. He was technically blind in one eye. His eyesight was so bad that he could never have gotten in at all but for the fact that he memorized the eye chart in advance of the examination. But he wanted to go. He was determined to go.
NARRATOR: Harry had never been to college, never been in a fight in his life, but he earned the rank of captain, was sent to France and given command of four rapid-fire guns and 194 men.
On the morning of July 11, 1918, Captain Harry Truman introduced himself to the notorious Battery D, a rowdy bunch, mostly Irish from Kansas City, some of the most insubordinate soldiers in the United States Army.
"Never," Harry said later, "have I felt so nervous."
MCKINLEY WOODEN, Battery D: We had been pretty tough bunch. We had got rid of three captains. But the first night he addressed the battery, he says, I didn't come over here to get along with you fellas. You're gonna get along with me. I said to an Irishman, "What do you think of the new captain." He says "Ninety days, ninety days."
NARRATOR: "You could see," one of the men remembered, "that he was scared to death."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: World War I was the crucible for Truman. It was the formative experience of his life. It changed everything for him -- changed him. Changed his understanding of himself.
NARRATOR: At the end of August Captain Truman led his men into battle for the first time. Battery D opened fire on a company of German soldiers encamped four miles away. Before the Germans could return the fire, Truman ordered his men to take a new position, but they couldn't move without the horses to pull the cannons.
MCKINLEY WOODEN, Battery D: Harry gave the first sergeant orders to have the horses up at a certain hour. But the first sergeant was 30 minutes late in getting up there. We'd have been away from there if he had. That's where the trouble started.
NARRATOR: It was dark and raining when the Germans opened fire.
Battery D was trapped, its big guns mired in the mud. The men panicked -- many ran.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And Truman is caught in the middle and he sees everybody taking off. And he stands there and he calls them every name he can think of and he knew a lot of names.
NARRATOR: You "no good Irish sons of bitches" he hollered and ordered his soldiers to re-group. The men, stunned by his rage, inspired by his courage, did as they were told. Through the dark and rain, Truman marched them out of danger.
"Dear Bess, The men think I am not much afraid of shells. But they don't know I was too scared to run..."
Battery D had escaped without a single casualty.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And they thereafter saw him differently. Because he had stood his ground. And after a while they began to realize that this fellow with the eyeglasses and the bank clerk look about him was in fact a man of real determination.
NARRATOR: "Captain Harry," the men decided, was good luck. "We have a captain," one soldier wrote his father, "who cannot be beat."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He was about as unheroic in his eyeglasses as one could be. But there is a photograph of him that is on his I.D. card. And he has his glasses off and you look at that photograph and you see the strength. You see what a rugged character he is. Harry Vaughan once said that, "if you want to understand Harry Truman you have to understand that he is one tough son of a bitch of a man." And if you look at that picture, you can see the iron. You can see what his men must have recognized and understood.
NARRATOR: At night, Harry would sit and stare at a photograph he brought with him to Europe.
"Dear Bess, I have two breast pockets in my blouse. Naturally you can guess whose picture stays in the left hand one... It has never left me... nor will it ever. I have looked at it many, many times and imagined that you were there in spirit, as I knew you were, and it helped a lot... I hope you have a most happy birthday and that you will never see another one without me to help celebrate and then may they go on without end..."
By November, the war to end all wars was over. Captain Truman and the boys from Battery D had seen some of the bloodiest fighting in American history.
"Dear Bess, You know I have succeeded at doing what was my greatest ambition to do at the beginning of the war. That is to take a Battery through and not lose a man. We fired some 10,000 rounds at Heinie and were shelled ourselves time and again but never did the Hun score a hit on me."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman's wartime service was awfully important to him because it was the greatest success he had had in his life up 'till that point. He comes out of it having established himself as a leader of men.
That's something he never could have said about himself at any point earlier in his life.
NARRATOR: In January, 1919 Harry watched as President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to a tumultuous reception. World leaders were gathering to ensure a lasting peace, empires had fallen, the map of Europe was about to be re-drawn, but Harry Truman simply wanted to go back to Missouri.
"For my part," he wrote, "I don't give a whoop whether there's a League of Nations or whether Russia has a Red government or a Purple one and if the President of the Czecho-slovaks wants to pry the throne from under the King of Bohemia, let him pry, but send us home.
But it would be months before the army would let Harry go back to Missouri.
He toured France, saw the Riviera and Paris -- the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Folies Bergere. Forty years later Harry would remember it as "disgusting." At the time he wrote that it was what you'd expect to see in Kansas City -- "only more so."
Seven weeks after returning home, on June 28, 1919, a day so hot the flowers in the chapel wilted, Harry Truman married Bess Wallace at tiny Trinity Episcopal Church in Independence.
Harry was 35. Twenty-nine years had passed since he had first seen Bess in Sunday School -- eight years since he'd first proposed. He had never dated another woman.
One of Truman's men from Battery D wrote him, "I hope you have the same success in this new war as you had in the old."
After a honeymoon on the Great Lakes, Harry moved all of his belongings into his mother-in-law's house.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: I think it was very important to Bess that he was willing to live with her obligations to Mrs. Wallace and absolutely live with Mrs. Wallace who was an awfully hard person to live with. Harry spent much of his adult life almost being a punching bag for her. He never talked back to her. He forced himself to think only the nicest thoughts about her, at least as far as anything that's ever been recorded.
NARRATOR: Although his new bride assured him the situation was temporary, Harry would live with Bess' family for the next 15 years. In 1919, as America celebrated the end of World War I, Harry Truman was just another soldier in search of a job. Eddie Jacobson -- Harry's old army buddy -- was out of work too.
Eddie suggested they go into business together in downtown Kansas City. Just before Christmas, they opened up a little haberdashery on 12th Street selling "gents furnishings." Kansas City had grown famous for its soul stirring jazz. Harry didn't take much to the music, never even learned to dance, but jazz made the downtown swing -- and that was good for business. Everybody seemed to have money to spend. "We sold shirts at 16 dollars," Eddie remembered.
RUTH GRUBER, Jacobson Family Friend: Harry was the salesman, and Eddie was the buyer. They really understood each other in the business.
There were no conflicts. And they were good buddies. They played poker every Saturday night. Truman called Eddie you bald-headed SOB. They were cut from the same Midwestern cloth... except that the religious background was not the same.
NARRATOR: Eddie Jacobson was Jewish, born on New York City's lower east side. Although Harry and Eddie were friends, Harry couldn't bring Eddie home for dinner -- Bess' mother objected. Harry and Eddie made a good team.
They worked hard -- from eight in the morning to nine at night -- but the little haberdashery struggled. And in 1922, after just two years, caught in a post-war recession, it went under. Harry was 38 and deep in debt.
"Went into business all enthusiastic," he wrote. "Lost all I had and all I could borrow." Feeling "fairly blue."
Harry was facing failure once again, but his luck was finally about to change.
Old army pal Jim Pendergast thought Truman's war record would make him a good candidate for political office and put in a call to his uncle Tom.
NARRATOR: Tom Pendergast was a raw-boned, thick-necked, spat-wearing Irishman. Crass and colorful, Pendergast was a hard drinker and a reckless gambler. In time, he would lose, some said, six million dollars on the ponies. But he knew how to win at politics. A tough, backstage operator, he would build a political machine so strong and control it with such an iron grip that one day pundits would call Kansas City "Tom's Town."
Pendergast made money selling the county concrete and real estate -- monopolizing the market and lining his pockets with lucrative kickbacks.
But in Kansas City in the 20s there were many ways to get rich. Gambling, bootleg liquor, prostitution, narcotics -- Pendergast was into all of it.
He was deeply involved in the Kansas City rackets, and manipulated Jackson county politics.
In 1922, when Pendergast needed someone to stand for county commissioner, or judge as the position was called, Pendergast chose war hero Harry Truman. Harry saw his chance, and without hesitation, grabbed it.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: Pendergast turned to Truman to sort of perfume the Pendergast machine by getting a person who had integrity, who also had strong support among veterans of WWI.
NARRATOR: But Pendergast did not yet control all of Jackson county.
Harry would have to campaign hard, and he was green. He counted on Pendergast, his war record, and the boys from Battery D.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He was pathetic as a speaker. He could hardly express himself at all. And his pals from the army all went out and campaigned hard for him. And they would cheer at every rally and they would try and whip up excitement for their beloved Captain Harry. And at one point they decided it would be dramatic if Truman arrived by plane. So they got a World War I bi-plane, and one of the army pals flew the plane, Truman came sailing through the air, landed, climbed out of the plane, staggered across the field, violently ill, to a fence where he threw up in front of everybody, and that was sort of his first great entrance as a politician.
NARRATOR: His speeches were blunt, his voice flat, his style coarse, even crude. But he liked politicking with the people of Jackson county -- the talk, the jokes, the camaraderie. He was tireless and energetic -- and he won -- by just 279 votes. He would be elected two more times in the next 10 years. After years of drift and failure, Harry Truman had finally settled into a career. County Commissioner was a big job. Harry was responsible for 700 employees and seven million dollars a year.
WALT BODINE, Journalist: He was famous at that time for being a builder, and he built some great highways in Jackson County. That was at a time when they used to say of Missouri, "Stay out of Missouri and stay out of the mud."
NARRATOR: Truman loved the job -- the power, the prestige, the chance to do good things. He worked with Irish and Italian Catholics, and black community leaders, slowly moving away from small town prejudices. He earned a reputation for efficiency, honesty, won the respect of the newspapers.
But he could not win the praise of Bess' mother, who disapproved of politics. But Harry never complained. His life had at last found direction. In 1924, Margaret, his first and only child, was born. Harry was nearly 40, with a daughter he adored, a wife he dearly loved, and dozens of friends.
He joined the Elks, the Masons, the American Legion, the American Veterans of Foreign Wars, the International Acquaintance league, and spent every Monday night in a backroom over a bank playing poker.
But he was troubled. Brought up to honor the difference between right and wrong, Harry found it more and more difficult to deal with the man to whom he owed his job. By 1930, Tom Pendergast dominated Kansas City politics while his involvement in Kansas City racketeering had become even more unsavory. The ruthless gangster Johnny Lazia was his lieutenant. Kansas City became notorious for shoot-outs, arson, kidnappings. Harry had nothing to do with mobsters, but he turned his back while Pendergast skimmed millions in public money. Torn between loyalty to Pendergast and his own self-respect, he began suffering from acute headaches, dizziness, insomnia.
Pendergast demanded that Harry rig county contracts, Harry insisted on fair bidding. His honor, he said, was at stake. Pendergast told Harry his honor wasn't worth a pinch of snuff. Harry's anxiety grew so great that he quietly took a room at a hotel in downtown Kansas City, and poured out his troubles on pages he kept, but would never show anyone.
"Am I just a crook," he wrote, "to compromise in order to get the job done...?"
"I wonder if I did right... [I saved $3,500,000] but I had to put a lot of no good sons of bitches on the payroll and pay other sons of bitches more money for supplies than they were worth in order to satisfy the political powers. I believe I did do right."
Harry refused to condemn Pendergast himself: "He owned a bawdy house, a saloon and gambling establishment," Harry wrote, "but he's all man."
Harry did agree to give county jobs to machine loyalists, relatives, and friends, but he resolved never to take a bribe or a kickback himself.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman accepted his association with the Pendergasts as the price he had to pay to be in politics -- not unlike, one might say, accepting living with Madge Wallace and in his mother-in-law's house as the price he had to pay to marry Bess.
NARRATOR: In 1932, when Harry went with Pendergast to the Democratic convention in Chicago, he saw Franklin Roosevelt for the first time.
FDR: Give me your help in this crusade to restore America to its own people.
NARRATOR: In accepting his party's nomination, the 51-year-old Roosevelt achieved a lifelong ambition.
Harry S. Truman was 48, unknown outside of Missouri. Now for the first time, he began to reveal his own ambitions. He let it be known that he wanted to run for Governor, or Congress. But Pendergast had other candidates in mind. Then, in 1934, when Pendergast was looking for a new Senator, some of the boss' aides recommended Harry.
"Do you mean to tell me," Pendergast bellowed, "you actually believe that Harry Truman can be elected to the United States Senate?"
After three other men turned him down, Pendergast settled for Harry Truman and backed him in the Missouri primary. Truman's opponents called him Pendergast's bellhop. The election turned on Kansas City, where Pendergast made certain that Truman got all but 11,000 of its 148,000 votes.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: Pendergast actually stuffed the ballot boxes with illegal votes and people that weren't registered.
NARRATOR: The new United States Senator from Missouri was 50 years old -- and had never been to Washington for more than a few days.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: So off he goes to Washington and Tom Pendergast's parting words to the new Senator from Missouri are, "Keep your mouth shut and answer your mail." And he arrives in Washington with a shadow over him, a cloud over him as the "Senator from Pendergast." And there are certain senators who won't even speak to him because he has such a stigma attached to him.
NARRATOR: Harry, Bess, and Margaret settled into the nation's capital, moving into an inexpensive, four-room apartment. But Bess wasn't happy there. She lasted just five months before she returned to Independence.
Her mother wanted her home. She and Margaret shuttled back and forth to Washington, where the Trumans rented one small apartment after another.
Throughout Harry's years in the Senate, Bess spent much of her time in Independence, leaving Senator Truman heartsick and lonely.
Dear Bess, I've been wandering around like a lost soul this morning...It's a wrench to be without you. I never missed you so much before...
Dear Bess, Your card was a lifesaver this morning. I never in my life spent such a lonesome night.
Dear Bess, Your letter came on the second mail so everything is all right...
Dear Bess, Your letter was in the first mail
Dear Bess, I do wish you'd let me hear at least every other day.
Dear Bess, Dreamed about you last night. Thought we were going through a flood together. We got through without disaster. The weather has been fine.
Dear Bess, It was good to hear your voice last night, but not half as good as really seeing and talking to you --
Dear Bess, I was so lonesome last night...even if my combination of words makes you sick sometimes...
Dear Bess, Happy Birthday!...If your dress doesn't fit you send it back and we'll get a larger one.
Dear Bess, You don't know how much I appreciated the letter that came in the morning's mail. I was so devilishly homesick...I could see you standing out there in the yard watching me drive away and I don't think you kissed me goodbye...
NARRATOR: It would be years before Senator Truman gained enough confidence to work himself out from under Pendergast's shadow.
"He came in," a friend remembered, "with a real inferiority complex."
"I was as timid," Truman later wrote, "as a country boy arriving on the campus of a great university."
With America caught in the grips of the Depression -- Truman fell in line with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. He called Roosevelt "the greatest of the greats."
But Roosevelt himself had no use for the junior Senator from Missouri. It took five months before the White House summoned Truman for a 15 minute meeting. After just seven minutes, Truman was shown the door.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Roosevelt would have nothing to do with him.
Roosevelt really gave him the back of his hand. People on the White House staff gave him the back of their hands. He couldn't get appointments. He wasn't somebody that they took very seriously.
NARRATOR: Truman sat for months in the Senate Chamber without making a single speech. He was known as "Go-along, get-along Harry."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He has to prove to the people in the Senate, that he's somebody to be taken seriously, that he's a hard worker and that he's honest and that he's going to do the job. And he gave it everything he had. He would work longer days, harder days than anybody. He was in there before anybody showed up. He was assigned to committees and he would show up when nobody else would show up for dreary committee sessions and dreary committee hearings, very often the only one there listening to hours and hours of deadly testimony about deadly subjects, but he was going to do the job. He was going to learn the business. And, as time went by, in a matter of about three or four years, they began to realize what kind of a fellow they had on their hands.
NARRATOR: Slowly, Truman began to prove himself. But even as he became more and more independent, he remained loyal to Tom Pendergast. He kept a framed portrait of the Missouri Boss in his office, even though Pendergast was in trouble. Pendergast was seriously ill, his gambling out of control, his debts in the millions. In 1939, a grand jury indicted him for tax evasion. Convicted, he was sentenced to prison for 15 months and banned from politics for five years. The scandal tainted Truman and it couldn't have come at a worse time -- in 1940, he was up for re-election.
His opponents derided him as a fraudulent Senator, elected by ghost votes -- a Pendergast lackey. Truman tried to convince voters that President Roosevelt supported him, but Roosevelt never did.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Roosevelt wanted to distance himself from Harry Truman. Roosevelt considered Truman an embarrassment to the Democratic party.
NARRATOR: Without the support of the President, or Pendergast, Truman had to go it alone. Most observers didn't give him a chance. But he never gave up. And eked out a narrow victory -- he won by just 8,000 votes.
Truman returned to the Senate his own man, but he would remain a backbencher, until once again, a war would reveal his strength as a leader -- and catapult him into the limelight. 1940 -- Nazi armies swept across Europe. Great Britain was under attack. The United States wasn't in it yet, but America was getting ready. Building planes, munitions, tanks, army camps...Back in Washington, Truman was receiving complaints about waste, mismanagement, and even fraud, and all by himself, he decided to look into it.
WILBUR SPARKS, Truman Investigating Committee: Without letting anybody in his party know what he was doing, he decided to go see for himself. And he took a long automobile drive... as I recall, he drove a dirty old Dodge in those days. And he climbed in his Dodge, drove south.
He must have had a list of camps that were being built...And wherever he went, he stopped in one of these. He went in and started asking questions.
Nobody ever asked him who he was or why he was asking these questions. He'd talk to workers. He'd talk to foremen.
NARRATOR: Truman was appalled by what he saw.
"There were hundreds of men," he said, "just standing around collecting their pay, doing nothing."
WILBUR SPARKS, Truman Investigating Committee: He saw big piles of lumber just lying there. Nobody was using it. Trucks standing still and rusting.
NARRATOR: Congress had authorized more than 10 billion dollars for defense contracts in just six months. From his own highly personal investigation, Truman feared the money was being squandered. On February 10, 1941, Senator Truman proposed the formation of a committee to investigate the entire national Defense Program.
WILBUR SPARKS, Truman Investigating Committee: The White House didn't like the idea at all. They didn't want anybody poking into what they were doing, but they thought that at the outset that they could probably control Harry Truman and that he would do just about anything the leadership of the Senate wanted him to do.
They found out different.
NARRATOR: On December 8th America went to war. Truman was all at once thrust center stage. Labeled as the lackey of one of the most corrupt bosses in America, he would now move to stamp out corruption in the largest war machine ever assembled. Truman took on the most powerful men in America, and the country's largest industries -- steel, aluminum, rubber, airplanes.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He had a distrust of big business, a distrust of Wall Street and he went after the people who were really selling shoddy goods or doing things that were clearly unpatriotic...
WILBUR SPARKS, Truman Investigating Committee: In a hearing he showed absolutely no fear. He made it clear that he meant business. He was not afraid to say anything to anybody. He was feared.
TRUMAN: The committee investigating the national defense program has found waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering.
NARRATOR: He questioned witnesses relentlessly, attacking them for bad planning, sloppy administration, graft. His reputation soared. The committee became known as the Truman Committee. He personally saved the nation billions of dollars. Reporters named him one of the ten most valuable men in Washington.
"The sudden emergence of Harry Truman in the Senate," Time magazine wrote, "is a queer accident of democracy."
Even President Roosevelt wanted some of the credit: "Yes, Yes," Roosevelt said, "I put him in charge of that war investigating committee, didn't I?"
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: Here was one of the products of one of the most corrupt political machines in the nation... the Pendergast machine.... yet he was able to rise above it. And that's one of the remarkable things about Harry Truman.
NARRATOR: At last, Truman had found a home in the Senate. Popular, nationally known, he became an insider, a respected member of one of the most powerful clubs in America. His private life, too, had settled into a comfortable routine. Margaret Truman -- "Miss Skinny," Harry liked to call her -- had begun singing lessons and was already talking of a singing career.
He looked always, his daughter said, as if he had just stepped from a bandbox. His suits were always cleaned and pressed, his style immaculate.
To Bess, he remained completely devoted.
"Dear Bess, Well, I doubt you will remember it, but tomorrow is an anniversary of vital importance.... 23 years have been extremely short and for me altogether most happy ones.... A failure as a farmer, a miner, an oil promoter, and a merchant, but finally hit the groove as a public servant - and that due mostly to you and lady luck."
Senator Truman was content. But in the summer of 1943, he began to hear disturbing talk. Certain people wanted him to run for Vice President. Truman called them "blowhards."
On July 18, 1944, when the Democrats convened in Chicago, the rumors that Harry Truman was going to be the next Vice President were still just rumors. He had, in fact, arrived at the convention prepared to nominate another man. "I don't want to be Vice President," he would tell anyone who asked.
He was convinced that the President did not like him. But in 1944, the President would not dictate the choice for Vice President. In the next few days, Harry Truman's fate would be decided by a group of powerful Democrats meeting behind closed doors.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The future of the country and his own immediate future and fate are all in the hands of forces beyond his control... and he can't be anything but a kind of a chip on the surface of the water being swept along.
NARRATOR: As the convention got underway, the Democrats prepared to give their nomination for the fourth time to Franklin Roosevelt. Many of them already knew it would be the last.
The President was ill. Diagnosed with heart disease, he had never asked, and was never told, the extent of his illness. But those close to him were frightened by the deathlike pallor that shadowed the once ebullient face.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: It was not spoken of. The fact that Roosevelt might die. That was a deep, dark secret.
It was war time and no one wanted to talk about the President failing in any way....[but] I think that had to be behind everybody's minds.
HARRY BYRD, Senator: It was in the minds of many delegates that whoever was nominated for Vice President could very well become President within the next four years. The entire focus of that convention was on who would be nominated for the Vice Presidency.
NARRATOR: The current Vice President, Henry Wallace, was the man to beat. A champion of civil rights and labor, he was immensely popular with liberals, but conservative Democrats opposed him. Many of them turned to Jimmy Byrnes from South Carolina, a former Senator and Supreme Court Justice. An avowed segregationist, he was unacceptable to liberals. With the democrats divided, party leaders were searching for a compromise. Party Chairman Bob Hannegan wanted neither Wallace nor Byrnes.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: My father and the other political advisors felt that Jimmy Byrnes would be a liability to the ticket. Southerners were a drawback at that time. Labor was not particularly fond of him. And my father was very concerned about Wallace as a possible President. He felt that he was sort of flaky. And from a politician's standpoint my father couldn't control him. So, my father felt that Truman would be somewhat blameless. That he would have no real drawbacks.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: So he emerges as a compromise candidate. "The Missouri Compromise: some people say. He has conservative friends.
Southerners like him. But he's been a good New Dealer. He's got labor union contacts. He emerges as the person everyone can agree on.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: It was simply, actually a dipping into almost the bottom of the barrel, you could almost say, to appoint as Vice President, and to select as Vice President on the ticket, a man who didn't have anything against him.
CONVENTION SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen of the convention...
NARRATOR: Unknown to the delegates, the party bosses were determined to make Truman Vice President. Two weeks before, they had made a trip to the White House.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: One July night in 1944, the big bosses met with Franklin Roosevelt and it was a very hot night, very humid with the long French doors open to the air and the curtain blowing and what little breeze there was, and they all sat around in their shirt sleeves, perspiring, talking about who ought to be the Vice Presidential choice. And the bosses all said it could not be Wallace, it could not be Byrnes, and it ought to be Truman. Roosevelt later told his son Jimmy that, in fact, he really didn't care. He was a tired, sick, ill man and his mind and what energy he had was all concentrated on the war.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: I think my father and other party leaders did the choosing and Roosevelt went along with it. I don't think he cared at this point. I think it was, I don't think it was a matter of great concern to him. If it had been, he would have known very well how to put the matter to rest.
NARRATOR: The most important Democrats were now lined up behind Truman, and at the convention, Bob Hannegan told the Senator the Vice Presidential nomination was his.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: Once my father and his friends had pretty much set Truman up, then they had to convince Truman that he was going to run. And he was very much opposed to it, and he said he wouldn't do it.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He didn't want to be President and he certainly didn't want to be President after Franklin Roosevelt. He didn't want to come in and try and have to fill those enormous shoes. He didn't think he was qualified to be the President of the United States. He was very happy where he was, in the Senate. He had gone through the trauma of the Pendergast years where his name had been rubbed in the mud along with Pendergast machine, and it hurt his family. He was a very devoted family man. Bess had none of that kind of political ambition. She had no desire to see her husband become President. She certainly had no desire to be the First Lady. She didn't like the limelight and one of the reasons that they didn't want the nomination was a fear that her father's suicide would become public, that the country would find out that this disgraceful thing had happened in her past.
NARRATOR: But the momentum was building toward a Truman Vice Presidency, and Bess Truman would have to stand aside. On July 20th, the party bosses summoned Truman to a suite in the Blackstone Hotel to listen in on a phone call that, unknown to the Senator, they had rehearsed in advance with the President.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: My father got the President himself, President Roosevelt, to call him on the line and while he was on the line, he let Truman listen.
NARRATOR: The President's voice boomed so loud everyone in the room could hear:
"Have you got that fellow lined up yet?" the President asked.
"No," the President was told. "He is the contrariest goddamn mule from Missouri I ever dealt with."
"You tell the Senator," Roosevelt said, "that if he wants to break up the Democratic party in the middle of the war, that's his responsibility." And then he banged down the phone.
"Well," Truman said, pacing up and down the floor, "if that's the situation I'll have to say yes. But why the hell didn't he tell me in the first place?"
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM, CONVENTION ANNOUNCER: Harry Truman has received more than a majority. I do now declare him to be the nominee of the Democratic Party for Vice President and the next Vice President of the United States.
NARRATOR: On Friday, July 21, 1944, Harry Truman accepted his party's nomination for Vice President.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: I think he was somewhat excited. I don't think Mrs. Truman was happy at all. I don't recall her ever smiling the whole time.
She was in a box not too far from us, and I don't recall any smiles down there. I think she was very unhappy about it.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM, TRUMAN: There's not much more that I can say to you except that I accept the honor with all the humility that a Senator of the United States can assume in this position. Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: "After Dad's speech," Margaret Truman later wrote, "we were besieged by hordes of shouting, sweating photographers. Everyone wanted to touch us. Thankfully, the police formed a kind of phalanx around us, and we were able to get into a waiting car outside, where Mom looked at Dad, glared at him, and said, "Are we going to have to go through this for all the rest of our lives?"
As they headed back to Independence, Bess Truman refused to speak to anyone.
NEWSREEL OF TRUMANS READING LETTERS: Margaret: Dad, here's a nice letter from Marion.
TRUMAN: Oh, that's nice of Marion. You know I think Marion had a good time in Chicago. Here's one from your teacher, Miss Carr.
Margaret: Oh, Miss Carr.
TRUMAN: And here's one from Mr. Buger from St. Louis. Listen to what he says, "Please convey my congratulations to your loyal wife, charming daughter and dear mother -- whose great joy and happiness is shared by thousands of Americans. Isn't that nice?
Margaret: Certainly is.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: Once he was in it he was all the way in it.
NEWSREEL OF TRUMANS READING LETTERS:
Margaret: Say Daddy, don't you wish you'd gone fishing last week.
TRUMAN: Well, I did go on a sort of fishing trip to Chicago, or at least it resulted that way.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: He was too much of a politician himself not to go for it all the way.
NARRATOR: Truman campaigned with his usual energy and determination, traveling thousands of miles, skipping meals, washing his socks in the basin of his sleeping car.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He's designated as the party work horse. "This duty has been inflicted on me and I'm going to do it. But I'm apprehensive about the future."
NARRATOR: The night that Roosevelt and Truman were elected, Harry Truman could hardly sleep. The Vice President, Truman would say, is a "political eunuch."
He presided over the Senate, writing letters home during the long senatorial debates, dropping by for a late afternoon drink with his old friends in Congress.
He seemed wholly unaffected by his new title -- "homespun as ever," one Senator remarked. One afternoon, at a luncheon at the National Press Club, the Vice President sat down at the piano to play the Missouri Waltz.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Suddenly a young beautiful actress, Lauren Bacall, perches herself on top of the piano for some publicity portraits, showing a rather daring amount of leg by 1945 standards. Truman doesn't quite know how to react to this. He does what is probably the only intelligent thing to do, which is to keep smiling and keep playing the piano.
NARRATOR: Flashbulbs exploded. The audience cheered. The photos were an international sensation. Bess was furious.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: It did have kind of a loose association with the idea of the Vice President being the piano player in a house of ill-repute.
Throughout his Vice Presidency, Truman was always kept outside Roosevelt's inner circle. FDR never took Truman into his confidence. The Vice President met alone with the President just two times. He could never shake, Truman said, the feeling that the Roosevelt White House considered him "small potatoes." He has what you might almost call a love-hate relationship with Roosevelt by this time. He admires him on the one-hand, doesn't quite trust him on the other hand. And the fact is that Roosevelt didn't pay much attention to his new Vice President.
NARRATOR: Even when they had met for a private luncheon at the White House during the campaign, Roosevelt told Truman nothing of importance, posing for photographers and making small talk.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And it was as that point that Truman saw Roosevelt close-up for the first time. And saw how badly he looked. Saw the circles under his eyes, saw the droop of his shoulders, and noticed that when Roosevelt went to pour his cream into his coffee that his hand trembled so he could hardly do it.
NARRATOR: "I had been afraid for many weeks that something might happen," Truman admitted. "But I didn't allow myself to think about it."
ROBERT LIFTON, Biographer: I think Truman and everybody else at one level knew that Roosevelt wouldn't live out his term. But there was a shared denial that was overwhelming. It came from Roosevelt and from Truman. So that the result was that there was absolutely no preparation of the Vice President by a very sick President for the Presidency. And Truman, he didn't take the most modest kind of effort toward imaging himself as President and preparing himself for the Presidency.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He tells a friend in Missouri that Roosevelt has the pallor of death on his face. He's very worried that he's going to have the Presidency thrust on him and that it might happen at any moment.
NARRATOR: On April 12, 1945, Truman rushed to the White House.
Franklin Roosevelt was dead. Vice President for just 82 days, Harry S. Truman was now President of the United States. He was frightened and insecure. "I'm not big enough for this job," Truman said. After taking the oath, Truman gathered his cabinet around him. He barely knew these men.
Now he asked for their support. Secretary of War Henry Stimson remained, while the rest silently drifted away. "He wanted me to know about an immense project," Truman wrote later, "to develop a new explosive of almost unbelievable destructive power. That was all he felt free to say at the time, and his statement left me puzzled." Harry Truman was President, and he knew nothing about the atomic bomb.
NARRATOR: The day after Franklin Roosevelt died, President Harry Truman met with reporters.
"Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now," he told them. I don't know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."
THE MOON, STARS, AND ALL THE PLANETS
On his first full day in office, Truman surprised everyone with his show of energy and confidence.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Outwardly, Truman works very hard at looking confident, at seeming to be in charge. Privately, he clearly feels quite insecure about his new role. He lets close friends and confidantes know that this is a terrible challenge he faces.
NARRATOR: "I'm scared," he admitted to his mother and sister.
"Maybe it will come out all right."
His first chance to prove that he was up to the job came on April 16th when he addressed a joint session of Congress.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: In just a moment you'll hear the voice of Speaker Rayburn as he introduces President Truman.
NARRATOR: Anxious to reassure Americans -- and himself -- Truman fumbled.
He launched immediately into his speech, and all across the country, Americans listening on the radio heard the Speaker of the House correct him by his first name.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: SAM RAYBURN'S VOICE "Just a moment. Let me present you, will you, Harry?"
"Members of the Congress, I have the great pleasure and the high privilege of presenting to you the President of the United States."
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN "In his infinite wisdom, almighty God has seen fit to take from us a great man who loved and was beloved by all humanity. No man could possibly fill the tremendous void left by the passing of that noble soul.
NARRATOR: In spite of his nervous slip, the speech was a resounding success. Americans everywhere warmed to this seemingly simple, straightforward man from Missouri.
His small-town, folksy manner stood in striking contrast to the patrician manners of Franklin Roosevelt, and many Americans found the change refreshing.
"After a diet of caviar," an aide said, "You like to get back to ham and eggs."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: Harry was a fresh and fast and darting about, and, the contrast sort of hit them. Truman was peppery and he'd walk along the street and the truck driver, I remember on one occasion, said, "Good luck, Harry!"
NARRATOR: The press was soon praising him for his candor and cabinet officials for his hard work. Truman, many Americans, were saying was a man of the people.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: The thing I remember most, is his hand shake. I never felt such a hand shake. It finally dawned on me, this man had -- was a real dirt farmer. He worked behind a plow for ten years.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman was the ordinary American democrat, small "D."
But did the American people want someone who was simply ordinary to lead them? Did they believe that someone of that type could? This is a problem that Truman would face throughout his Presidency.
NARRATOR: When Truman took the oath of office, Americans were fighting the greatest war in history. All at once he was Commander-In-Chief of 16 million men and a terrifying arsenal of warships, tanks, and planes arrayed against the Japanese in the Pacific and Nazi Germany in Europe.
But what he knew about war came from his experience as a soldier in World War I and from books he had read as a child. Americans everywhere wondered how Harry Truman would end the war -- and at what cost.
During Truman's first days in office, allied armies were sweeping toward Germany -- the Soviet Union closed in from the East, the Americans from the West. But with the Nazis on the verge of surrender, Truman feared that the Soviets could no longer be trusted.
The war-inspired alliance between Russia and America was beginning to come apart.
NARRATOR: On April 22, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov paid a call on the White House. Molotov was a wily diplomat, a hardened veteran of the Russian Revolution.
Truman had been President for just 10 days. He had never negotiated a treaty before, never met a Russian in his life, and knew next to nothing about American foreign policy.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman was insecure and ignorant, ignorant not in the sense of being unintelligent. The man was very intelligent. Ignorant in the sense of not knowing what was going on. Of course, nobody really knew what was going on except Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he was dead. The major problem was that the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe and was driving towards Berlin. And, consequently, what Truman faced was essentially a Russian occupation of Eastern and part of Central Europe.
NARRATOR: Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin saw the countries of eastern and central Europe as a band of protection against any attempt to invade Russia. Truman feared Stalin would use the Red Army to force them to become communist.
"Whoever occupies a territory," Stalin said, "also imposes on it his own social system as far as his army can reach."
When Truman and Molotov sat down to talk, the fate of eastern Europe still hung in the balance. Truman believed the Soviets had already violated an agreement negotiated by Roosevelt guaranteeing free elections in Poland.
The new President didn't hesitate to tell the Soviet Minister just what he thought.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: Truman gave him a -- a tongue-lashing -- "Why don't you people behave? Why don't you respect your obligations," and so on. And, according to Chip Bolin, who told me about this, who was the interpreter and was on the scene, said Molotov, in his stiff way, drew back and said, "I've never been talked to like this." And Truman said to him, "Well, you folks behave and you won't be talked to like this."
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman then walked out of the room, saw a top State Department aide and said to the State Department aide, "I just gave him a straight one-two to the jaw." And then he stopped and looked at this man and said, "Do you think I did right?"
NARRATOR: "I'm here to make decisions," Truman said. "Whether they prove right or wrong, I'm going to make them." Within the next few months, Truman would have to make one of the most terrible decisions in history.
While Nazi Germany was crumbling, the Japanese remained a dangerous, unyielding enemy. They had already taken over 50,000 American lives, and more and more were dying every day. But America had been developing a weapon that might force the Japanese to surrender. Just 13 days in office, Truman was handed a memorandum by Secretary of War Stimson:
"Within four months," Truman read, "we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history."
Stimson went on to tell Truman about the secret site in New Mexico where scientists had been working round-the-clock for the past two and a half years to fashion a weapon out of the elemental forces of the universe. But it would still be months, Stimson said, before any one would know whether the atomic bomb would work.
NARRATOR: On May 8th, Truman's 61st birthday, Nazi Germany surrendered. "Isn't that some birthday present?" he wrote his 92-year-old mother. Now only Japan remained.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM OF TRUMAN "The victory won in the West must now be won in the East. The whole world must be cleansed of the evil from which half the world has been freed.
NARRATOR: But Truman feared the Japanese would not surrender without a long and bloody struggle. Already they had been severely punished and yet showed no signs of yielding. While Truman was Vice President, American B-29's had reined thousands of tons of bombs on the island nation. Five weeks before he took office, American planes dropped 2,000tons of napalm on Tokyo, burning 16 square miles of the city to the ground. In a single day, 100,000 Japanese were killed.
BARTON BERNSTEIN, Historian: The fire-bombing raids prepares the way for even more devastating bombing. What has changed in the war is a redefinition of what is a legitimate target. A legitimate target is not simply a city, but people in the city who are primarily noncombatants in what is a redefined virtually total war. So that everybody becomes a target.
NARRATOR: The bombing destroyed nearly all of Japan's biggest cities and killed more than half a million civilians. Still, the Japanese fought on.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman knew they were defeated, they knew they were defeated. That really wasn't the question, the question was would they surrender.
NARRATOR: The battle for the island of Okinawa, 350 miles south of Japan, painted a bloody portrait for Truman of just how ferocious Japanese resistance could be. The fighting raged on for months. Ten thousand Americans were killed, 27,000 wounded. And entrenched in the jungles and caves of the island, more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers were burned or bombed to death rather than surrender.
ROBERT LIFTON, Biographer: Okinawa was a bloody battle. One of the bloodiest battles of a vicious war. And Okinawa was an example of how much of a last ditch battle the Japanese could put up. And the kind of battle they might put up on their own islands in man to man combat. So Okinawa could be taken as an indicator that Japan needed dire measures to defeat it.
NARRATOR: On June 1, with the struggle for Okinawa reaching a climax, Truman received a report from a committee he had appointed to study the atomic bomb. The committee urged the President to use the weapon -- without warning. It did not recommend any alternatives.
BARTON BERNSTEIN, Historian: The use of the bomb was not a topic of debate... the issue was never should the bomb be used. For us, the bomb, whether we approve or not, is a question that should have been asked. For them living history forward and not backward, what's important to understand is that the use of the bomb was not a question -- it was an answer.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: If the weapon could stop the killing, then, it was felt, it had to be used. Was it right? Was it wrong? I don't think that was the issue. I think they saw it as necessary.
NARRATOR: Truman did not know that some of the scientists who had helped create the bomb were now actively attempting to limit its use. They advocated a demonstration bomb that would convince the Japanese to surrender. Their petitions never reached the President, but it is unlikely they could have changed his mind.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: I know of no occasion when President Truman ever spoke about doubts on -- on using the bomb. All his advisors, without exception, recommended the use of the bomb just as soon as it was available. And he agreed with them.
NARRATOR: But the atomic bomb still remained untested. No one knew if it would work. June 18th, Truman agreed to plans to invade Japan in early November. Tens of thousands of American soldiers were returning from the battlefields of Europe. For most, if the invasion went forward, it would be just weeks before they would sent back into battle. This time, fighting the Japanese.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: We were going to invade the home islands. And the loss of life would be terrible. And for Truman whether it was going to be 20,000 lives or 100,000 lives was not really the question. The question was to stop the killing.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman was one of the few Presidents of the 20th century to have actually experienced wartime combat. He had seen corpses stacked up. He knew what war was like. He was very, very anxious to get World War II over with as quickly as possible.
NARRATOR: Only 30 days in office, Truman was still adjusting to the anxieties of being President, still telling his advisers that he didn't want the job. And Bess never wanted to be first lady. After just one month in the White House, Bess and Margaret went home to Independence.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Bess did not like living in the White House. She felt very uncomfortable, very ill-at-ease with all the fanfare and the attention of the press. Particularly when photographers pressed in around her, she would freeze and become kind of old stone face. And get an expression that looked as if her feet hurt. The spotlight, the limelight, did not appeal to Bess Truman ever. And she would return home to Independence as often as possible. Leaving the President feeling very alone, often desolate. It's hard for some people to understand what she was like and why the President was so devoted to her. But he adored her there's no question about that.
PAT HANNEGAN, Daughter of Democratic Party Chairman: I think she was a very shy person. Very ill-at-ease in that kind of an environment. When she was in the White House she used to have her old bridge club from Independence, Missouri come up. And I think probably that's the only time she was really comfortable. So that there really was not a good niche for her. And I don't think she ever really enjoyed the public eye.
NARRATOR: Bess Truman's first public appearance confirmed her worst fears.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: At the National Airport, ambulances with wings -- one each for Navy and Army. Ready to be christened by Mrs. Harry S. Truman, in her first public appearance. But Mrs. Truman is in for a surprise....Refusing to be rattled, the new First Lady joins in the crowd's laughter. By an oversight, the champagne bottle, unlike this one, hadn't been properly prepared -- etched to break the glass on impact. All's well that ends well.
NARRATOR: Truman smiled when he saw the newsreel, as did most of America, but Bess is said to have told her husband she wished she had swung the bottle at him. On July 7th, the start of his fourth month in office, Truman steamed across the Atlantic on the United States cruiser Augusta. Destination -- Potsdam, Germany.
"Dear Bess, I sure dread this trip, worse than anything I've had to face. But it has to be done."
With scientists at Los Alamos poised to test the atomic bomb, Truman was about to begin a series of negotiations that would determine the fate of the post-war world.
He had been to Europe only once before -- as a soldier on the western front. Now he was President of the United States, preparing to meet two of the legends of the 20th century, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin -- "Mr. Great Britain" and "Mr. Russia," Truman called them.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman had to step onto the world stage with two of the most colossal figures of the century, two consummate performers, consummate actors who are very accustomed to commanding the stage. And who is he?
NARRATOR: "Dear Bess, The Prime Minister came to see me this morning."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman is suffering from a considerable amount of stage fright. He knows that Churchill had been 1st Lord of the Admiralty when Harry Truman was still plowing fields back in Missouri. He knows also the affection, the bond between Roosevelt and Churchill. And wonders if ever he can attain that kind of respect.
NARRATOR: Churchill liked Truman, but the man from Missouri was not impressed by the Prime Minister's flattery: "Churchill gave me a lot of hooey," Truman wrote in his diary. "Well, I'm sure we can get along if he doesn't try to give me too much soft soap."
Following Churchill's visit, Truman asked to see Berlin. For months the German capitol had been the target of Allied bombs. Truman recorded his reactions in his diary.
"I never saw such destruction," Truman wrote. "I thought of Carthage, Rome, Babylon."
"What a pity the human animal is not able to put his moral thinking into practice. I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries."
NARRATOR: While Truman was touring Berlin, the first atomic bomb was exploded over the deserts of New Mexico. Truman returned from his tour of a devastated Berlin to find Secretary of War Stimson with a coded telegram.
"Operated on this morning," it read. "Diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations."
The President now knew that the atomic bomb would work. Plans were already in motion to drop a second bomb as soon as possible -- this one on Japan. The next day, Stalin came to call.
"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 17th 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 bloodthirsty, 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 okay.
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. That evening -- July 17th -- Truman, Stalin and Churchill sat down to discuss the fate of Eastern Europe.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: The Soviet army is occupying Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe. The question is, how do you negotiate the Russian armies out of Central and Eastern Europe?
NARRATOR: Over the next 17 days, Truman would try to convince Stalin to withdraw his armies and allow the countries of eastern Europe to hold free elections.
"Dear Bess, The first session was yesterday. It makes presiding over the Senate seem tame. The boys say I gave them an earful. I hope so. I was so scared. I didn't know whether things were going according to Hoyle or not."
While Truman was negotiating in Germany, the Enola Gay, a specially modified, lightweight B-29, was soaring high above the island of Tinian, far-away in the Pacific, rehearsing maneuvers to drop the atomic bomb. A list of four target cities had been prepared. It was now all but certain that the bomb would be used on one of them within the next three weeks.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: It was absolutely inevitable. It was a weapon that could bring the war to an early -- immediate end. And in my view, had any President -- Truman or anyone else -- not used the bomb, that man would have been subject to impeachment.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: Here's a Democratic President. And the plan is about to move all our army now into the Pacific to invade Japan with who knows what casualties. And years later the public, or a few months later or sometime, it leaks out that the President had a bomb that would have ended all of that. What would have happened to the Democratic Party? What would have happened to Truman?
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: It was quite clear that the bomb would not only shorten the war but it could be the kind of weapon that the other powers with which Truman had to deal would be in awe of. Consequently, there was no question about whether or not Truman was going to use the bomb. The question was when and how and where.
NARRATOR: At Potsdam, the negotiations were going nowhere. The first three sessions had ended in stalemate. On July 19, in the spirit of their war-inspired partnership, Truman threw a party for Churchill and Stalin and flew in two young American GI's to entertain -- pianist Eugene List and violinist Stuart Canin.
STUART CANIN, Violinist: I was so nervous when I started to play. I think I was shaking. Now I've been a professional violinist for 50 years.
And I have never played for an audience like that. I mean I could barely hold the bow on the string. I don't know if you've ever seen a little upright piano, but it has kind of a bum piano rack. And the music was not staying put very well and Truman leaped up and he just turned the pages for Gene! Which was quite exciting, to have the President of the United States turn pages for you.
NARRATOR: One night the President sat down at the piano and played for Canin and List a piece he had practiced for long hours as a boy in Independence, Missouri.
STUART CANIN, Violinist: The man had great feeling for music. He didn't always have the technique to do what he wanted. But the feeling was there and -- and you could sense that he really loved music. He said, "I wonder how much better off the country would have been if I had become a concert pianist?"
Amazing for a President to say that!
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He took music very much to heart. He adored good music. He once wrote to Bess, "Did you ever hear an overture performed by a fine orchestra and imagine that things were as they ought to be instead of as they are?"
NARRATOR: On July 21st, two days after Truman's party for Churchill and Stalin, the President received a description of the test of the atomic bomb. For the first time, he became fully aware of its awesome power.
Truman was told that 13 pounds of explosives had evaporated a steel tower 60 feet high, left a crater in the New Mexican desert more than two miles wide, knocked down men 10,000 yards away, and was visible for more than 200 miles. Truman wrote in his diary: "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied ... after Noah and his fabulous Ark."
"I have told the Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He tells himself in a diary entry that he wrote at that time that, "Of course, the bomb will be used against a military target because no matter how bad the Japanese have been, we can't kill women and children." But he had to have some understanding at Potsdam that he was kidding himself. It was wishful thinking.
ROBERT LIFTON, Biographer: He's aware that it will be much more than a military target -- it will kill large numbers of ordinary civilians. But you must remember, he like all other Americans, saw this as a war against evil. And there was a lot of evil out there, real evil, on the part of the Nazis and Japanese militarism and fascism. In that sense, he can believe that the bomb is justified and that this greatest weapon ever developed has a place in overcoming or combating evil.
NARRATOR: The day after Truman learned of the bomb's power, he confronted Stalin with new confidence. Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his diary that the President was "tremendously pepped up." In his high stakes game with the Soviet dictator, Truman now had a new card to play.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: And Churchill later said that Truman, once he heard the news that the atomic bomb worked, was, quote, "a changed man." It was quite clear to Truman now that he had, as he would later say, "an ace in the hole and an ace showing." That is to say, the ace in the hole was the atomic bomb -- the ace showing was American economic and military power.
NARRATOR: On July 24th, Truman rose from his chair and walked slowly around the table to have a private word with the Soviet dictator.
"I casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force," Truman later wrote. "All he said was that he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make good use of it against the Japanese.'"
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: Stalin was so bland and seemingly unconcerned about it that on the American side, there was some question as to whether he'd understood the import of what Truman was saying.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: What we know now is that Stalin knew exactly about the development of the bomb because of Soviet spies at Los Alamos in New Mexico. We also know that as soon as Stalin walked out of that room, Stalin immediately got in touch with the man who was the director of the Soviet atomic bomb project and said that he must get to work and accelerate the project.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, the preparation to bomb Japan moved inexorably forward. Two atomic bombs were nearly ready. Seven more were on the way. On July 25th Truman gave control of the bombs to the military and ordered that they be used as soon as the Potsdam conference was over.
NARRATOR: The next day, the Japanese were given one last chance to surrender.
"We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces," it was announced from Potsdam. "The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."
The ultimatum was called the Potsdam Declaration. Two days later, the Japanese rejected it.
BARTON BERNSTEIN, Historian: The United States was demanding an unconditional surrender and in particular that implied that the imperial system, namely the emperor, would be terminated. Truman had been informed by a number of his advisors that the unconditional surrender demand might make it more difficult to achieve peace. Truman received advice on various occasions to provide an explicit provision that the emperor could be maintained. Truman decided not to include that provision.
ROBERT LIFTON, Biographer: Unconditional surrender had been a central theme inherited from Roosevelt, it evoked the American spirit of fighting and winning this war against evil. So he held to it.
NARRATOR: July 31st -- the atomic bomb was now fully assembled. The most dangerous weapon on earth was waiting to be released. The Potsdam conference lasted 17 days. As the newsreel cameramen took their final shots, Truman smiled. The President remained fond of Stalin. He would later write, "I liked the little son-of-a bitch." But nothing had been accomplished.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: I think the Potsdam conference can be seen as the beginning of the end of the Russian-American friendship. Truman and Stalin don't have a whole lot to say to each other anymore. Their armies are essentially doing the talking.
NARRATOR: The allies agreed to divide a defeated Germany into joint zones of occupation, but Stalin refused to withdraw his troops from eastern and central Europe and permit free elections. The issue was tabled for further discussion.
At last Truman was heading home, trying to relax after the grueling round of negotiations. He strolled the deck, attended church services, enjoyed a concert by the ship's band. On his fourth day at sea, the mission which would forever mark his place in history began. August 6, 2:45 A.M. -- the Enola Gay, carrying a four-ton atomic bomb, was heading out over the Pacific Ocean toward Japan.
Some would later argue that Japan might have been forced to surrender without the bomb. The President might have warned the Japanese with a demonstration bomb, might have blockaded their islands until they surrendered, might have assured the Japanese that they could keep their Emperor. Truman would later say that to end the war quickly without invading Japan, the bomb had to be used -- and he used it.
8:15 A.M. -- The atomic bomb dropped clear of the Enola Gay.
Forty-three seconds later, it exploded over Hiroshima.
Harry Truman was eating lunch when he was handed a decoded message, "Results clear-cut -- successful in all respects." Truman reacted immediately: "This," he said, "is the greatest thing in history."
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: The crew burst into applause and cheering when he announced this will end the war. Since most of the crewmen were anticipating that they'd have to go out and engage with the Japanese, you can see why there was great glee on the part of the crew, the officers, everyone, everyone present.
NARRATOR: That afternoon, Truman issued a warning to the Japanese government.
ARCHIVAL FILM OF TRUMAN ON CAMERA: "If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a reign of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth."
NARRATOR: Two days later, Secretary of War Stimson showed the President aerial photographs of Hiroshima. Truman did not yet know that the atomic bomb had killed more than 80,000 men, women, and children and that tens of thousands more would die from radiation sickness in the days and years to come.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: You see these pictures of Hiroshima just leveled for almost as far as the eye can see. Clearly he's distressed by that.
NARRATOR: He told Stimson, "This places a terrible responsibility upon myself and upon the War Department." Three days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, but still, there was no word of surrender.
August 9, 11:00 A.M. -- a second atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese seaport of Nagasaki. In 1/10 of one-millionth of a second, the city was destroyed. Another 40,000 people were killed.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman had not seen any limitation on the use of the second bomb. Essentially after he signs the order at Potsdam, it's all on automatic pilot and, unless he changes his mind, up to the military.
NARRATOR: The day after Nagasaki was destroyed, Truman took the authority to use the atomic bomb back from the military and placed it once again in his own hands.
Aug. 14 -- The simple reason Truman always gave for using the atomic bomb was to end the war and save lives. Now after nearly four years, Japan surrendered. The war was over.
Years later, Truman would often say that he never brooded over his decision to drop the bomb.
"Once a decision was made," he wrote later, "I didn't worry about it afterward."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Time and again, Truman claimed, "I never lost a minute's sleep. Ah, I never felt any regret. I did what had to be done."
But clearly, this was a somewhat more upsetting event than he let on.
NARRATOR: The day after the bomb fell on Nagasaki, Truman had told his cabinet that "the thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible." He hated the idea of killing "all those kids."
BARTON BERNSTEIN, Historian: You can never feel comfortable about killing 100,000 or more people. And I'm sure that was true for Harry S. Truman, who fought vigorously always to deny it.
ROBERT LIFTON, Biographer: He wasn't a man who could allow self-questioning. He wasn't a man who could allow reflection. He could never take in fully what he had done and what that meant for the world. Here was a good man, a loving man, who made a decision to use the cruelest weapon in human history on a densely populated city and spent the rest of his life justifying that decision.
NARRATOR: "I made the only decision I ever knew how to make," Truman wrote. "I did what I thought was right."
In April 1945, with the death of Franklin Roosevelt, an America at war had a new untried, unfamiliar commander-in-chief, a man as different from Roosevelt as any could be. Yet there he was and as the country would discover there was a lot more than met the eye.
Harry Truman came from a background of hard-working, plain-speaking middle Americans. He was a farmer, a World War I veteran, a failed haberdasher, and the devoted husband of the enigmatic Bess Wallace Truman. By a combination of grit, luck, machine politics, uncommon ability and strength of character, he wound up president at one of history's most difficult turning points. He faced decisions no one could have been prepared for, including the decision to use the atomic bomb to end the Second World War.
With the war over, a host of domestic problems nationwide descended on the still green president. And they were only the start. Europe was in ruins. Joseph Stalin ruled supreme over the Soviet Union. In Churchill's indelible words, an iron curtain had descended "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic."
The Cold War commenced. The Truman years were to be as eventful as any in our time. And at the center of all this is the story of the testing and growth of the seemingly ordinary man from Independence, Missouri, who liked to say, "If you can't stand the heat, you better stay out of the kitchen."
NARRATOR: Twelve million GIs were coming home. They wanted jobs and houses and cars...coffee, butter, and meat on the table. After years of going without they longed to get on with their lives. But Harry Truman knew he couldn't give them all they wanted.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: You can't imagine a President having more on his shoulders that President Truman did in those days after the end of the war.
The whole thing came down on his head. There had not been planning very well on post-war policy because the economists had been given to understand that the war might last until 1946, in any case, the war with Japan. All of a sudden the atomic bomb threw everything out of kilter.
NARRATOR: For four long years, Americans everywhere had worked together to fight and defeat fascism. Now that spirit of cooperation had vanished.
Labor and business were once again at each others throats. During the war, the government had kept a tight lid on wages and prices. And in return, the unions had agreed not to strike. Now, their patriotic sacrifice over, workers walked off the job. They wanted higher wages, and they wanted Truman to hold the line on prices.
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: The expectations of working people zoomed because they wanted to make up for all the years that were lost. You know when you keep people in a straight jacket for as many years as the war lasted you have an explosion.
NARRATOR: Truman was determined to keep prices from rising. But facing increasing pressure from businessmen, who wanted to set prices themselves, Truman wavered. He held the line on some prices and let others go-up.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He doesn't give the country any sense of direction.
He comes to be the person that a public fed up with one strike after another blames for labor disorder.
NARRATOR: But the President was determined to prove that he could lead the nation... that he could carry on in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt. On September 6, 1945, Truman proposed an increase in the minimum wage, aid for housing, and a bill for the first pre-paid medical insurance in the nation's history. But a coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats refused him everything. The presidency, Truman wrote, was "like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed."
Christmas morning, 1945, Truman woke to find the capitol covered in ice and snow. Bess and Margaret were in Independence, and the President missed them.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: I've never known an individual who loved his wife and his daughter and his family so deeply but they of course were always interested in trying to get excuses to go back to Independence.
NARRATOR: Anxious to see his family, desperate to escape the turmoil in Washington, he ordered the Presidential plane to fly him home.
Editorials would call the flight foolhardy, absurd, "one of the most hazardous sentimental journeys ever undertaken." The plane, buffeted by sleet and snow, arrived an hour late.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: When he finally gets to the Wallace house on Delaware Street, Bess is furious at him, for taking so long to get out there, for taking such a big risk.
Three days later, back in Washington, forlorn, Truman wrote Bess a letter:
"Well I'm here in the White House, the great white sepulcher of ambitions and reputations. You can never appreciate what it means to come home as I did the other evening after doing at least a hundred things I didn't want to do and have the only person in the world whose approval and good opinion I value look at me like I'm something the cat dragged in."
He finished the letter, but Bess never got it. He left it tucked deep inside his desk drawer.
NARRATOR: The new year brought a new wave of strikes -- 5000 before the year was over. As a Democrat, Truman needed union support. But he had removed the lid on prices, appeasing businessmen, and the unions were angry.
The cost of almost everything skyrocketed, and working men and women demanded that their wages keep up. At one point, more than a million workers walked off the job at the same time. Truman believed that the unions were holding the country hostage, and personally betraying him.
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: While Harry supported labor and the right to strike, he was never happy when there was a strike. He was seeing it as a small businessman and it could wreck a small business. He just didn't like strikes of any kind. And he was very frank about that.
NARRATOR: Then, in May, the railway workers went out, forcing the country to a standstill. Truman was furious. While negotiators searched for a compromise, a frustrated Truman proposed a solution no President had ever dared: he threatened to draft the striking railway workers into the army.
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: That kind of a threat wasn't even made during the war! And, ah, I think everyone in the Labor Movement was quite shocked by that, but they felt, "Well, this is-- an off-the-cuff Truman threat, but he won't carry through on that."
NARRATOR: But Truman stuck by his plan. When his Attorney General questioned its constitutionality, Truman told him:
"We'll draft 'em and think about the law later."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: [It] was as high-handed as -- unconstitutional a measure as imaginable. But he meant it -- because he saw the country being -- the very life of the country, at stake.
NARRATOR: Never before had there been a total nationwide rail strike: more than 17,000 passenger trains, 24,000 freight trains - nearly all of them had stopped running. The country was paralyzed.
Telegrams flooded the White House.
"... zero hour is here. Who is to rule our nation?"
"... why don't you go ahead and act in this national crisis?"
"... less talk and more action."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman's annoyed at criticism. He thinks people are not taking him seriously enough and maybe he's still got this sneaking suspicion to overcome that he's not quite up to the job. Truman faced every new challenge with feelings of inadequacy. This leads to a build-up of anger that erupts every once in a while, with particularly vivid consequences in the Presidency.
NARRATOR: Deeply troubled, Truman sat down at his desk and drafted one of the strangest speeches ever to come from a President's pen:
"I am tired of government being flouted," he wrote.
"Let us give the country back to the people, hang a few traitors, make our own country safe for democracy, tell Russia where to get off... Come on boys, let's do the job."
CLARK CLIFFORD, White House Counsel: He called me and said, "I want to get your reaction to this speech." And I started out and... this is the worst I ever saw. I believe it was his way of letting off steam. And I finally asked him, said, "Do you intend to give that speech?" He said, "Well, not quite this speech."
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN ADDRESSING CONGRESS
NARRATOR: On May 25, 1946, even while negotiations to settle the strike continued, the President went before a joint session of Congress.
TRUMAN: "This is no longer a dispute between labor and management.
It has now become a strike against the government of the United States itself."
"I request the Congress immediately to authorize the President to draft into the armed forces of the United States all workers who are on strike against their government."
CLARK CLIFFORD, White House Counsel: He was getting to the crescendo. And I got a call.. it said the Railroad strike has been settled. And I wrote on a piece of paper and I took it to Les Biffle, the secretary. And Les then takes it up.
ARCHIVAL SOUND-ON-FILM: TRUMAN "Word has just been received that the rail strike has been settled on terms proposed by the President."
CLARK CLIFFORD, White House Counsel: Great cheers. Great cheers. And it was they worked out the details after and the railroads were running.
NARRATOR: The strike was over. But Truman had paid a high price.
His gut response had cost him the support of the unions he so desperately needed.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: The labor leaders and the liberals in general are shocked, horrified...not without reason. And from this point on it is going to be very, very tough for Truman to, ah, drum up labor-liberal enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket in the '46 elections.
NARRATOR: The 1946 mid-term elections would be, for Truman, a disaster. Republicans blamed the President for America's problems, and most Americans seemed to agree. Truman's popularity plummeted.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: It seems to me that Truman really hits rock bottom in the 1946 campaign. For an awful lot of people, he's still very much in the shadow of FDR.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He wasn't coping very well and people were beginning to make fun of him. "To err is Truman." "I'm just mild about Harry."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: There were periods there when Truman didn't look up to the job. The Republicans would say, yeah, he was a little man, who came out of nowhere, a haberdasher.
NARRATOR: There were shortages of practically everything -- bread, meat, housing. And inflation was threatening to undermine the economy -- prices had shot up six percent in a single month.
NELSON LICHTENSTEIN, Historian: What this meant was that millions and millions of potential Democratic voters, people who had voted for Roosevelt, they said, "To heck with it... they bungled it."
And the Republicans said, "Had enough?" That was their slogan. People agreed with them. Truman gets blamed. They stay home. The Republicans sweep to power.
NARRATOR: The Republicans won control of the Senate, the House of Representatives, even the state governorships.
NELSON LICHTENSTEIN, Historian: The elections of '46 were a Republican sweep, a huge turnaround and why? Not because everyone voted Republican, but because the Democrats, the New Dealers, the labor people, they stayed home.
NARRATOR: Discredited by his own party, voted down by the American people, Harry Truman, pundits were saying, was an embarrassment.
NARRATOR: The disastrous election over, Truman fled to his vacation hideaway on Florida's Key West.
"Dear Bess, I'm seeing no outsiders. I don't give a damn how put out they get. I'm doing as I damn please for the next two years and to hell with all of them. The only regret I have is that you are not here... You know I guess I'm a damn fool, but I'm happier when I can see you -- even when you give me hell I'd rather have you around than not."
Bess continued to spend as much time as she could in Independence. When asked how it felt to be First Lady, she replied, "So-so." She looked, her husband said approvingly, "exactly as a woman of her age should look."
When Bess and Harry Truman had first moved into the White House, Bess's mother Madge Wallace had moved in too. After more than a quarter of a century, she continued to call her son-in-law "Mr. Truman."
REX SCOUTEN, Secret Service: She didn't care much for the President.
She never did. That was I guess the thing that sticks out in my mind.
She was a lovely lady, but she just never, never... we.... could never figure it out why she just didn't care for the President.
NORWOOD WILLIAMS, White House Butler: I think that she felt that Miss Bess was above him. Even though he was President, he was beneath Miss Bess. He was a failure in his haberdashery. She would tell you. Oh, she didn't mind telling you that even though he was the President of the United States, that she didn't care much for him or for his mother. I'm sorry, but that's the way it was.
NARRATOR: As 1947 began, Harry Truman had been President for nearly two years. Humiliated in the mid-term elections, he had little hope of advancing the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal through the stubborn, Republican-controlled Congress. But in the two years to come, the President who had been rejected at home, would make decisions that would determine the fate of the world for the next half-century.
NARRATOR: Europe was devastated. The war had left a continent in ruins. As poverty and starvation spread, chaos threatened to overwhelm the western democracies. Some feared the election of communist governments.
Others... Stalin, and the Red army. The Russian Dictator remained an enigma... his intentions, unclear.
Stalin did not yet have the atomic bomb, but the Soviet Union was a great military power, its armies spread across eastern Europe, poised to enforce Stalin's will. At Potsdam, Truman had been impressed with Stalin, even liked the man. When the war ended, the President, like most Americans, had clung to the hope that Stalin would not impose communism on eastern Europe.
But Truman's optimism dwindled as he saw -- Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, East Germany -- fall behind a communist iron curtain. Many Americans still argued that the Russians were not a threat to the United States.
But in the beginning of 1946, Truman said he was growing tired babying the Soviets.
"I do not think we should play compromise any longer," he wrote his Secretary of State. "Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist, another war is in the making."
One month later Stalin declared that communism and capitalism were incompatible. He called war inevitable. Russia and America were moving into two opposing camps. The turning point came in Greece and Turkey, where Truman feared further communist expansion.
NARRATOR: In a civil war in Greece, Greek communists threatened to topple the monarchy. In Turkey, the Soviet Union was demanding control of the strategic Dardanelles straits. Two local conflicts would become the catalyst for a world-wide struggle against Communism.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: I think at this point Truman begins to see Stalin as an expansionist dictator. And at that point you can begin to see Truman change and believe that the only thing that the Soviets understand, as he says, is strength, not negotiations.
NARRATOR: Truman had changed his mind. Now, he would have to change the minds of still-ambivalent Americans. He would have to convince Congress that a crisis in two far-away countries threatened the security of the United States... that $400 million in military aid was needed to save Greece and Turkey.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman had to go to this Republican Congress that had gotten into power in the elections of 1946 by promising to cut taxes and to cut aid overseas. Truman was now going to have to go to these penny-pinching Republicans and get $400 million. The question was, how did you do this?
NARRATOR: Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson had the answer. Acheson would one day become Secretary of State, and Truman would call him his "top brain man" in the cabinet.
In 1947, Acheson, Truman, and Secretary of State George Marshal gathered together a bipartisan group of the most influential men in Congress, and Acheson laid out Truman's request for aid in the starkest terms.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: If you want the Congress to support the appropriations needed, there has to be a bit of a crisis atmosphere. And so Acheson made a very impassioned speech and he laid it on very heavily about how the Russians would sweep across Europe.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: What Acheson said was, if the Soviets could win in Greece and in Turkey, then they would be in a position where there would be Soviet pressure on Italy, on the Mediterranean. Once that pressure was established, there would be pressure on Western Europe and pretty soon the United States would be standing alone.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: Senator Vandenberg, who was a leader of the Republicans, said to Acheson and to Truman, "If you can get that kind of a view across to the American people, we'll support you."
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: There was the story that Vandenberg said to Truman, "Mr. President, you're going to have to scare hell out of the American people." Whether or not Vandenberg said that, that's exactly what Harry Truman did.
NEWSREEL NARRATION: "President Harry Truman comes before a joint session of Congress to make a momentous announcement. A tense atmosphere prevails, for the nation's lawmakers realize that this may be the curtain raiser for events that will shape the destiny of America and the world."
ARCHIVAL FILM: TRUMAN SOUND ON FILM "The gravity of the situation which confronts the world today necessitates my appearance before a joint session of the Congress."
"I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: He was reminding Americans of what gradually had been sinking into the public consciousness that, ah, the aim of the Soviet Union was to expand its hegemony over as much of the world as it possibly could, and that was not to be permitted. We would help free peoples maintain their freedom.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: TRUMAN SOUND ON FILM: If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world, and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman, the Midwestern politician, understood exactly how you sell these kinds of things to the American people, because what [he] did was to give a definition to the world that Americans could understand and which they could become committed to, because what Truman said was, "The world is essentially now divided in two. On one side are totalitarian and the enslaved peoples. On the other side are the free peoples." He then looked at the Republicans and said, "Which side are you on? If you are on the side of the free peoples, give me the $400 million dollars." That put the Republicans in a terrible, terrible position, which is exactly, of course, what Acheson and Truman had in mind. And Truman got his $400 million within a matter of weeks.
ARCHIVAL: President Truman signs the bill for $400 million aid to Greece and Turkey.
NARRATOR: The President had committed Americans to a battle against communism all across the world. The policy became known as the Truman Doctrine.
LUCIUS BATTLE, State Department: I was scared by it. I wondered how far reaching this was going to be. What does it really mean? This is a sweeping, sweeping decision. Asking for an open-ended faith in a policy of protecting the free people and bringing freedom where it didn't exist around the world. And that was the -- that has no limits, had no limits. And it was awfully hard to know exactly where those limits were.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: It led to a more absolute view of the conflict.
And I once remonstrated with Acheson about this in my innocence -- I was very young then -- and (Laughs) he made it clear to me that, ah, if you want to get things done, you have to get congressional support and you have to do what's necessary to get it. And this was essentially what came to be the language of the Administration. It became more and more alarmist.
NARRATOR: The President would resist communist aggression abroad.
He had issued a declaration of cold war. But in western Europe, there was more to fear from starvation and chaos than from the Red Army. It had been the worst winter in living memory. The war had been over for more than two years, and western Europe seemed on the verge of collapse.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: If Western Europe was not helped and quickly, mass starvation would break out and there was the real danger that Western Europe would begin moving to the left very rapidly. The analysis made within the State Department at this point indicated that the way to deal with this was not militarily. The way to deal with this was economically, to pump in between eight and $17 billion so that the Europeans would have the money to buy food from the United States, food and other resources.
NARRATOR: Truman had already managed to persuade a reluctant Congress to give him $400 million for the Truman Doctrine. Now he convinced Congress to give him $13 billion more. No President had ever received so much money to aid people who weren't Americans. He called his economic aid program -- the Marshal Plan, after his Secretary of State George Marshal, a man who commanded the respect of the entire country.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: Some of the White House staff suggested to President Truman they didn't much like this idea of General Marshall getting credit for it. Truman was very firm on that. "The Congress will do anything George Marshall wants. If my name is on it, it probably will become controversial. I don't want it to become controversial. I want it to succeed. It's the Marshall Plan. We'll have no more talk about changing the name."
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman would later say that the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were two halves of the same walnut. The Truman Doctrine was the military and political commitment. The Marshall Plan was the 13 billion finally in economic commitment to rebuild what Truman called the "free peoples of the world".
LUCIUS BATTLE, State Department: It became very popular, very quickly. No one expected that sort of altruism, that sort of sweeping thing coming out of us... this was much bigger than anybody had realized.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: A great appeal of the Marshall Plan was that these billions that were being appropriated were being spent in the United States to farmers and manufacturers. That money wasn't spent in Europe. It was spent here, and that was a great appeal to Congress.
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: This was a terribly important decision, also it was a compassionate one, and understood as such. It was a real badge of honor for Harry Truman.
NARRATOR: While the President was rescuing Europe and mobilizing Americans to fight communism overseas, Republicans charged that there were communists here at home -- in Truman's own administration. In the 30s, Republicans had claimed that there were communists in Roosevelt's New Deal.
Now they were demanding that Truman take action.
CLARK CLIFFORD, White House Council: There were lots of pressures developing about communists infiltrating our whole system. And he felt obliged to do something. He did not believe there were disloyal employees. He did not believe that. He said on a number of occasions, "Our enemy is abroad. Our enemy is not here at home."
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: Truman is in a terrible position here because, if he had not done anything, he would have been open to the accusation that he was tough on communism abroad, but he was overlooking communists within his own government, whatever few there were.
NARRATOR: On March 21, 1947, against his own better judgment, the President issued an extraordinary executive order: he established a loyalty program, making the political beliefs of every federal employee subject to investigation by the FBI.
ELLEN SCHRECKER, Historian: Truman, trying to mobilize public opinion for the Cold War, exaggerated the communist menace. He presented, the Cold War as a kind of crusade against communist totalitarianism. And you don't break up your crusade into "This is the European part. We'll focus on this. And let's not look at the American part." It was a total crusade.
NARRATOR: Harry Truman was leading America in a new kind of war. And he prepared the country as it had never been prepared before.
He created the Department of Defense; he established the National Security Council, and the CIA - the Central Intelligence Agency, putting the United States in the business of peacetime spying for the first time in its history.
Soon there would be another first: NATO, America's first peacetime alliance -- a bulwark set in western Europe against communism. Truman was changing the way Americans looked at the world, and at themselves.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: I think Truman's great contribution to American politics was to figure out how to get Americans to commit themselves to a war which was cold rather than hot, a war which had not been declared, a war which is extremely complex, and yet which Truman defined as a rather "simple" war between the enslaved and the free peoples. This is how he got Americans to commit themselves to the Cold War, in which Russian and American soldiers were beginning to peer across boundaries at each other.
NARRATOR: The Cold War had begun, and it would last for the next half-century. After three years in office, Truman was at last enjoying being President of the United States. Dozens of newspapers described the 'new' Harry Truman -- calm, forceful, radiating authority.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He had decided that he really liked the job, and that he was pretty good at it. And he took the Presidency very seriously, but he didn't take Harry Truman all that seriously all the time.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: (VO) And sometimes he didn't seem very Presidential, and of course his opponents saw those as wonderful opportunities to belittle him.
NARRATOR: Reporters made fun of his shirts and his poker games, criticized his cronies, and his fondness for good bourbon. But Truman always remained himself.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: He never made any effort to create a public relations image. He was what he was and he never pretended other. And it was earthy, it was -- it came out of the heartland of America, with all its virtues and its limitations, too.
REX SCOUTEN, Secret Service: He always said he was a farmer from Missouri trying to do his damnedest. I think he gave everyone the impression no matter what your position was, that you were an important part of what he was trying to achieve.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: I remember the very first time that the President invited me as a junior staff member to come to dinner. President Truman sat down at the piano, I began to soar into the clouds. And afterward, he turned from the piano and looked at me and sort of smiled and said, "You know," he said, "If I hadn't gotten into trouble by getting into politics, I would have made a hell of a good piano player at a whorehouse." And this was -- of course brought me down to earth. He tended to look down on himself as a person, yet he revered the Presidential office.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: And one time in a mood of reflection, he said, you know the President really is two people and one of them is the President.
And then he sort of straightened in his chair and you could feel the sense of obligation that he had, which lifted him and his dignity and his sense of principled commitment. And then he sort of slumped a little bit, and said and then there's also the President as a human being and the wear and tear that goes with the job.
NARRATOR: Truman had said many times he never wanted to be President. Now, he had changed his mind -- he wanted the job for four more years. He had failed his party in 1946. He wanted to redeem himself in 1948. But he was about to risk fracturing the Democrats, by reaching out to Americans who by tradition and culture he had dismissed nearly all his life.
In the South, segregation ruled by law and custom as it had for generations. All across America African-Americans confronted poverty, prejudice, limited opportunity. And black sailors and soldiers who had fought overseas for America's freedom, didn't like what they found when they returned home.
VERNON JARRETT, Journalist: Here we are at the end of World War II. We had defeated one of the great racists in human history, Hitler and of course Mussolini, and Japan, but the whole climate said, "We are going to remain the same even though the war aims we had were lofty and idealistic and beautiful and -- and presaged a new world," and so forth, but "You are still a nigger." The United States was advertised as the "Arsenal for Democracy"... but when it comes to the race question things have got to remain the same.
NARRATOR: In 1946, a horrible series of racial murders in the South shocked America. Truman was outraged. African-American leaders clamored for anti-lynching laws, but didn't expect much from the President from Missouri.
ALONZO HAMBY, BIographer: It seems a pretty sure bet that privately he believed that most blacks were inferior to most whites, and I think it's fair to say that neither he nor Bess would have been pleased if Margaret had brought Sidney Poitier home for dinner. But he also came from a background that said everyone deserved an equal chance in life.
NARRATOR: On June 28, 1947 Truman wrote his sister a letter.
"I've got to make a speech tomorrow to the Society for the Advancement of Colored People and I wish I didn't have to make it... Mamma won't like what I say."
TRUMAN SOUND ON FILM: "There is no justifiable reason for discrimination because of ancestry or religion or race or color."
NARRATOR: No President had ever before addressed the nearly 40-year-old NAACP. Truman became the first, as he spoke to a rally of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial. A southerner by birth and inclination, he argued for equal rights for all Americans.
TRUMAN: "We cannot any longer await the growth of a will to action in the slowest state or the most backward community. Our national government must show the way."
DOROTHY HEIGHT, National Council of Negro Women: Well, I think everybody was thrilled...And I think the appearance that he had with the NAACP resounded all over. Truman proved to be quite a surprise. He was very different from what we had thought of in terms of a person of his background.
NARRATOR: But Truman hesitated to put civil rights legislation before Congress -- he feared that if he acted to help African-Americans, he would lose the support of southern Democrats.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biography: There's a great conflict here and politically Truman has to choose -- is he going to go with the South? or is he going to go with, ah, the Northern liberals and the, black constituency and the civil rights program they favor?
NARRATOR: On February 2, 1948, Truman became the first President to send a special message to Congress on civil rights. He called for anti-lynching laws, abolition of the poll tax, establishment of a commission on civil rights, desegregation of the armed forces.
VERNON JARRETT, Journalist: It was a great message. You hadn't had anything like that before! Prior to that, we couldn't even get a President to make an oratorical statement.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to The President: He recognized that the chances of much legislation, any legislation, getting through that Congress was practically nil. The point was, you had to start sometime and he was going to start.
NARRATOR: Southern newspapers called Truman's civil rights legislation a "dismaying document," based on a "pernicious fallacy." "Here we have the making of a veritable Gestapo."
HARRY BYRD, Senator: Most of the Southern senators felt it went too far.
Senator Byrd Sr. was in the Senate at that time and he, ah, he felt that some of the civil rights legislation went too far and he opposed it.
VERNON JARRETT, Journalist: Equal this, equal that. The whole thing just wreaked, in terms of how the Southerners looked at it, with "concessions to niggers." Let's put it the way -- this is what they said.
KEN HECHLER, White House Assistant: I recall Mrs. Leonard Thomas, one of the Alabama national committeemen, came to Truman and said to him, "Please don't force miscegenation on the South. Please tell the South that you really don't believe and you're gonna take back what you said about civil rights." And Truman looked at her, and pulled out a copy of the Bill of Rights, and said, "I'm the President of all the people. I want you to know that I'm not gonna take back a word of what I said."
NARRATOR: The battle over civil rights was a political disaster. A Gallup Poll showed that the vast majority of Americans opposed the President's stand. Civil Rights was hurting Truman's chances for re-election.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: At the same time as his civil rights message was splitting the Democratic Party, the issue of what was to happen in Palestine comes to the fore.
NARRATOR: Since the end of the 19th century, the Jewish people had aspired to establish a homeland in Palestine. Now, after the devastation of the Holocaust, Jews fiercely lobbied Truman to recognize a new Jewish State there, even enlisting Eddie Jacobson, his old partner in the haberdashery, to win Truman to their cause. But Secretary of State, George Marshal feared that Arabs, claiming Palestine as their own, would cut off the world's supply of oil and throw the Middle East into turmoil.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Marshal was the American that Harry Truman admired more than any other. Now for Truman to go against George Marshall.... was for him one of the most difficult moments in his entire Presidency.
NARRATOR: Forced to choose between the advice of George Marshal and his sympathies for the Jewish people, Truman, on May 14, 1948, gave de facto recognition to Israel.
He did what he thought was right -- and at the same time won the votes of Jewish citizens. In 1948, Truman would need all the votes he could get. In spite of his triumphs overseas, many Americans still questioned his effectiveness at home.
NARRATOR: On June 21st, the Republicans convened in Philadelphia.
After three days of celebrating free enterprise and denouncing Harry Truman, they nominated for President the urbane, progressive Governor of New York, Thomas Dewey.
ARCHIVAL FILM OF DEWEY: I pray God that I may deserve this opportunity to serve our country. In all humility I accept the nomination.
NARRATOR: Four years earlier, Dewey had run a strong race against the undefeatable Franklin Roosevelt. This time around, Republicans giddily anticipated victory against Roosevelt's stand-in -- Harry Truman.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He still appeared to a lot of Americans to be a little guy, an ordinary man, someone who utterly lacked the charisma of his predecessor, Roosevelt. Americans still really wondered whether someone who appeared to be so much like themselves could really handle the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency.
NARRATOR: In July, the Democrats gathered in the same Philadelphia hall where two weeks earlier the Republicans had given their nomination to Thomas Dewey. For the first time, television was there to report the story.
Truman watched from the Oval Office what Newsweek magazine would call "the worst managed, most dispirited convention in American history."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: There was no air-conditioning, and it was from the beginning a sweltering convention, in the hotel rooms as well as in the hall. It was a dismal convention from the start because the convention thought that they were gonna nominate a loser. No one in that convention hall thought Truman could win.
NARRATOR: The Democratic party was splitting apart, and no one thought Harry Truman could hold it together. Left-leaning Democrats had already turned to the Progressive Party and their candidate for President, Henry Wallace. Conservative Southern Democrats, furious over Truman's stand on civil rights, were threatening to walk out of the convention.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM OF MISSISSIPPI DELEGATE: "The delegation from Mississippi cannot be true to the people of that great state if they did not join in this walkout."
NARRATOR: In the end, three dozen southern delegates bolted.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM OF MISSISSIPPI DELEGATE: "And we bid you goodbye."
NARRATOR: Two days later, they formed their own party, the "Dixiecrats."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And it seemed, another devastating blow to Truman's prospects. The combination of the Southerners walking out, and Henry Wallace leading his own Progressive Party campaign, plus all the gloom and doom that seemed to prevail throughout the Democratic Party, spelled only defeat. Spelled a very bleak future.
NARRATOR: But as Harry Truman arrived in Philadelphia, he was anything but bleak. In a small, windowless room beneath the convention floor, he sat with Vice Presidential nominee Alben Barkley and waited.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: They kept him waiting 'til almost two o'clock in the morning. Everybody was exhausted. They felt demoralized. They didn't, many of them, want Harry Truman to be their candidate. The Southerners had walked out of the convention. And so, at two o'clock in the morning, out came Harry Truman in his white linen suit, and he stood up there, and he said,
ARCHIVAL FILM: TRUMAN SPEECH "Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it. Don't you forget that."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: He's a fighter. Truman is not about the slink out of town with his tail between his legs.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: HARRY TRUMAN "The Republican platform cries about cruelly high prices..."
NARRATOR: Truman had come into the Presidency bewildered and frightened. Now, the delegates sat stunned as a fire-breathing Truman tore into the Republicans.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN "The Republican platform comes out for slum clearance and low rental housing. I've been trying to get them to pass that housing bill ever since they met the first time.
NARRATOR: Truman challenged the Republicans to live up to their promises.
ARCHIVAL: TRUMAN I am therefore calling the Congress back into session on the 26th of July. If there's any reality behind that Republican platform we ought to get some action out of the short session of the 80th Congress. They can do this job within 15 days, if they want to do it, and they'll still have time to go out and run for office.
NARRATOR: Truman had come out fighting, but still, no one thought he could win. All the polls made him a sure loser.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Everybody thought he was going to lose. I mean, that's not just a figure of speech, even members of his own family. His mother-in-law was quite sure that Harry Truman was going to lose.
NARRATOR: Truman's Republican opponent was everything Truman was not. Educated, smooth, sophisticated, Tom Dewey was prepared, he said, to turn back 16 years of Democratic rule.
ARCHIVAL: DEWEY "I pledge to you that on next January 20th, there will begin in Washington the biggest unraveling, unsnarling, untangling operation in our nation's history."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: From the beginning Dewey was transfixed by polls and by Time Magazine and everyone else who was boosting him for President. He was very pleased with himself, very pleased with what he'd done. Very sure that he was going to go on and be a great figure. They were so confident that some of the Dewey people had already bought houses in Washington.
NARRATOR: On September 17th, Truman set out on what would become one of the most famous campaigns in American history.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: He was saying good-bye to everybody and so forth and Alben Barkley, a very good-hearted man, came up and said, "Give 'em hell, Harry!" And Truman said something. "I'll give 'em hell. I'll give 'em hell, Alben." We had nothing to write about. The train's starting out on a Sunday afternoon, so everyone's writing about "give 'em hell."
NARRATOR: From then on, "Give 'em Hell Harry" would become Harry Truman's battle cry. During the next six weeks, Truman would travel 22,000 miles -- criss-crossing the country three times. The issues, he said, were simple. The Republicans wanted to turn back the clock, destroy Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Truman was going to stop them.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN "If you give the Republicans complete control of this government, you might just as well turn it over to the special interests and we'll start on a boom and bust cycle and try to go through just what we did in the 20s. And end up with a crash which in the long run will do nobody any good but the communists.
NARRATOR: Truman kept up a grueling pace, giving no-quarter to his opponents. When the Progressive party candidate Henry Wallace argued for co-operation with the Soviet Union, Truman attacked Wallace as a communist pawn.
When the segregationist "Dixiecrat" party nominated Strom Thurmond, Truman desegregated the armed forces, winning the votes of black Americans, and changing the American military forever.
VERNON JARRETT, Journalist: The armed forces, the seat of segregation, the seat of racism, and to have him issue that order, for whatever reason, was a great leap forward in history.
NARRATOR: Campaigning as if he had already won, Tom Dewey took no risks, offered no surprises.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: His whole campaign was being run according to what the polls were telling him to do. Don't rock the boat. Don't say anything to antagonize anyone. Don't say anything controversial, just be calm smooth, speak in platitudes...
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: DEWEY "We believe in honesty, loyalty, fair play, concern for our neighbors, the innate ability of men to achieve.
These convictions arched over by our faith in God, are the inner meaning of the American way of life.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: He didn't seem to have much empathy, if that's the word. You wouldn't cuddle up to Tom Dewey.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The Dewey campaign was very efficient -- it was very carefully orchestrated. The official drink on board the Dewey train was the martini. The card game was bridge. On the Truman train, things were quite different. The drink of the hour was nearly always bourbon, and the -- and the card game was poker.
Truman kept that train really moving... And he traveled and traveled and traveled. But he seemed to draw energy from it. He loved it. And as he progressed, he got better. And the more he traveled, the more the crowds turned out, and the larger the crowds were.
MARIAN NORBY, White House Staff Member: Every town we'd pulled into had a high school band that played "The Missouri Waltz" before this President spoke. And everybody got so sick of that.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: Always there was a Missouri Waltz. (Sings Waltz Briefly) And Truman, I'm told, hated the Missouri Waltz and everywhere he had the Missouri Waltz!
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: Harry was a damned good campaigner. He loved to get out and mix with people and he knew how to talk their language. You know, he was no high-falutin' guy. He could be understood by every factory worker, every coal miner, every textile worker, every housewife.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM TRUMAN: "I've been in politics a long time and it makes no difference what they say about you if it isn't so. If they can prove it on you, you're in a bad fix indeed."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: He understood people. He especially understood people of his area, the Midwest, the farmers.
TRUMAN ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: "Vote for your farms. Vote for the standard of living that you won under a Democratic Administration. Get out there on Election day and vote for your future."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: You know, I covered every inch of the Truman whistle-stop campaign. I was in every farm yard and main street and the rest of it. And I'd see these big crowds and I'd think, "Well, Dewey has bigger crowds." Whatever I felt, I thought Dewey was going to win. I didn't know anyone who thought otherwise, anybody.
NARRATOR: As the campaign drew to a close, the New York Times was predicting Dewey would run away with the election. The Gallup Poll was so certain of the outcome, it stopped polling before the end of October.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The night of the election, the head of the Secret Service went to New York to be with Mr. Dewey, because he clearly was gonna be the next president. And it just looked like a sure thing. And, the only one who didn't think it was a sure thing was Harry Truman.
NARRATOR: One evening, three or four days before the election, an anxious Bess Truman went quietly to see her husband's aide Clark Clifford.
CLARK CLIFFORD, White House Council: And she said, "Clark, do you think Harry really believes that he can win?" And I said, "He gives every assurance of it, Mrs. Truman." She says, "Well, he keeps saying he's going to win." "Well," I said, "that's the way he feels." I said, "He's going to feel that way right up to the end." "But," she said, "it's so hard to find anybody else who thinks that he can win." I think she felt that he did not have any chance of winning.
NARRATOR: On election night, to escape reporters, Truman checked into a hotel in Excelsior Springs, just outside of Independence. He had a ham and cheese sandwich, a glass of buttermilk and went to sleep.
When he woke up, he learned he had pulled off the greatest upset in the history of American politics. Not one pollster or radio commentator or newspaper columnist had got it right. No one had dared predict a Truman victory.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: DEWEY "I've sent the following wire to President Truman. My heartiest congratulations to you on your election and every good wish for a successful administration. I urge all Americans to unite behind you."
VICTOR REUTHER, Assistant to the President, UAW: Truman came through as a feisty fighter, and we loved that you know. The labor movement came around to admire Truman. We knew that on basic issues he would stand with the people, including working people against special interests. And that he was concerned and determined to help carry through the legacy of FDR.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: We'll never know how many people voted for him because, even though they thought he was going to lose, they liked him.
Certainly, a very great many people said later, "I voted for Harry Truman, even though I was sure he was going to lose, because I liked him." It was the high point of his political life. He had made all the smarties look foolish.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN AT A VICTORY DINNER AFTER ELECTION:
"I am most happy -- most happy to have together all the September Democrats, and the October Democrats, and the Monday Democrats, and the Tuesday Democrats, and the Wednesday Democrats."
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: He got a tremendous welcome when he came back to Washington, just tremendous. One of the biggest turnouts the town had seen.
He just glowed with it. But, boy, he came to a tough second term. That's a tough second term.
NARRATOR: Sixty-four years old, Truman had redeemed himself and his party... but in the next four years, he would need all his Missouri optimism to confront the challenges he would meet abroad and the frustrations he would suffer at home.
TRUMAN ARCHIVAL: "Every segment of our population and every individual has a right to expect from our government a Fair Deal."
NARRATOR: At home, Truman once again evoked the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, and asked Congress to support what he now called "the Fair Deal" -- a higher minimum wage, civil rights, aid to education, health insurance for all Americans. Congress refused. One critic called it 'the same old dog with a new name.'
Overseas, Truman was facing a new threat from the Soviet Union. In reaction to America's efforts to strengthen West Germany, the Russians had blockaded western controlled Berlin, cutting all rail, highway, and water traffic in and out of the city. Two and a half million Berliners had only enough food to last a month.
But Truman would force the communists to back down. In a daring move, Truman ordered a full scale airlift to fly food and supplies for more than a year to the beleaguered Berliners. Truman had once again confronted the Soviet Union with a show of strength. But his efforts to stand firm were challenged by two blows that came in swift succession.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: In late August of 1949, Truman learned from American intelligence that the Soviets had exploded an atomic device. And this shocked Truman. America's monopoly on the atomic bomb had ended. Just weeks later, China, the most populous country in the world, fell to Mao Tse Tung's communists.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: In Congress and in the country, there was a feeling that something must be wrong in Washington. Something must be wrong in the government. And out of this fear and this uncertainty arose the voice of Senator Joe McCarthy, who began to rant and rave about Communist conspiracy and high treason in high places.
NARRATOR: As Americans grew increasingly frightened by a world that seemed to be spinning out of control, the pressure on Truman mounted to spend more money on defense. Early in 1950, the National Security Council tried to convince the President to quadruple military spending, but Truman turned their request aside. He believed that the best way to fight communism was by building a strong America, and to Truman, that began with a balanced budget.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: There's a story that Harry Truman made his defense budget somewhat like this. He would take the amount of money coming into the government every year, he'd put it on a piece of paper, he'd subtract from that figure whatever was needed for education, running the government, so on. Whatever was left was the defense budget for that year.
NARRATOR: But then, in early summer, everything changed. Harry Truman was about to confront the communists one more time. And he would need all his stamina and grit to keep from going under.
Saturday, June 24, 1950 was a baking hot summer day in Independence, Missouri. Truman was home spending the weekend with his family in the house where he and Bess had lived with Bess's mother ever since they were married 30 years before. At nine o'clock, he received a phone call from Secretary of State Dean Acheson.
"Mr. President," Acheson said, "I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea."
Supported by tanks and artillery, seven North Korean infantry divisions -- some 90,000 men -- had launched a surprise attack. The crisis that would haunt Truman for the rest of his years in office had begun.
Not long after Truman had become President, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two hostile parts -- a Soviet supported North and an American backed South. Now the North had attacked the South, with just one goal, to unify Korea under communist rule.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: He was convinced from the very beginning that the Soviets were behind this. He had no doubts at all of that. We'd seen it as they'd taken over the satellite countries in Eastern Europe, as they had poked and prodded and pressed elsewhere.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: His initial response was that this was a Soviet directed attack, that he was being directly challenged by Stalin. Stalin did support the invasion but at North Korea's insistence... and it was from a safe distance, by sending Soviet supplies and advisers. What the United States got involved with in 1950 was not aggression from the Soviet Union.
What we got involved with was an incredibly bloody civil war in Korea...There are as many as 100,000 Koreans killed... before the Korean War of 1950 occurred ...And I think it's fair to say that Truman knew very little about this background.
NARRATOR: As Truman headed back to Washington, he turned to the war that had ended just five years before to help him understand the war he was facing now
"Communism was acting in Korea," he wrote, "just as Hitler, and the Japanese had acted earlier. "If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea, no small nation would have the courage to resist threats and aggression."
As his plane touched down at National Airport, the President appeared grim.
"By God," he would tell his advisers, "I am going to let them have it."
That same evening Truman authorized weapons and supplies to reinforce the South Koreans. The next day, he ordered American planes to strike at the North Korean army. Truman hoped that America's show of strength would force the North Koreans to back down. He did not want to send American soldiers to fight a land war in Asia. But Truman was being pushed closer and closer to the abyss.
On June 27th, just three days after launching their attack, the North Korean army overran Seoul, the capital of South Korea. That evening, Truman appealed to the United Nations for help. "We started the United Nations," he told an aide. "It must be made to work." For the first time the world organization devoted to peace authorized an army to wage war.
But Truman knew that American soldiers would carry the burden of the fighting, and the President, unwilling to risk American lives, withheld the order that would send them into action.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: I think that Truman thought that by getting the United Nations to condemn the attack, that by beefing up South Korean forces, he could probably, ah, handle the situation. The communists would learn their lesson, would back off, and we'd be back to before the war.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: (VO) He was concerned that he might be taking the world into another terrible war. And, of course, this time, it would be an atomic war, because now it was known that both sides had the atomic bomb.
NARRATOR: By June 30th, less than a week after the fighting began, the situation seemed hopeless. American supplies and planes had not been enough to stop the relentless advance of the North Korean army.
The President was going to have to send American boys.
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: I heard him say, "I know that, some day, I will have to stand before the throne of God and account for every young life that is about to be lost because of what I am about to do. But in the fulfillment of the oath that I took when I became President, I have no choice." As one of the young men that might be covered by that, I was quite impressed. That's the first time I realized we were not dealing with a bankrupt haberdasher.
NARRATOR: On June 30th, the President approved the use of a combat team and two divisions in Korea. What the Chinese or the Russians would do now, he wrote in his diary, he did not know. What he believed was that the President of the United States had to stand firm.
"I'm not going to tremble like a psychopath before the Russians," he told a worried Senator. "I am not going to surrender our rights or the rights of the South Koreans."
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: Truman hopes this is going to be a quick enterprise, and we can take care of it. Clearly, he and perhaps some of the people in his administration have underestimated the formidable character of the North Korean army.
NARRATOR: The first Americans thrown into action were green. Their enemy was not. Well-trained and combat hardened, the North Koreans pushed the Americans further and further South, across unknown terrain, through drenching downpours and punishing heat. Truman's cuts in the defense budget had left America unprepared for the war it now faced.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: By July and August of 1950, Korea was a full-fledged conventional war. Truman made the decision at this point to bust the defense budget. Harry Truman, who had opposed high defense budgets, had sent a $13-billion defense budget in '49. By the end of 1950, he is sending in a defense budget of $50 billion dollars. And the United States is now beginning to move into the period of the modern defense budget.
NARRATOR: While the massive re-armament of America began at home, news from the front remained grim. At the end of July, 4,000 Americans were dead, almost 14,000 wounded or missing.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: The North Koreans were so much stronger than we initially realized that they really practically pushed us right off into the sea.
NARRATOR: The United Nations army now clung to only a tiny corner of the southeastern tip of Korea. Truman had expected to overwhelm the communists, to hurl them back above the 38th parallel into North Korea.
Instead, after just six weeks, the war seemed lost. With disaster looming, a daring plan was devised by the head of United Nations forces, the fabled hero of World War II, whose exploits in the Pacific had made his name a household word -- General Douglas MacArthur.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: It's somewhat difficult, today, to imagine the aura around General Douglas MacArthur; the size of the shadow he cast.
Americans looked upon him as a kind of god, an infallible god.
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: He was only about five-foot-nine, but if you were in his presence, you would swear that he was about six-foot-six. He always dominated any group and he had all the props -- the open-collared shirt, the sunglasses, the crushed hat, the pipe. He made his own laws. He took unclear directives and interpreted them his own way. He was very much the American Caesar.
NARRATOR: To save his army trapped on the tip of Korea, MacArthur sent a message to Truman asking him to approve one of the most daring operations in American military history.
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: I always remember this -- he said, "Tell the President I will land at Inchon on the 15th of September. And between the hammer of this landing and the anvil of the Eighth Army, I will smash and destroy the armies of North Korea." And the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
NARRATOR: On September 15, 1950, with Truman's full support, MacArthur struck without warning at the port of Inchon, 30 miles from Seoul.
The risks were enormous. Dangerous 30-foot tides... enemy guns trained on mine-infested waters. One Pentagon strategist called it a 5,000 to one shot.
But MacArthur's gamble paid off. The North Koreans were caught completely by surprise. Inchon fell in less than a day.
"I salute you all," Truman cabled MacArthur, "and say to all of you from all of us at home, 'Well and nobly done.'
Thirteen days later Seoul was retaken. At the same time, UN armies in the South were fighting their way North with the enemy in full retreat.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And, suddenly, the North Koreans, instead of being this invincible invading army, were caught in a giant pincer.
NARRATOR: In less than two weeks, MacArthur had turned the war around. "General MacArthur," Life Magazine wrote, "is a great soldier and a great American."
By late September, U.N. forces had pushed the communists back above the 38th parallel, the line separating the two armies before the war began. There, MacArthur's army halted.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: The objectives were to restore the status quo. The initial idea was not an intent to capture North Korea and unify Korea. That was not the intent at all.
NARRATOR: But tempting the President, and all his advisers, was the chance to drive the communists once and for all from the peninsula -- by crossing the 38th parallel and pursuing them into North Korea. Truman faced a dangerous decision.
He knew that to order the troops across that line risked provoking North Korea's ally, China... that the Chinese army was already massing on the North Korean border... that the Chinese government had already issued explicit warnings.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The prevailing wisdom around the President was that the last thing in the world that the United States should do would be to get involved with a major land war with the Chinese.
NARRATOR: But with the enemy in retreat, Truman's native optimism took over. On September 27, MacArthur received a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved by the President. "Your military objective," it read, "is the destruction of the North Korean armed forces."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And across they went, having been warned through diplomatic channels, that if they proceeded to cross the parallel, that the Chinese would come into the war. But it was felt that that was a bluff.
NARRATOR: Two weeks later, Truman prepared to leave America on a mission that caught everyone by surprise. "I've a whale of a job before me," Truman wrote his cousin, "Have to talk to God's right-hand man."
Truman was heading for a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific to meet with General Douglas MacArthur.
The General had been making trouble for the President. MacArthur's outspoken anti-communist opinions had inflamed an already tense situation with the Chinese. Many feared MacArthur wanted to re-take the communist Chinese mainland.
LUCIUS BATTLE, State Department: MacArthur had contempt for higher authority. He was the supreme authority. That's the way he saw himself. He was not troubled by the constitutional limits upon generals. He was not troubled by any obligations he had. I'm sure he had a certain contempt for the President.
I don't think there's much doubt of that.
NARRATOR: Truman had never liked MacArthur. In his diary, the President described the General as "Mr. Prima Donna, Brass Hat," a "play actor and a bunco man." "It is a very great pity we have to have stuffed shirts like that in key positions," Truman wrote.
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: The men were so dissimilar. Here was this imperious figure, very much different than the midwestern common man, who was Truman.
NARRATOR: As Truman headed for Wake Island and the meeting with his domineering General, he was determined to let MacArthur know who was boss.
Truman put on his best public face, but tensions ran high from the moment the President got off the plane.
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: And as I recollect it, MacArthur shook hands with the President. He did not salute him. Which struck me, as a young officer, right away, you know, sort of odd. Many years later, I was in Independence, Missouri, and I saw Mr. Truman. And I said, Mr. President, can I ask you an indiscreet question? He said, "Walters, there are no indiscreet questions, there are only indiscreet answers, and I'm a specialist in them. Go right ahead." I said, at Wake Island, when you emerged from the airplane and started down the stairs -- and he interrupted me and he said, "Did I notice that MacArthur did not salute? You're god damn right I noticed it. And I knew I was gonna have trouble with him."
NARRATOR: In a dilapidated Chevrolet, Truman and MacArthur set off for a private meeting. With them was Truman's secret service agent Floyd Boring.
FLOYD BORING, Secret Service: Oh, man, tension? I'll say there was tension. You could -- you could almost feel it, the tension in the air.
NARRATOR: Boring overheard the President lace right into the General.
FLOYD BORING, Secret Service: Never said "howdy" or nothin'. The President said to him, "I'm the Commander-in-Chief," and he was mad. "I'm the Commander-in-Chief. You're just -- you're a general in the Army. Remember that. Why do you insist on goin' into China. We don't want to do that." He said, "I want you to stop it. Otherwise, you're going to be recalled. We're going to get rid of you. General MacArthur didn't say anything. Yeah. He knew the old man was mad.
NARRATOR: The tension still lingered later that afternoon as the formal meeting got under way in a pink cinderblock shack. Truman quickly moved the discussion to his most nagging fear.
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: Truman said: "All the intelligence officers we have indicate that the Chinese are preparing to come into the war. What happens if the Chinese come in?" MacArthur answered and said, "They will not enter the war. And if they do, I shall make of them the greatest slaughter in the history of warfare."
NARRATOR: MacArthur assured the President that the war would be over by Christmas. The conference ran less than three hours. This, their first meeting, was to be their last. Truman and MacArthur would never see each other again.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: Truman thought the meeting with MacArthur had been successful. He'd been encouraged by MacArthur's assurance that he could begin sending troops back home by Christmas. So he came home confident and comfortable. And, of course, just a few weeks later, contrary to MacArthur's assessment, the Chinese entered in force and things just fell apart.
NARRATOR: On November 24, more than a quarter million Chinese communist soldiers poured into Korea. In spite of the assurances he had given the President, MacArthur, hopelessly outnumbered, was powerless to stop them.
Four days later, the President received a cable from his beleaguered General: "We face an entirely new war... This command is now faced with conditions beyond its control and its strength."
One observer described the President as he reported the news to his aides: "His mouth drew tight, his cheeks flushed. For a moment, it almost seemed as if he would sob. Then, in a voice that was incredibly calm and quiet, he said, "This is the worst situation we have had yet. We'll just have to meet it as we've met all the rest."
Victory had appeared almost within reach. Now, in the bitter Korean winter, MacArthur's forces reeled under the communist attack. MacArthur told the President he feared his army was about to be destroyed.
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: MacArthur's behavior in this time period if very strange. This is MacArthur, the invincible, the infallible, but he had failed. He was talking about evacuating the Eighth Army from Korea. And being MacArthur, it couldn't have been his fault; it must have been someone else's fault.
NARRATOR: The General urged the President to wage all out war. He wanted to blockade the Chinese coast and bomb the Chinese mainland. Truman refused. In an atomic age, he feared provoking a third world war.
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: Boiled down, MacArthur wanted to fight the war to win the war. On the other hand, Truman wanted to confine the war to the Korean peninsula. He wanted to keep it as small an affair as possible.
NARRATOR: As the communists continued to punish MacArthur's army, the General told reporters that he was fighting under "an enormous handicap." Truman ordered the General to stop talking to reporters.
MacArthur escalated his demands.
WALTER LAFEBER, Historian: I think it's fair to say MacArthur panicked. At one point in late December he's asking Truman to target 26, ah, different areas within China for the dropping of nuclear bombs.
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: I think MacArthur's top preference would have been to use small nuclear weapons on the masses of Chinese. And he figured, two or three, the Chinese would stop and withdraw. The President was not prepared to make that decision.
NARRATOR: Each day Truman's war became more and more unpopular.
Newspaper reports and photographs of American boys captured, wounded, and killed upset and confused ordinary citizens. To a nation accustomed to the glorious victories of World War II, to unconditional surrender, to even forcing an enemy to surrender with an atomic bomb, Truman's limited war seemed senseless.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: This was probably the worst part of the President's administration for him, the casualties we were taking, the protests from families, and the difficulty of understanding what a "limited war" meant. I mean "Why not nuke 'em."
NARRATOR: The pressure on Truman grew increasingly intense. He was working 18 hour days, and the strain was starting to show. One morning, with United States marines trapped at a reservoir in North Korea, Truman met with his advisers.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: We were working on a speech and Mr. Truman came in from his office and sat down, in a very dejected way, and he said, "You know, normally I sleep like a baby, but this time I could hardly sleep all night long. I was thinking about those boys up at the reservoir." And then he slumped in his chair and he -- he said, "You know, there must be a thousand people in this town who can do the job better than I can." There isn't much you can say to that. And he took off his glasses and put them on the table. And that was a startling thing for me because I had been accustomed to seeing his eyes rather large in his face, and I realized when he took his glasses off, it was because they were very thick lenses and it magnified his eyes. And when he took his glasses off, his eyes appeared small in his face, and it changed his appearance to me. I stared at him just as long as I could politely do and then he put his elbows on the table and he sank his -- his thumbs into his eye sockets and sat there for a while. And we were all quiet. And then finally he raised his head and took his glasses and put them on. He said, "But, the job is mine to do, so I have to do the best I can. Let's get on with the drafting."
NARRATOR: Tension and exhaustion were taking their toll on Truman.
Victory in Korea would have been the crowning achievement of his Presidency, proof that his determination to hold the line against communism was working.
Instead, Truman faced disaster, and in the days after the Chinese attack, he drifted.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: This was the darkest time of his years in the presidency. It was a very bleak prospect that the American people faced.
And the President was being besieged on all sides.
NARRATOR: On December 5, his beloved friend and press secretary Charlie Ross died of a heart attack. Truman had known Ross since high school, and the sudden loss of his lifelong friend was a terrible blow.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And Truman was deeply upset, deeply distraught. And that was the same night that the President's daughter, Margaret Truman, was having a first concert ever singing, in Constitution Hall, in Washington.
Margaret had studied to become a singer, and the grieving President kept his promise to hear her perform. His pent-up frustrations waiting like a stick of dynamite ready to explode.
NARRATOR: Paul Hume, the Washington Post's respected music critic, had no idea what was in store for him as he joined the sell-out crowd.
PAUL HUME, Music Critic: Here were the members of the Congress, the Supreme Court, all the big shots... and they were all there to hear her sing, which would have been wonderful had she been able to sing well. As soon as she started to sing, I could tell that she did not have the basic technical control of the voice that you need. The pitch wasn't there. The tone wasn't there. She just didn't have what it took. I would have been thrilled if I could have written a rave review.
What I wrote was.. "She is flat a good deal of the time, more last night than at anytime we have heard her in past years. There are few moments in her recital when one can relax and feel confident that she will make her goal, which is the end of the song."
NARRATOR: The next day, Truman opened the Washington Post to page 12 and found Paul Hume's devastating critique of his daughter's singing. The President erupted. Furious, he dashed off a scathing response.
PAUL HUME, Music Critic: The letter came in and I opened it up and I couldn't believe it, and I-- gasped.
NARRATOR: "I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert..."
"Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"
PAUL HUME, Music Critic: That's strong language from the President of the United States.
NARRATOR: When the letter became public, newspapers across the country berated the President for his lack of self-control. The Chicago Tribune even questioned Truman's "mental competence and emotional stability."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He was a man who was being battered and besieged from every side. He had to blow his stack about something, it seems to me.
And the something was Paul Hume's review.
NARRATOR: The White House was flooded with letters and telegrams.
One letter came from distraught parents who enclosed a Purple Heart.
"As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea," Truman read, "you might just as well keep this emblem... One major regret is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son."
NARRATOR: By early 1951, the communists had retaken Seoul and Inchon, and driven MacArthur's forces below the 38th parallel. Again the General urged the President to widen the war. Again the President refused.
NARRATOR: Then, on January 25th, the longest retreat in American military history ended. MacArthur's bleak assessments had been wrong. His field commander General Matthew Ridgway took United Nations forces on the offensive.
Assaulting the communists with tanks and artillery, Ridgway began driving them back. By the end of March, forces under Ridgway's command had reached the 38th parallel once again. There, the war stalemated.
More than 50,000 American soldiers had been killed or wounded -- South Korean casualties numbered over 160,000. Truman cautiously began exploring the possibility of negotiations with the Chinese to stop the fighting and restore a divided Korea.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: What Truman wanted and what the American policy-makers wanted was to get out of there as decently as we could.
NARRATOR: At just that moment, MacArthur stepped in and undermined the President's plan. The General issued his own proclamation, demanding that the Chinese commander surrender to him.
The President was in a rage. MacArthur had wrecked his hope for negotiations.
"I was ready to kick him into the North China Sea," Truman said later. "I was never so put out in my life."
GENERAL VERNON WALTERS, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army: I guess in the back of his mind, MacArthur figured, this is a captain of artillery. What does he know about this war?
And in Truman's mind, I'm the President, I decide American foreign and military policy.
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: With General MacArthur making more and more statements that were calling into question national policy, some of Truman's advisors began to urge that he relieve the General. Well, that's something you just don't casually do. You don't relieve a commander in the field in the midst of major hostilities.
NARRATOR: But when MacArthur sent a letter to the House Minority leader criticizing the President's conduct of the war, Truman had had enough.
"This looks like the last straw," he wrote in his diary. "Rank insubordination."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Truman knew the firestorm he would face. He knew he would be attacked in the press. But he also knew that eventually the people, and history, would see that he had done the right thing.
NARRATOR: On April 11, MacArthur was having lunch in Tokyo when his wife handed him a brown Signal Corps envelope:
"I deeply regret," the message read, "that it becomes my duty as President and Commander in Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander."
Truman had fired one of the most popular Generals in American history.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: And he did it very abruptly. And he did it knowing full well what would happen.
NARRATOR: MacArthur came home to a hero's welcome. On Capitol Hill, Republicans attacked Truman. Senator Joseph McCarthy told a press conference: "The son of a bitch ought to be impeached." The President was deluged with wild telegrams, denouncing him as a pig, a little man, a Judas.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: Who was he, this little, pipsqueak captain from World War I, to fire the great, beloved, awesome, General MacArthur?
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: MacArthur was received in a tumultuous fashion in every city, ticker-tape parades, Joint session of Congress. He addressed the Congress. He made that famous speech.
MACARTHUR ADDRESSES JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS: "I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that 'Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.'
GENERAL EDWIN SIMMONS, Marine Corps Historian: "Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away." I've never been quite sure what that meant, but it sounds -- sounds great.
MACARTHUR: "And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and..."
NARRATOR: Truman wasn't listening. As MacArthur spoke, the President met with his Secretary of State, then took a nap. Later he read what the General had said, and privately remarked: It's "a bunch of damn bullshit."
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: Truman took it all in stride. He said, "This'll blow over. Bring the General home. Let him have his ticker tape parades.
That's okay. All this will be gone in a few months," and it was.
NARRATOR: The stalemate in Korea continued. On July 10, 1951 peace talks began, but they would bog down and drag on for the rest of Truman's days in office. The war in Korea would go on, in the end, taking more than 54,000 American lives. Truman's only comfort was in knowing that he had kept the struggle from spreading -- that he had prevented the horror of a full-scale nuclear war.
ALONZO HAMBY, Biographer: The last two years of the Administration are, by far, the toughest of Truman's Presidency. He really begins to feel the stress... And in early 1952, when he's still toying around with the idea of running for President, Bess tells him she doesn't think he could survive another term. She says she doesn't think she could either.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: She had been biding her time, gritting her teeth, from the time he first took the oath of office in 1945. I think she would have left him, had he chosen to run again.
NARRATOR: On March 29, 1952 Truman told his fellow Americans what many already suspected.
ARCHIVAL SOUND ON FILM: TRUMAN "I shall not be a candidate for re-election. I have served my country long and I think efficiently and honestly. I shall not accept a renomination. I do not feel that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House."
NARRATOR: With his Fair Deal and Civil Rights programs crushed, the war stalemated in Korea, Truman knew it was time to go.
WALT BODINE, Journalist: His ratings were lower than Nixon's on the day he resigned. I mean it was probably as low an approval rating as any President ever had.
NARRATOR: Only one person responded with unadorned glee. "When you made your announcement," an aide told the President, "Mrs. Truman looked the way you do when you draw four aces."
GEORGE ELSEY, Administrative Assistant to the President: She'd had enough, and she thought Harry Truman had had enough. He'd done his duty. He'd done it well. It was time to call it quits.
NARRATOR: That July, the Democrats convened in Chicago to nominate Adlai Stevenson for President.
Truman told Stevenson: "Adlai, if a knucklehead like me can be President and not do too badly, think what a really educated smart guy like you could do in the job."
But the Republicans had already nominated the hero of D-Day, General Dwight David Eisenhower. The Democrats, Truman knew, didn't stand a chance.
When the campaign was over, Truman's Democrats had suffered a devastating defeat. After 20 years in the wilderness, the Republicans had re-captured the White House.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The spotlight was on the new president. And the outgoing president was suddenly a citizen, again, driving away in a car, having to stop at a red light for the first time in seven years.
NARRATOR: After the ceremony, Truman had lunch with his staff and cabinet for the last time.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: And when his old friend, the retiring Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder arrived, he saw the President standing looking out the window. And Snyder went over and said, "What are you looking out the window for?" And Truman turned around and said, "An hour ago if I had said something, it would have gone around the world in 15 minutes, all around the world." "Now I could talk for two hours and no one would give a damn."
NARRATOR: On January 20th, 1953, Harry Truman, private citizen, set out for home.
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: I'm not sure they expected anybody would turn up to say farewell. But then they saw the immense crowd that had come. And the cheering and the affection that was expressed by the crowd. They were simply overwhelmed.
ROBERT DONOVAN, Journalist: And I went back to Independence with them, and it was a scream. He would walk through the train and someone would be sitting in a compartment reading a paper and all of a sudden -- hello there -- here's Harry, here's President Truman. We'd come to a stop and he'd go up and buy a newspaper at the newsstand. And -- ha...the newspaper guy. And he was having a high time of it. And so, I think, were they. It was just a joyous ride back to Independence.
NARRATOR: After nearly 20 years in Washington, Harry and Bess Truman came home.
WALT BODINE, Journalist: What with his popularity rating being so low and all of that, the general assumption was...there would be maybe a few friends at the railroad station to greet them. Instead, as I recall I think, the crowd was 10,000 people.
ARCHIVAL FILM OF TRAIN ARRIVING IN INDEPENDENCE ARCHIVAL: "Welcome home, neighbor."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: The biggest crowd ever turned out in the little town. Mrs. Truman was so touched by this that she said, "This makes all these last years in the White House worth it."
NARRATOR: Truman went on to live in the old house on North Delaware Street that had once been his mother-in-law's. There he would spend the rest of his life. In the years to come, Americans grew accustomed to seeing Harry Truman pictured walking the streets of Independence or hearing him bluntly speak his mind. Now he was one of them. And they seemed more fond of Citizen Truman than President Truman. Gradually his reputation revived.
Americans began to remember the former president as that feisty man from Missouri who worked hard and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. They remembered the Truman who said, "The buck stops here."
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, Biographer: He's a believable man. That's one of the reasons he is so appealing to us. He has no privileged background. He has no great voice. He isn't handsome. He has no glamor. But in that makeup is iron. Real iron.
NARRATOR: In 1961, eight years after he had left the White House, Harry Truman was invited back by President John Kennedy. Once again Truman sat down at his old piano and played the music he had practiced every morning as a boy. Truman passed his final years still rising early, still taking his morning walk -- just as he had done all his life.
"I tried never to forget who I was and where I'd come from and where I'd go back to," Truman said.
MARSHALL SHULMAN, Assistant to the Secretary of State: Harry Truman was a vindication of the democratic idea of leadership. Here is a man out of the heartland of America, an ordinary guy, not a high powered intellectual, but a man of common sense and a man of personal decency.
NARRATOR: On December 26, 1972, Harry Truman died. He was 88 years old. Ten years later, Bess was buried beside him in the courtyard of the library that was named in his honor.
"When Franklin Roosevelt died," Truman said, "I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it. And I tried to give it everything that was in me."
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?