No, this is not another transition post, although I am shortly going to tackle the “Trump- Obama 2016” question of who would have won. (Short answer: Obama, in a 1940-esque squeaker much like FDR’s Third Election.)
This is a post about #tdh, otherwise known as Today in History. On December 28, we recognize the birth of Woodrow Wilson, and over in Independence, it is the day they laid Harry Truman into the ground.
I do not like Woodrow Wilson. This has been documented. Among some of my favorite reactions to my novel, The Presidents Gather, was this: “What do you have against Woodrow Wilson?”
Well, for starters, he campaigned in 1916 against joining the war effort in Europe. Oh, those darn campaigns that make us say what we want but not what we mean. Had it not been for Winston Churchill refusing to offer military support to the arrival of the Lusitania (Thank you, Erik Larson), The United States may well have stayed out of it. But back then, American lives lost on foreign soil (Ahem, Benghazi) meant something to the country. Churchill knew it, and knew the backlash of American dead would force Wilson’s hand.
Wilson entered the United States into the war with full-throated enthusiasm. And then, though American involvement in war was short, he (the man who campaigned on American NOT entering the war) had a full list of Fourteen Points with which he thought the world should follow, not the least of which the defeated Central Powers.
It would be the first time an American President tried to bend the world to his own liking. It’s an awful long leap, from Isolationism to His Own World Order, but Wilson jumped as high as he could. Unfortunately for the 28th President, he suffered a stroke as he traveled the country trying to convince his countrymen to adopt the League of Nations. Seems the country, Isolationist as it was in 1916, had no trouble returning to that sentiment as quickly as our boys returned home. Wilson, on the other hand, had tasted the power of Global Interference and relished it.
The foundation of my dislike for Wilson, however, stems from his inclination towards racism. Very few of our Presidents have quite so blatant references to looking down on another race. Wilson does. And it’s disgusting.
This is also the day Harry Truman was laid to rest, the official end of a very long and remarkable life. History regards him high, but gosh, high enough? He literally stepped into the shoes of the President knowing nothing in the middle of the end of World War II. And not just any shoes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If Washington and Lincoln are the go-to great leaders of our nation’s founding era, Franklin Roosevelt is the go to of the country’s saving era. And Harry Truman replaced him, in an instant, without fail.
Although he would one day dislike Eisenhower and (gasp!) fire MacArthur, Harry Truman, on April 12th, 1945, had a heckuva job commanding two generals on opposite ends of the world against two enemies while 99.9% of the people doubted whether he had the gall to get it done.
Harry Truman (spoiler alert) got it done, and in an upset no one talks about anymore (1948) won four more years on a straight talking, no-nonsense approach to government. (Again, why is 2016 not drawing parallels to 1948? Truman defeated the ‘next man up’ and shoo-in New York Governor Tom Dewey, a man who spent way too much time in his New York townhouse (resting?) instead of campaigning.)
Truman’s Presidency is marked by two huge landmark decisions. One was dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in August of 1945, effectively ending the war without a massive invasion of Tokyo. And the second, the firing of General Douglas MacArthur, who was effectively inviting World War III with the Chinese during the Korean War. Both decisions were made by a civilian president, Commander in Chief, and both decisions emphasized his mantra, The Buck Stops Here. I love it when a man backs up his ego with actual decisions.
But I have always liked President Truman, despite the very public manner which he tried to force John Kennedy to ‘wait’ in early 1960. Seems Truman wanted another go with Stevenson. Last night I tried to watch a 1956 TV “Commercial” with Stevenson and John Kennedy. I didn’t make it through Stevenson’s introduction. He looked about as uncomfortable as Hillary being ‘genuine.’
Truman wanted Kennedy to wait. “Senator, are you certain you are ready for the country, and that the country is ready for you?”
With all due respect to the Man from Independence, that’s what campaigns are for.
Harry Truman lived an incredibly long life. He died at the end of 1972 at the age of eighty-eight. He took daily walks in the neighborhood of Independence for as long as his health allowed. And through the 1950’s and 60’s, drove himself in his own car. One of my favorite stories came from a stop to fill up for gas somewhere in the farmland of Missouri. The owner of the gas station came out, filled up his tank, checked his oil and when the former President handed him the money to pay, the owner stopped him and said, “Hey, aren’t you Senator Truman?”
I’m sure he and Bess had a good laugh about that at the dinner table, which is so easy to place this giant in our history right where he belongs, at the dinner table across from Bess, trading stories of happy times.