Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Presidents I Have Known - Part 1

If you asked me how many of these Presidents I had met personally, the answer would be, none. This little essay is about Presidents that made an impression on me. In retrospect, as I remember them, at the age I was when they were in office. This is a recollection as affected by history, not a historical treatise.

Let us start with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Henceforth FDR. I was very young but grew up in a politically aware family. I listened and learned. FDR was not universally loved. But, in spite of his liberal credentials, he was the right man for a world in turmoil. FDR was wealthy and well connected. He knew personally people of power and influence. There are those that say he provoked the United States entering WWII. I do not believe that. But once we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, he fulfilled Admiral Yamamoto's prediction. The "sleeping tiger" was awakened. 

Within weeks, war was declared, the best brains in the country took over and created a war machine that supplied materiel for the allies that no other country could provide. Young men were drafted and trained. Ships were built or commandeered to get them to the front lines. America was very definitely at war.

Meanwhile, due to a letter from Albert Einstein, Roosevelt started the ultra-secret Manhattan Project. Creating the weapon that could win the war. FDR died in office as the war still raged. He did never saw the end of the war, but I think that no one else in his time could have accomplished what he accomplished. He was the man for the time.

When President Roosevelt passed, his Vice President, Harry Truman, took office. Mr. Truman was not very well respected by FDR and his minions. He was kept out of the loop on much of FDR's plans and ideas, including the Manhattan Project. 

There seemed to be two schools of thought on Truman. You either loved him or hated him. He was brash and outspoken. But he was the President, and as he said "the buck stopped" with him. Although he started in politics as part of the Pendergast political machine in Missouri, his honesty separated him from the pack. 

Truman was asked to run for VP because he was a more conservative Democrat than the other contenders and provided balance to the ticket. Imagine that, a conservative Democrat. Shortly after he became President, Germany surrendered. Truman, believing that an extended war with Japan would be long and bloody, ordered two atomic bombs dropped. One on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. Hirohito, the emperor of Japan sued for peace. WWII ended soon after.

But Truman had one more war to fight. Korea. The Korean war was far from what you see on the reruns of "MASH". It was brutal, bloody, and we were ill prepared at the onset. The North Korean were surrogates for and had the help of Communist China. China did not want American troops on their doorstep. 

Allied troops were taking a beating until the US attacked at Inchon and opened a new front behind North Korean lines. By doing this, General Douglas MacArthur, the Allied commander, changed the direction of the war. Allied troops drove the DPRK troops back. MacArthur wanted to cross the 38th parallel and take North Korea. Truman disagreed and ended up firing MacArthur who was seen as an American hero. Once again many people supported MacArthur and turned their backs on Truman.  

Truman's presidency was rocky and fraught with angst. Today he is far more respected than he was in his lifetime. And possibly he may be respected more, today, by Republicans than Democrats.                                                                                 More to come.......

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