Harry S Truman, remembered today as a generally great President, made a number of very memorable decisions during his first term, including that to use “the bomb.”
When President Roosevelt tragically passed away in April of 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt personally gave the news to newly-inaugurated Vice President Harry S Truman. This relatively uneducated politician – unknown just a decade earlier – had somehow found his way to the White House, and now he was President, even as America remained embroiled in the greatest war in history.
Ending the War
Following the course set by Roosevelt to end the war was Truman’s first – and perhaps most memorable – task as President. Fortunately, the European front was even then winding down, and only weeks later victory would be achieved there (on Truman’s birthday, no less).
The situation in the Pacific was more frustrating, however. Roosevelt had commissioned the construction of the atomic bomb, but it was Truman who, in August of that year, would be the one forced to finally make a decision on whether or not such drastic measures should be used.
His decision is well known, of course. Fearing the vast number of casualties which would result from a full invasion of Japan, Truman allowed two bombs to be dropped in August, one on Hiroshima (code named “Little Boy” and one on Nagasaki (“Fat Man”).
Already, only months into his administration, Truman had been forced to make one of the most controversial decisions ever made for an American President (which is still hotly debated to this day).
Rebuilding the World
After the war was finally ended on both fronts, Truman was forced into making some very important decisions regarding the rebuilding of Europe, Asia, and much of the world.
He was a strong supporter of the creation of the United Nations, which would replace the League of Nations, as well as the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and the creation of a state of Israel in the British-controlled, non-sovereign land of Palestine, which was then sparsely occupied by a mixture of Jews and Arabs.
Truman’s approach to foreign policy became known as the “Truman Doctrine,” which stressed a containment policy regarding the growing threat of communism in the world, and became the greatest foreign policy shift since the creation of the Monroe Doctrine more than a century earlier.
Finishing the First Term and Reelection
Despite having taken over from the death of his predecessor, Truman’s first term was a nearly complete one, and certainly rather busy. Also during these four years saw his attempt to seize control of the nation’s railroads in 1946 after the workers had gone on strike. Fortunately, the strike was settled before such drastic measures could be taken, but this was not the only time Truman would threaten such measures.
Also during this time was the great success of the Berlin Airlift, wherein Truman approved a plan to airlift supplies into the blockaded territories of West Berlin on a grand scale. The airlift turned out to be a complete success, and Truman’s popularity increased as a result.
In addition to this, Truman remained a staunch supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, which helped him with his own party, even when the Republicans fought back during the midterm elections, winning a new majority in the Senate.
As the 1948 election approached, Truman found himself facing Thomas Dewey of New York – an opponent who had also run against Roosevelt four years earlier. In this election, thanks to a split in the Democratic party by southerners led by Senator Strom Thurmond, it seemed almost certain that Dewey would win.
Truman embarked on an unprecedented whistle-stop tour of the United States, giving speech after speech to massive crowds throughout the country. As a result, the election brought about the impossible – Truman had won the electoral victory by a considerable margin. So surprising was this victory that some newspapers, specifically the Chicago Tribune, accidentally ran the erroneous headline the next day, “Dewey Defeats Truman!”
Relieved, Truman returned to the White House, optimistic regarding his second term.
Unfortunately, this optimism, as it turned out, was not entirely warranted.