On this day in 1884, one of the most influential presidents in American history was born in Lamar, Missouri. Harry S. Truman is most well-known for how he ended World War II, but there was more to his life and his presidency than meets the eye.
When someone asks “What do you know about Harry Truman,” most people would answer, “He authorized the use of nuclear weapons to end World War II.” Ask them what else they know, and if they aren’t history majors, they probably wouldn’t have an answer.
His presidency might be the most pivotal in American history if you look at the sheer amount of things he did or was first at.
Truman’s career as a politician started in 1922 as a county clerk, and grew from there. By 1934, he was a member of the U.S. Senate. He gained influence quickly, and in March 1941 he formed the Truman Committee, which was widely publicized. Its mission was to root out waste and inefficiency in wartime contracts.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose Truman to be his Vice President, and he took up that office in January 1945, just four months before Roosevelt died in office.
During this time, the world was embroiled in World War II. Nazi Germany was on its last dregs, and would surrender just a month or so after Truman took up the Presidency, but Japan was still very strong.
Military experts at the time predicted that the war in the Pacific could rage on for at least another year, and would likely cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. The reason it would be so costly is due to the spread out nature of the Japanese islands, and Japan’s military strength at the time. In order to save those lives, Truman did the one thing no other American (or anyone else for that matter) has ever done: he ordered the use of nuclear weapons on Japan, and on August 6 and on August 9, 1945, his orders were carried out.
That decision may be the most controversial one ever to be made by a sitting U.S. president, and is still hotly debated to this day. Right or wrong, however, it is seen as the catalyst to Japan’s unconditional surrender.
That’s what most people know about Harry S. Truman. But that happened at the beginning of his time in office, and there is much more to his presidency. Because of World War II, Truman oversaw one of the greatest economic booms in the country’s history. Despite this, there was a lot of strife in the economy as the United States struggled to transition from a wartime economy. Labor conflicts flared up, and several large-scale strikes took place after the war.
For example, in January 1946, 800,000 steel workers went on strike. A lot of this had to do with the economy at large as inflation was a real issue, and shortages in housing and consumer products were plaguing the nation. Labor relations would be a constant struggle for Truman during his presidency.
Most of Truman’s accomplishments during his presidency happened in the foreign arena. He instigated the Marshall Plan, which sent money to war-torn Europe, and he was the president who was in office in the opening salvos of the Cold War, a struggle that would last nearly 45 years. He created the Truman Doctrine to help prevent the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism.
In 1949, he was one of the leaders that helped set up NATO, an organization that is still around today and is dedicated to the safety of its member nations. He was also one of the creators of the United Nations, a much more successful version of the League of Nations. Finally, he is also known for his intervention in the Korean War, which would see the U.S. send troops to the Korean peninsula, where they are still stationed to this day.