Dear Harry: The Truman Administration Through Correspondence with Everyday Americans. By D.M. Giangreco and Kathryn Moore. Stackpole Books, 1999. 512 Pages. $34.95. Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Albert N. Garland, U.S. Army, Retired.
On 12 April 1945, following the death of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, former U.S. Senator and Roosevelt's Vice-President, became the 33d President of the United States. Truman was virtually unknown to most of the U.S. populace, despite his sterling work as chairman of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, popularly known as the Truman Committee.
In putting together this book, the authors selected "letters, telegrams, and postcards... almost exclusively from the files of the Harry S Truman Library in Independence, Missouri" to show how the people of the country reacted to the many major events that occurred during President Truman's nearly eight years in office. As such, this is not a scholarly history of that administration; it does offer, rather, a peek into the nation's soul, a peek offered freely by the people themselves. (The authors could have added that they used a number of interWhite House staff memoranda and the results of several special studies.)
The book is divided into 10 chapters, each dealing with one or several subjects. Only three of the chapters are used for a single subject: Chapter 6, the relief of General MacArthur; Chapter 7, the atomic bomb; and Chapter 8, The Korean War; although there is some overlap in all of the chapters, a good amount of the material on Truman's decision to use the bomb against Japan is in Chapter 10. (Giangreco has written on this subject in an earlier effort for a professional military journal.)
The authors have provided enough historical material in each chapter to explain the proper settings at the times decisions were made.
For some reason, perhaps for levity, the authors conclude each chapter, regardless of its contents, with a query concerning whether or not the annual egg roll at the White House, which had been discontinued in 1939 because of the outbreak of World War II, would be held, and an answer to those queries by a White House staff member. The answer at the end of each of the first nine chapters was No. At the end of Chapter 10, after the Eisenhower administration had taken over, the answer was Yes.
As one who lived through those times, I thoroughly enjoyed comparing my feelings at the time with those of my fellow citizens. Of course, I was in the military service during the Truman years and may have had a different view of the events as they unfolded. …