A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel

By Tal, David | Shofar, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel


Tal, David, Shofar


A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, by AlUs Radosh and Ronald Radosh. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. 428 pp. $27.99.

The chaUenge that faced President Harry S. Truman on May 12, 1948 was not a simple one. He invited to his office his Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, and some senior State Department members, as well as his political advisor, Clark Chfford, to discuss whether the United States should recognize the nascent State of Israel when it was established in a few days time. Clifford gave a rousing speech about the reasons for the U.S. to grant recognition. In response, Marshall, according to his own record of the meeting published in the Foreign Relations of the United States 1948 (Vol. V, part 1, p. 975), "said bluntly that if the President were to foUow Clifford's advice and if in the elections I were to vote, I would vote against the President." The end of the story is known: on May 14, 1948, a few minutes after David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the state of Israel, the United States formally recognized the new state.

In their fascinating book, the Radoshes deal with this affair. What is unique in their story is, first, that the meticulous historical account is told with considerable literary talent, and second, that they take a very clear stand in regard to the motives of the people involved. In so doing they add to a growing historiographical body of work, while contributing their own perspective and comprehensive approach to this seminal event.

Their contribution is multi-layered. First, they endorse the neo-traditional approach toward the sources of U.S. foreign policy. For years, the revisionist school of thought dominated the historiography of Truman's foreign policy, and Arnold A. Offner's Another Such Victory (2002) was a crowning moment in this process. Then came a change. Melvin Leffler, who contributed to some extent to the historiography of Truman's realistic approach to foreign policy, was one of those who foretold the change in his For the Soul of Mankind (2007). Accordingly, the Radoshes believe that it was not political expethency that drove Truman's pro-Zionist policy, but a genuine belief that the Jews deserved statehood because of the Bible, because it was promised to them by the League of Nations, which acknowledged their right to self-determination, and because of Jewish suffering in Europe during World War II.

The authors' second contribution is in how they tell the story of the Truman administration's decision-making - as a complex process in which various elements were involved and woven together. A common thread in the work of historians of American foreign policy is their America-centric approach. They see the United States as the center, and the states whose fate is discussed in Washington as passive, on the receiving end. That trend was challenged by historians of the New Diplomatic History, who called for a more comprehensive - more international - approach to the study of U.S. foreign policy, and the Radoshes do this very well. Using multiple archival sources, not only American, but also British and Zionist/Israeli, and the documents of Jewish organizations that were involved explicitly or implicitly in the process, as well as U.S. diplomatic documents, they tell a story of a complicated event in which ideas and interests, along with domestic and foreign elements and powers, all played a part.

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