Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy since 1945

By John Lewis Gaddis; Philip H. Gordon et al. | Go to book overview

2
Longing for International Control, Banking on American Superiority: Harry S. Truman's Approach to Nuclear Weapons

S. DAVID BROSCIOUS1

IN late August 1945 Harry Truman confronted one of the less onerous tasks bequeathed to him by his predecessor -- redesigning the presidential seal and flag. Apparently, as a point of protocol, Franklin Roosevelt had been irritated by the fact that five-star generals possessed one more star on their shoulders than did the existing presidential emblem. 2 Consequently, he ordered a new design. Unfinished at the time of Roosevelt's death, the project fell into Truman's lap. The new emblem presented to Truman on 26 August contained two basic alterations. First, to placate Roosevelt, the old four-star pattern was replaced by one displaying forty-eight stars encircling the traditional eagle. Second, to symbolize the end of World War II, the eagle's head was rotated from right to left, thus casting the bird's gaze away from the arrows in its left talon and toward the olive branch in its right. According to Clark Clifford, Truman liked the modifications but suggested one change of his own: 'he wanted to have lightning emanating from the arrowheads in the left claw of the eagle as a "symbolic reference to the tremendous importance of the atomic bomb".' Although Clifford was able to convince the president that such an addition would mar the aesthetic quality of the seal, he contends that Truman's idea 'told more than [the president] publicly acknowledged about the impact the bomb had had on his thinking'. 3

Clifford's story substantiates what is commonly assumed -- that the advent of the atomic bomb powerfully affected Harry Truman. Yet the anecdote reveals precious little about how the atomic bomb shaped Truman's thinking. Historians of the Truman administration have not fared much better in this regard. The precise boundaries of the bomb's influence on Truman's intellectual framework and, consequently, on his diplomacy, remain uncharted. 4 Furthermore, no effort has been made to establish the relationship between

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