One reason for the prevalence and tenacity of popular misconceptions about the use of the bomb is the mythology that has surrounded the central figure in the decision, President Truman. Truman won greater affection and esteem from the American people after his presidency, and especially after his death, than he ever achieved when he occupied the White House. In the public image of his performance as president that gradually emerged after he left office, he was honest, forthright, confident, and decisive (guided by the sign on his desk, “The Buck Stops Here”). In popular perceptions, he was, despite his limited formal education and executive experience, instinctively right in his policy judgments, using down-to-earth common sense to address complicated issues.
This image of Truman, while not totally inaccurate, is deceptively incomplete. His honesty was often tempered by political considerations. His bluntness could be indiscreet or needlessly offensive. His decisiveness could lead to superficial or impulsive judgments. And his confidence was often a show that disguised insecurity and self-doubt. Historian Alonzo L. Hamby, the most perceptive analyst of Truman’s personality, has described him as loyal, considerate, thoughtful, and courageous, and at the same time, petty, vindictive, thin-skinned, and suspicious. “It will not do to ask which was the real Harry Truman,” Hamby has observed. “Both