Another Such Victory

By Long, Michael E. | Military Review, November/December 2003 | Go to article overview

Another Such Victory


Long, Michael E., Military Review


Another Such Victory

Harry S. Truman, often called the "accidental president," assumed his duties as commander-in-chief on 12 April 1945 shortly after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many modern-day presidents, and several prominent historians, refer to Truman's brusque personality and his "give 'em hell" attitude as worthy of emulation in the conduct of foreign affairs and national defense.

Arnold A. Offher's book Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953 (California, Stanford University Press, 2002) presents a new interpretation of Truman's Cold War presidency that questions his leadership abilities and job performance. Using recently declassified documents from American, Russian, Korean, and other international government archives, Offner paints a picture of Truman as "parochial and simplistic, showing little ability to comprehend the basis for other nations' policies, and demonizing the leaders of other nations who would not bend to the will of the United States."

Offner examines Truman's background and his entry into politics under the tutelage of "Boss" Tom Pendergast, the leader of Missouri democratic politics for decades. According to Offner, Truman emulated his father's hard-work ethic and often distanced himself from his peers. Thus, when entering the political arena for the first time under Pendergast, Truman demonstrated a penchant for "deferring to stronger leaders such as Pendergast or to secretaries of State George C. Marshall or Dean Acheson, whose manner and firm views he found reassuring."

Offner provides a good assessment of Truman's World War I military career. While serving in France with the 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division, Truman was initially "elected" to first lieutenant and eventually rose to the rank of major. he had the respect of his troops and always held that his "whole political career was based on his war service and army associates." Offner qualifies these remarks by informing the reader of Truman's racist epithets that popped up from time to time during his private conversations.

Offner also criticizes Truman's self-deprecating style and mannerisms. Soon after taking office, Truman frequently asked those with whom he met to pray for him. Senator Alben Barkley and assistant presidential press secretary Elben Ayers warned Truman that such comments were "eroding his executive authority."

Truman's sheltered vice presidency during the last months of Roosevelt's life eventually handicapped Truman in assuming the role of president. Offner tells his readers: "Truman did not grasp the difference between Cabinet officers-powerful figures with large constituencies, and staffers whose sole function was to serve the president." he was clearly insecure in his position and was "excessively] suspicious about government officials and private spokespeople who eventually narrow [ed] the range of views or policy options to be placed before him. …

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