tv History Bookshelf A.J. Baime The Accidental President CSPAN April 11, 2020 4:00pm-5:06pm EDT
died 75 years ago on april 12, 1945. he was serving his fourth time. het on history bookshelf, talks about his book in which he president in which he looks at the challenges president henry truman -- harry truman faced. alex: aj baime is an award-winning journalist, public speaker and occasional on-screen personality. in addition to "the accidental president," his books include "an epic quest to harm," "go like hell, forward, ferrari and their battle for speed." both of them won the kim curry award. aj is a longtime regular contributor to the wall street journal and his articles have
appeared in the new york times, popular science and men's journal. he has been a featured speaker and has appeared on numerous national tv stations including cnbc, msnbc and in various documentary, films and tv shows. is a significant amount of research. we have an archive, 15 million , oldents, crackerjack research team, he is compliment three of the truman library. credit and the praise we can get very we are grateful for aj for doing that. i like the dedication he put into this book and for those of us who have photographs and portraits of harry truman in our offices kind of resonates.
he dedicated this book to his father as follows. "to my father who has kept a portrait of harry truman on his wall for more than 40 years, which i think is a wonderful testament to our president we love so much." that is it for me. please join me in welcoming aj baime to the podium to talk about our favorite president. [applause] >> thank you, everybody. can you hear me? i want to start by saying this is a really special night for me. i -- this is my fourth book, and i travel around the country quite a bit standing on stages like this, and i've never -- there's no place in america, no place that has so much affection for a hometown hero. so just to play even the
smallest part of that celebration is a blessing. another reason why this is a really special night is because really special night is because there are a lot of people here [laughter] which is wonderful. i can remember a couple times speaking to more people than this, but only maybe one or two. and it's so much more fun to get up on the stage and talk to a crowd of people than -- i remember earlier in my career just like packed houses of empty seats everywhere you would look. [laughter] it's been a long road to get here. alex touched on something just now, another reason why this is a special night is because this book is dedicated to my father. he's supposed to be sitting right here, or right there, wherever. he can't -- he couldn't make it tonight. and i had this whole, you know, something i wanted to say, and i was kind of let down. but it turns out that we have some tv cameras here, so i can say it anyway, and he can hear it. so my father was a great man, and he mentioned the name truman in our household a lot when i was a kid. and when you're a kid, you don't
understand these things, you know, when your dad said this was a man of integrity, this was a man who made hard decisions. and all you can think about is, you know, dukes of hazard on tv, you don't care, right? [laughter] and as i got older, it resonated with me. and if he was here, what i wanted to say -- my father taught me a lot about goals and achieving goals. and what i would say, we have this saying in my family when something happens that's good and it's -- ain't life grand, i used to say, dad, ain't life grand? and if he was here, that's what i would say. so let's move on. thank you to rainy day books more hosting this event. thank you, kurt, and the truman library. i loved, loved spending time at the truman library. i spent quite a bit of time there. the archivists are amazing, and i'm so excited about kurt graham sitting here, the director of the library, the renovation that they're working on is really
exciting, and i can't wait to see it when it's done. alex, who introduced me, mary mcmurray and lacey -- at the truman library institute were so wonderful many helping to set this up. and jenny kincaid, jenny is here, she runs her own pr firm in town, and she's awesome. i want to begin my talk tonight with a parable. some of you might have heard it. it starts out, it sounds like a joke, but it's not. starts like this. two drunk guys are at a bar, and they're arguing about the existence of god. and there's a religious man, and he believes, he's a believer, and there's an atheist. and the atheist says this extraordinary thing happened to me last night. i got lost in the woods -- i got lost in the woods, and there was a snowstorm, a blizzard, and it was very cold, and i couldn't find my way out. and i started to realize that i thought maybe i was going to die. so i thought, well, what the heck, you know? i'll try this god thing out. and he gets on his knees and he prays.
and the religious man at the bar, he says, well, look at you, you're here. this is proof, right? you survived. this is proof in the existence of god, and the atheist says, well, actually, some guy just walked by and showed me the way home. so it was pure luck, right? [laughter] and the point i want to make is it's amazing how two people can look at the exact same scenario and come to such very different conclusions with such immaculate conviction, right? we see this all the time. this is really the reason why we have politics, why we have political debate, why we have political parties, why we have political philosophies and political systems and also why people like me write books, because history is a living, breathing thing. we're constantly interpreting it. so who knows what this is a picture of? this is the first atomic
explosion. it's july 16, it's just before dawn in new mexico. now, the point i want to make here is we've had 72 years to discuss the atomic bomb in world war ii, hiroshima and nagasaki. 72 years to examine the documents. we all have -- can look at the same documents, we can read the same books, and it's extraordinary that after all of these years, we don't have any sense of consensus. there is so many people out here -- out there who think this atomic bomb was the wrong thing to do, and there are so many people who think it was the right thing to do, and we believe this with such conviction. at the truman library, there's a whole section -- probably a lot of people here have seen it -- there's a notebook, and people are invited to write down what they think, whether they think this was a good idea or a bad idea and why. and when you flip through the pages, it's amazing. kurt, you probably do this every day. just go down -- people who feel so strongly. and you can tell there are a lot of kids' handwriting, why did
harry truman do this, and other people will say, well, this saved lives. what's amazing is that we still can't agree, right? i know a lot of people here in this room, i'm sure, have opinions and feel strongly about them. we're going to come back to this right here. ok. i'm calling my talk tonight this is how you earn respect in washington. [laughter] so what we're going to do is take it -- what i do in this book is look at the first four months of the truman administration. it's a very inspiring story. this is my favorite part about writing this book. one of the things we did when i was a kid at my house was watch "rocky" a lot. my dad showed us "rocky" all the time, because it was this story about a guy who comes out of nowhere and does such amazing things. and he thought this was a story that would resonate with a kid like me, especially a kid who wanted to be an athlete. and that's really the inspiring story of truman that's in this book. so we're going to look at the
image america formed of truman during the first four months in office. so let's start here. now, what is this book about? it's called "the accidental president: harry s. truman and the four months that changed the world." here in missouri we know this is the story about a man who, who was a regular person or was perceived to be a regular person, like you and me, who becomes in 1945 the most powerful man in the history of the world by accident. and those are his words, by accident. truman has no college degree. he's never had the money to own his own home. he has never met joseph stalin. he's never met winston churchill. he has no experience in high-level international diplomacy. and he's walking in the footsteps of fdr, right? we hear, we know the story so well.
i am hoping that if and when you read the book, you will learn a lot of things that you didn't know. just for the sake of this conversation getting us started, we know. truman, he had a lot to deal with. he has no understanding of the inner workings of the white house. he has very little understanding of the globalling emergency, not much more than the average person who reads "the new york times" or "the washington post" or "the kansas city star." meanwhile, at the time he becomes president he has -- this is debatable -- but arguably no information about the atomic bomb. so the thesis of this book is that the first four months of the truman presidency should be considered the most challenging of any four month period in any american presidency. on my web site, trumanbook.com, i made a little documentary, and i'm going play a little slice of it just to catalog what happens in this four months. i hope the sound is ok. let's see. >> the first moments of truman's presidency saw the collapse of nazi germany, the founding of
the united nations, fire bombing that killede cities many thousands of citizens, the liberation of nazi death camps, the suicide of adolf hitler, the assassination of benito mussolini, the capture of arch nazi war criminals are you there was the fall of berlin, victory at okinawa and the potts dam conference during which the new president sat at the negotiating table with winston churchill and josef stalin in soviet-occupied germany, in an attempt to map out a new world. humanity saw the first atomic explosion, the nuclear destruction of hiroshima and nagasaki, the dawn of the cold war, and the beginning of the nuclear arms race. aj: here's harry truman arriving for work on april 13, 1945. so we know he's an unknown quantity. the nation is in shock. fdr had just passed away, and people are very concerned because they don't really know who this guy is, right? they're very used to having fdr as their president, he's been president longer than any other
man, and roosevelt arguably is the first president to be considered a great american -- one of the great american presidents during his administration. so others have been considered one of greats after their deaths. truman -- i mean, roosevelt during his administration, arguably, was considered one of the greatest. robert nixon, white house correspondent at the time, said of truman at this moment, here was a man who came into the white house almost as though he had been picked at random off the street. [laughter] senator arthur vandenberg, republican of michigan, said on this morning in his private diary, the gravest question mark in every human heart is truman. can he swing the job? now, it's extraordinary to think that truman at 33 years old was an obscure farmer here in the state and even more extraordinary to think that at 38, he was financially in desperate straits.
how many people in this room have seen this picture? [laughter] two weeks ago i spoke at the fdr presidential library, and i asked the same question. it was about -- little more than half these people, and i got one person -- but i knew a lot of you had seen this picture. isn't it extraordinary that this man right there, he's 38 years old, and his business is going down the tubes, he has no political experience whatsoever, some years later would become the most powerful man in the history of the world? let me show you another picture. this is truman walking through the white house door on his first day of work. so how does he get here? how does this happen? naturally, in the book i spent a lot of time talking about how he gets here. i'm going to give you two numbers that give you some perspective. one is truman shocks the nation, right? at the democratic national
convention in chicago in 1944. at that time 2% of americans, 2% -- i'm sorry, i should say democratic voters thought that truman should be the vice presidential candidate on the ticket, 2%. and yet as we know because of strange things that happened -- and nobody has ever been able to to agree on exactly what happened -- truman ends up on the ticket, all right? here's another number. here's the two of these men. this is an extraordinary picture, and one of the reasons this is extraordinary is because there are very few pictures, right, that show these two men together. they really didn't know each other very well. they're sitting on the grounds of the white house under a magnolia tree planted by andrew jackson. you've heard of andrew jackson around here. they're having sardines on toast, and they're talking about the election, and roosevelt reaches for a pot of tea to pour it into harry truman's glass, and his hand is like this. he can't get the tea in the glass.
and truman, the vice president -- excuse me, vice presidential candidate, realize that this is -- he realizes, i think at that time, where this is going. at the time of the 1944 election, 55% of americans could name fdr's running mate. isn't that extraordinary? 55%, which means 45% really had no idea, literally no idea who this guy was. they win the election. 82 days later truman is walking through the white house door, right? so keep -- think about this. the nation's in shock. he's in the white house. he has to walk into roosevelt's office, and everyone -- the staffers, they don't know who this guy is. and all of the staffers kept diaries. a lot of them are in your libraries, they're so fascinating. a lot of them are published. and truman puts a sign on his desk, so i'm going to begin to make a point here. truman puts a sign on his desk, it says "always do right."
this will gratify some people and astonish the rest. [laughter] who knows who said that? here in missouri, we should know. >> mark twain. aj: mark twain. he puts a quotation in a leather portfolio on his desk, and it reads, "i do the very best i know how, the very best i can, and i mean to keep doing so to the end." that's abraham lincoln. that's truncated slightly. and he rolls up his sleeves and he goes to work. now, those same staffers and cabinet members who kept those detailed diaries who were all writing on april 13 who the -- who is this guy, right? you see the narrative unfold in their diaries. so i'm going to read some impressions of what people were thinking about truman four and five weeks into his administration. this is joseph grew who was second in command in the state department. he wrote, "nothing but the most favorable reaction. i think he is going to measure up splendidly to the tremendous
job which faces him." this is the notoriously cranky white house chief of staff, admiral william leahy. "he proved to be easy to work with and one of the nicest people i have ever known." here's another one. this is my favorite. this is assistant press secretary evan ayers. "he is capable and an extremely fine gentleman for whom everyone has the highest regard." isn't that extraordinary? think about it, how do we get to the gravest question mark in every american heart to an extremely fine gentleman for whom everyone has the highest regard in two months? that happened. so what is the answer? let's come back to the sign on the desk, always do right. this will gratify some people and astonish the rest. ruman liked to say that he aimed to, quote, live up to my mother's teachings, right? that informed all of his behavior. so the point i want to make here
is this is a man who had sort of his own human constitution. it was the fabric of the man, right? and these weren't -- this wasn't him saying this, this was other people's impression of him, which is remarkable. now, washington officials quickly realized that this was a man who could be trusted and had integrity. he could be trusted to wield this extraordinary power that he had accidentally inherited. that's how you earn respect in washington. chapter two in my little chat tonight, this is an extraordinary photograph. i grew up as a journalist -- i mean, in my career, and i had a special affection for this paragraph because i've been in so many press conferences where so many people stood up and said absolutely nothing. [laughter] what i want to make -- i'm going to talk now about truman and his relationship with the press because i think it was really important.
this picture is an extraordinary moment in our nation's history. i want to talk about truman's first press conference, but i have to do it -- this is not a picture of that. so i'm going to talk about truman's first press conference. i'm going to come back to what's actually happening in this picture. so on april 17, 1945, it's truman's fifth day, fifth full day in office. he holds his first press conference. and think for a second, there's no tv, there's no social media, so people are very, very curious about who this guy is who's their leader, right? so a record number of people show up, 348 reporters. who has been to the oval office in the truman library? imagine 348 people jamming in there. that was the scene. and i'm going to read a little bit, actually. we have the transcript, obviously, of that press conference.
so everybody piles in, and truman says, are they all in? the white house usher shuts the door, and truman says, good morning, good morning. good morning, sir, mr. president, someone yells. will you take it kind of slow for us today, please, sir? surely, surely, truman says, anything i can do to accommodate you. and everybody is looking at him and they are like, you're not roosevelt. you're standing up for starters, right? [laughter] there was a reporter in the room who later wrote in his diary we all knew that roosevelt had gone to grotten and then harvard, that roosevelt came from a quite old, well-to-do family, that he'd moved in what is known as the best circles all of his life. truman was a small town midwestern missourian of farm origin. the contrast was in appearance, voice mannerisms and even their attire. president roosevelt, while a casual dresser, was very well tailoredded. truman dressed like he had just walked off of main street in independence, missouri. [laughter]
now, truman knocked 'em dead that day. he knocked 'em dead. at the end of this press conference, this crowd of people erupted into spontaneous applause. isn't that wonderful? why? one, he was funnier. he was funnier than people thought. he was an amusing guy. two, he spoke with this -- he spoke in this way that they weren't used to. they had a question, he answered it. roosevelt, they were used to. they would ask a question, he would take, he would like take his cigarette holder like he was conducting an orchestra and never going to answer people. entrance people. no matter what you asked, he was just going to say what he was going to say. truman answered questions, right? now, he had a very tumultuous relationship with the press, and at one point truman, he compared reporters to prostitutes in his diary. [laughter] at the same time, the press loved him. cabel phillips who was a
washington times correspondent for 26 years later wrote "no president of the last 50 years was so widely and warmly liked as mr. truman." and when i think he said "liked," you can't like a president like that unless you respect him, right? so where does this respect come from? one point i want to make is that the press, as a member of the press, the press was a very different animal at the time. think about the way the press treated roosevelt. it was a tacit understanding that nobody would photograph roosevelt in his wheelchair. and reporters would not write anything about roosevelt's disability. can you imagine that happening [laughter] today everybody -- half the press would be writing about his disability to show him as weak, and the other half would be saying that his disability was a hoax and fake news. [laughter] that's what would happen today. i, as a member of the press, i can say it.
now, truman got along with the press for two reasons. one is he understood the critical role the press plays in democracy or is supposed to play, right? the press is supposed to be part of our checks and balances. a press controlled by leadership leads to autocracy and dictatorship. a press that gets filtered through social media, i don't even know what to make of that. truman once wrote when our forefathers established special guarantees for the freedom of the press, they did so not for the personal aggrandizement of the publishers, but to serve the public. now the other reason why the press loved truman is because he didn't lie to them, right? if he couldn't answer a question, he said i can't answer that question. he wrote his mother -- when i found this, i was researching, and i found this letter, and i just loved this moment. it was one of those eureka moments.
he wrote his mother during the first week of his presidency, he wrote her "i told my press secretary that my family all told the truth all the time." truman respected the press, he valued the press, and he didn't lie to the press. that's how you earn respect in washington. now, let me come back to this picture. does anybody know what's going on in this picture? it's fascinating. so the gentleman sitting down right behind truman is james burns, who's secretary of state, and truman is holding a document in his hands. and burns had just traveled through the city to deliver this document into truman's hands, and truman calls the press in. it's 7:00 p.m., i think it's august 14, 1945, and truman is announcing the unconditional surrender of japan. this is the end of the greatest catastrophe in human history. right smack in the middle of the picture is, of course, the first lady, and directly to her right
is her assistant. did i pronounce her name right? [laughter] yes, i think it's -- there's bess. so this is the extraordinary moment. this is actually like the third to last page of this book, because it is about four months, from april 12 to the end of the war. this is another extraordinary moment in our nation's history. what's going on here, it's april 16, i think, it's monday, and truman has just climbed the four stairs to the podium, and he's making his debut before the nation as the president. he's very nervous. so he stands up, he looks up into the gallery, he sees his wife sitting there, and she's sobbing. his wife is crying.
why is she crying? again, the nation's in shock. president roosevelt is dead. and it's the day -- roosevelt's funeral sort of went over a saturday and a sunday, and this is the monday, and truman has to go up there and inspire confidence in the american people, in the military and young soldiers on the front lines, and in the allies of the united states that america was going to continue the course. it was an extraordinary amount of pressure. now, bess -- it was revealed, margaret wrote in her memoirs that the first lady, even the first lady doubted in her conversations with her husband, even she doubted that this guy had the chops to do the job. so to get up there and make this speech was a very difficult moment. let's have a listen. this is -- [inaudible]
>> both germany and japan can be certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that america will continue the fight for freedom until no vestige of resistance remains. [applause] our demand has been and it remains unconditional surrender. [applause] aj: so a point i want to make is that this happened in the mid -- early afternoon. the stock market soared right after his speech. what does that tell you? i think he did a good job. [laughter] so truman inspired, he did, he pulled it off. it was a beautiful speech. one of my favorite quotes that i found during my research was in "the new yorker" where right after this speech "the new
yorkerer" wrote "roosevelt was for the people, truman is the people." right? people really identified with this man. they identified with the fact that he was an underdog, and they identified with the fact that he was one of them. now, there's another picture. this doesn't fit so neatly into my sort of narrative here, but americans -- think about it for a second here. there's no television, there's no social media, there's no cell phones. americans are reading newspapers. that's where they're getting their news, and they're listening to the radio. and there's, all the media, there's intense scrutiny about this man. everyone's wanting to find out who this guy is, and it was verying to find out that he had -- very comforting to find out that he had fought on the front lines, it was very important to people in wartime this was a man who had fought in the military. i love this picture. love this picture. two months into the truman presidency, a national poll found that an overwhelming
majority of americans, 63%, favored him as the democratic nominee for the 1948 election. think about that. two months in. two months. people didn't really know who he was two months earlier. and what's even greater, 40 points behind the number two man with 40 points behind him, was henry wallace. so 63% of americans favored him to be the democratic nominee in 1948. in that same poll, americans were asked to choose words to describe truman two months into his administration, and this is what they said. he was, quote, "fair-minded, he was a hard worker, he was a realist who looked squarely at things and seeks good advice." this is my favorite. "he has no crackpot ideas." [laughter] "he has no crackpot ideas."
three months into the administration, a gallup poll sets truman's approval rating at 87%. that's extraordinary. can you imagine that number today, 87%? the rest of that story says 10% were undecided, 3% of americans disapproved of the job that the president was doing. that's extraordinary. three months in. that's how you earn respect in washington, right? ok. now we come back to where we started. so this is the trinity shot. july 16, just before dawn. now, one thing i figured out in my research that i've never seen in any other book is that as this is happening, this is happening at just about the
exact same time because of the time difference. truman is at pottsdam, he's gone to europe, he's very uncomfortable. his diaries and his letters to his wife are fascinating about how he feels about having to go to potsdam and negotiate the history of the world -- the future of the world essentially with churchill and stalin. churchill and truman toast whiskey glasses at almost the precise moment as this is happening. of course he doesn't know what because it's such a secret that he's in the dark. he doesn't know what's happening. that's the nagasaki bomb. now, here comes the painful part of the discussion. the u.s. department of energy has estimated that the hiroshima bomb killed probably 200,000 people and maybe more. and i thought long and hard if i should say this to the hometown crowd, but you know, it's probably a fact that if we had lost the war, the hometown hero would have been executed for war
crimes. think about it. if we had lost the war, that's what would have happened. as it is, we won. we like to think ourselves as the good thing, and i think it's pretty clear in this war that we were. now still today this decision is the most controversial that any president has ever made. and we know, again as i said earlier, that truman really didn't know anything about this the night he became president. when he was with the truman committee, running the truman committee, he knew there was some strange experiment going on in washington, and he sent fred cansill out to investigate, fred cansill, fascinating character. secretary of war called him and said, please, don't investigate, and truman said, ok. he really didn't know. the night he became president, the secretary of war sat with him after he'd recited the 35-word oath and said, by the way, we have this secret project
going on, you should probably know about it. the next day james burns comes to the white house, and truman says i think i want you to be the secretary of state, and burns says, you should probably know about this secret project that's happening. it's a big weapon, and i think it's going to be very useful politically as well as in terms of this war. so it's not until april 25, truman's 13th day, that he's fully briefed on the bomb. on that day secretary of war henry stimson comes to the white house for a secret meeting with truman, and on that day stimson, secretary of war, had the document in his hand, and this is that document. it begins -- the first sentence is this. "within four months, we shall in
all probability have completed the most terrible bomb ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city." this is truman's diary. he's at potsdam. now, we know -- i mean, we have all the documentation, so we're very aware of what he knew, what the other people around him knew and what was being communicated to him. this document here, it's july 25, we know he pretty much made the actual decision and gave the orders on july 24, which happens to be my birthday, and this is his diary on july 25. the operative sentence here is "the weapon is to be used against japan between now and
august 10. i have told the secretary of war, mr. stimson, to use it so military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children." now, as writers and historians and thinkers and all of us here, there are always pieces of the puzzles missing. there's always pieces that we have to interpret. and how do we interpret those moments? you know, some people are going to say, well, there's a god. and some people say, well, i'm an atheist, and are those decisions hard-wired into us? do we think of those things because of who we are? do we make those decisions the same way we find out the color of our eyes and the size of our feet? i don't know. but we know what happened. and we can never know 100% what was going through the president's mind. but once again, it's amazing to think that this man who became,
who fell into this position had this weapon in his hands, right? now entire tomes have been written about the decision to drop the bomb. this book is not one of them, because that book had been written many times. but obviously, the narrative of the bomb figures through the first four months in the truman administration. i want to try to reduce as simply as i can my interpretation of what was going on in that man's mind at that time. in the amount of time that i have here with you today. so we know critics have said that maybe truman gave the command because americans had a gut reaction racism against japan. maybe, you know, people have said, well, we were raised -- as you look at the literature of the time, and you know, you can see why people might think that. critics have said that the bomb is less about japan than it was about power politics of the crudest kind, that we were
shooting a warning shot across the bow of the ussr in the early days of the cold war. now, let's look at this as simply as we can. the u.s. had at the time fought savagely and won at okinawa and iwo jima, and we knew -- i mean, i'm sorry, the japanese had fought savagely. we knew that they refused to surrender at iwo jima and okinawa. general marshall wrote after the war, speaking of the fire bombing of tokyo on march 9 and 10th, quote, "we had had 100,000 people killed in tokyo in one night of bombs, and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever. it destroyed the japanese cities, yes, but the morale was not affected as far as we could tell, not at all. " so we thought that they were not going to surrender. at potsdam we issued an ultimatum to japan, the three powers officially at war -- china, the united kingdom and
the u.s. in that document, the potsdam declaration, we said if japan doesn't surrender unconditionally, quote, "the alternative for japan is prompt and other destruction." -- utter destruction." and what's fascinating about that is, what i explore in the book is that document sort of came down to a single word. there was one word in that document that might have separated war from peace, and that word was "unconditional." there was a huge debate about the term unconditional surrender. we were reading -- we had intercepted japanese communications, and we knew, we knew that if we put unconditional surrender in that document, they weren't going to surrender, we were going to drop the bomb. if we took the word unconditional out, they might have surrendered. we knew that. truman was being advised by the people around him, james burns was the loudest voice in his ear, and it was clear to truman that we didn't know for sure, we didn't know whether they would
surrender or not. we knew there was going to be a political uproar in the united states, and truman was being advised by james burns and the previous -- fdr's secretary of state cordell hull, definitely don't take that word out. it would be perceived by the american people as a stab in the back to the fallen president, roosevelt. so the u.s. was planning a ground invasion of japan. june 18, 1945, truman called the meeting, brought together everybody, his best advisers, and he said how are we going to end this war with japan? and in that meeting, everybody agreed that we were going to invade japan with a ground invasion. the invasion was going to start on november 1, and it was going to involve 766,700 american soldiers. that's a lot of people. we knew from okinawa and iwo jima that it was going to be very bloody. in that meeting the secretary of
war raised his hand, and he said a lot of people in japan don't care about this war, but if we invade the homeland, women and children -- he didn't use that term, but he said, basically, everybody in japan was going to take up arms and fight. it was going to be awful. also in the meeting -- by the way, in the minutes of that meeting, you can read them online from the truman library website. they're fascinating, fascinating. nowhere in that document is the bomb mentioned because it was so secret that they were not permitted to put those discussions in the meeting minutes. we didn't know they discussed it. we didn't know at the time if it was going to work. soon after we found out it was going to work. so truman does the math. he's looking at 766,700 american soldiers. he also has this weapon in his hand. he later wrote, "it occurred to me that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood were worth a couple
japanese cities, and i still think they were and are." churchill later wrote that this, quote, supernational weapon could mean, quote, the end of japanese cities, and i still the war in one or two violent shocks. we might not merely destroy cities, but save the lives of friend and foe. the point of the bomb was to save lives. isn't that extraordinary? this is one of the two documents that truman received while the uss augusta on his
way home. it's to the president from the secretary of war. big bomb dropped on hiroshima august 5 at 7:15 p.m. washington time. 7:15 washington time on august 5 is, of course, august 6 in japan. it wasn't until truman got back to the white house that he began seeing pictures of what had happened. now, for the rest of his life, this decision weighed on him. i think -- i don't think it was as hard to make as people would imagine because it seemed like the obvious way to end the war, and that's exactly what happened. a lot of things that truman did during his presidency he said it's going to take 50 years for people to understand whether these decisions are good or bad. and this was certainly one of them. this one we still can't agree, not all of us, as to whether it saved lives or not, we can't know. as the secretary of law, henry stimson, later said the face of war is the face of death. the decision to use the atomic bomb was a decision that brought death to over 100,000 japanese -- a lot more than that. no explanation can change that fact, but i do not wish to gloss over it. but this deliberate premeditated destruction was our least abhorrent choice. our least abhorrent choice.
point is, it was a choice. i can't end this chapter of this talk with this is how you earn respect in washington, because there's so many people -- i'm sure there are people in this crowd who disagree. maybe they think that was the wrong decision to make. but what i can say is leaders, strong leaders, they make decisions, and they live with them for the rest of their lives. i want to end with a quote. when i was doing my research, i remember reading this, and this is like this great moment for me because i was like, yes, this is so brilliant and so relevant. three months into the truman administration, "the washington post" described the country's reaction to the new president in a story called "whole nation reflects era of good feeling
inspired by president." "whole nation reflects era of good feeling inspired by president." and, yeah, that story began the mood of the united states is one of extraordinary friendliness. americans appear to be more at ease with each other. they are more inclined to talk about national affairs, less inclined to argue. in short, there is a cordiality in the air that this country hasn't known in years. so i leave you, i'll end my talk and just think wouldn't -- we could use, we could use president truman again. [laughter] we could use that man. [applause] thank you very much, thank you. [applause] i encourage questions. if i can't answer them, i'll try. >> [inaudible] there was a lot of discussion about the [inaudible]
truman was very [inaudible] aj: this was an important moment. presidential succession, as we know, from looking at trump and obama sitting next to each other, it's a very tense moment always. even if it doesn't appear so. and i think that that's one of these situations where you have a religious man [laughter] and an atheist. i don't mean that literally at all. but my point is they were two people who were looking at the same situation in very different ways. i think truman was snubbed in certain ways by eisenhower, and eisenhower felt very differently. i'm interested to hear what you think, actually, about that.
>> well, i -- [inaudible] aj: and if i remember correctly -- >> repeat the question. aj: oh, yeah, yeah. sorry, sorry. yeah, that's a good point. so the gentleman was asking when eisenhower took over, there was an uncomfortable relationship between truman and, and eisenhower at that time, right? from my reading, what i understand was that eisenhower was upset because truman had invited eisenhower's son to appear at the inauguration, i think, without eisenhower's knowledge as a surprise. and eisenhower, i think, was
offended -- am i getting this correct? because -- >> [inaudible] aj: we need the mic. [inaudible conversations] >> what actually happened was during the campaign, eisenhower was visiting wisconsin, and senator joe mccarthy denounced george marshall who president truman felt was the greatest living american at the time. he said there wasn't a medal big enough for george marshall.
he had tremendous respect for him. and joe mccarthy -- and we all know who joe mccarthy was -- he denounced george marshall as a communist sympathizer, etc., etc. so truman was very upset that eisenhower running -- he was the republican candidate for president -- did not stand up and defend george marshall. who is the fella that made eisenhower the allied supreme director during world war ii. aj: at the same time -- >> this was the origin of the confusion of their relationship deteriorating. because up to that point, president truman had great respect for eisenhower and made him the head of nato in 1950. aj: sure. i mean, there's a great moment in this book where truman is, he has a day off from the potsdam conference because churchill has to go back and find out in
london if he's, in fact, still the prime minister because there was an election going on. so he flies up to frankfurt, and he spends this wonderful day with eisenhower. eisenhower just, you know, was this massive american hero at the time. and he says to eisenhower in the car, i would do anything for you. i would give anything for you, i would do anything -- i'm trying to remember the quote exactly. i would give you anything -- do anything for you and that includes making you the president of the united states. and he said i would give it to you now if i could. [laughter] which is fascinating. but there is more to -- i mean, there's a long, there was a lot going on there. and there's this great picture in the library, in the truman library, of eisenhower giving his inaugural address, and truman is sitting next to him, and truman's posture, you can tell that he's fuming. there's smoke coming out of his ears. it was not a comfortable relationship. >> one thing i was going to say,
it's interesting that half of all casualties in the pacific theater of war starting with pearl harbor occurred in truman's first three months as president. so that's a pretty remarkable number. so probably he was thinking should we let this trend continue, or should we avoid -- as you pointed out -- an invasion in the home islands of japan? aj: and that's a very good point. i mean, truman became president on april 12, and the battle of okinawa, if memory serves me correctly, was april 1. and we sent our troops in there, and it was a disaster to begin with. i mean, it was -- bill sloan wrote a wonderful book about this. he called it "the last great human battle of this kind in our history." it was a very bloody ordeal, and i think, you know, you can read the documents of what the
information that the president was receiving, and you can imagine how he would not want to put 766,700 american troops through that. >> sir? truman authorized the bomb without really knowing what its effects would be. do you think those in washington today understand that these are not toys? [laughter] [applause] aj: let me speak bluntly. [laughter] as someone who -- let me just say this. i have never in my lifetime been so shocked than i was by reading the communications between the president of the united states and the leader of north korea right now.
potentially hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of lives at stake. my kids are growing up in california. we're not far. and when i see tweets, you know, that are with, that are provoking an insane, nuclear-armed man, i don't even -- that's as much as i have to say on the subject. there's nothing more to say. thank you for your question. [applause] >> prior to 1944 when truman accepted the nomination for vice president in the democratic party, did mr. truman ever express, to your knowledge, any ambition to be anything other than just a senator from the state of missouri? for example, did he want to become majority leader? did he will express a desire to
become president or governor of missouri, or was he satisfied at that time simply to be ad good -- to be a good senate from missouri? aj: he was adamant that he did not want to be the vice presidential candidate. when you read -- there's tons of oral histories, and there is so much written about this, and you can see there are a lot of people who will say, well, he didn't say it. i don't think so. i mean, he was adamant that he didn't want that job. and i think that his crowning moment was the truman committee. the work that that committee did -- ok, so the truman committee, most of us know, was this special committee to investigate the national defense effort. truman created this committee to figure out how -- ok. how do i condense this? we were recreating our massive economy to make our economy something it had never been before, to join free enterprise, government and military into one
fighting force so our whole nation would be this fighting force. and his committee was this investigative body to make sure that that happened the best that it could. and i think at the time he was very stressed out. he worked so hard that he ended up in the hospital. through the truman library, we even have the doctors' reports in 1943. we know what his blood pressure was, we know what his heart rate was, the jottings of the doctor is fascinating. he was so satisfied with the work that he had done with that committee, to my knowledge, he had no desire, none, to move on from that. and neither did his wife, i can tell you that. [laughter] >> aj, this is our last question. [inaudible] >> just a little more context on the dropping of the bomb.
general curtis lemay had a big program of fire bombing the cities of japan. and so, i mean, you spoke that it was sort of an exceptional, horrible thing that we dropped the bomb. well, we were doing lots of horrible things. and should you -- i don't have the numbers, but could, i suspect perhaps you do? could you discuss general curtis lemay's program? aj: that's a great question, and i do go deep in this book because -- so the question was about general curtis lemay's fire bombing, fire bombings. one of my favorite parts of my research was going through lemay's papers and finding these documents where he's talking about -- prior to them happening -- very deliberate documents of instructing pilots how to drop these canisters of these fire bombs so that the fires set by
all of the canisters would join. and so the pilots were told how much acreage each bomb could burn so that all of the bombs would join and burn tokyo to the ground. and there were fire bombings on the -- >> [inaudible] aj: right. so at the beginning it was the 9th and 10th of march, and then i think on the 19th of march, i think. and then they ran out of fire bombs. and it so happened that the day truman became president, lemay had a new stock of fire bombs, and we dropped them. so as he was taking the presidential oath, tokyo's on fire. that happens in chapter one. and i bring this up in the end -- the epilogue, and my point is there were critics, all of these critics, and i bring up in here the white house chief of staff, admiral leahy, who thought the atomic bomb was a bad idea. we had been fire bombing
s in japanopulation all up until that point, so how do you say it was the wrong thing to do when we had already been doing this in a different format all through june and july? i don't know. the answer to that is the atomic bomb, the achievement of atomic science and weaponizing, it was such a shock that we're still talking about it. but you're right, in fact, this was all happening all through the four month the first four , months of truman's already in a different format. so i don't know how you can criticize, you know, the atomic bomb when, you know, we were already burning these cities to the ground, city after city. it's an interesting point. >> gives him a hand. [applause] [inaudible]
>> for those of you [inaudible] please come down to the far wall. thank you so much for coming by the way. thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer 1: history bookshelf features the best known american history writers of the past decade talking about their books. you can watch our weekly series every saturday 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3.
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♪[music] >> we are now in this war. it.e all in all the way. andy single man, woman child is a partner in the most of ourous undertaking american history. the badshare together news and the good news, the victories, the changing fortunes of war. >> to fight a global war, the united states needed to mobilize population, what became known as the home front. the government turned to leaders oftizens and large corporations to help lead the mobilization effort. response was astounding. american wartime production 299,000 more than 1,500ft, 630,000 jeeps, naval vessels, six and a half
rifles and 40 billion bullets. by 1945, the united states was of all allied munitions and 40% of the world's weapons. was asked topublic conservative scarce goods for use.ary products ranging from gasoline to sugar were rationed. drove less, ate meat less and often drank less coffee. children organized grabs to salvage metal and rubber, while their parents planted victory gardens and purchased billions of dollars worth of war bonds. millions of americans began paying federal taxes for the controlme and to inflation, the government put limits on wages, prices and rents. president and mrs. roosevelt were at the forefront of this national mobilization effort, setting priorities and focusing attention on the goals of total victory. bonds, hadsed war blackout shades hung on their windows and committed the white
wartime rationing. the couple's four sons all served in america's military. during the war, mrs. roosevelt continued the ceaseless acts had long marked her as america's first lady. she was outspoken in her support gender equality, she championed the airmen, women in the armed services and the right of workers to organize. visited england and offered support to america's allies and returned with reports for f.d.r. a year later, she conducted a the southe tour of pacific as a representative of the american red cross. traveled indy military transports, putting her camps. to visit military during her trip, she saw an estimated 400,000 american servicemen and women. need for war workers created economic opportunities for women
minorities. after being threatened by black onders with the march washington, f.d.r. moved to confront racial discrimination industries by issuing an executive order, which barred racial plants.nation in war to enforce it, he created the fair employment practices commission. program thisfull sunday at 4 p.m. eastern here on american history tv. >> tonight at 11 eastern, watch discussing pandemics. >> so what happens now when we contagiousaks of disease, we don't really look for the social and political roots. those epidemics to erupt. people get sick. then we hope that we can throw atficient vaccines and drugs it to make it go away. >> should not be surprising that talk about ebola, somehow very quickly the animal
into play.comes with zika, obviously it's with mosquitos. which are, it's bats, the original cause of where this virus lives, infects somebody, you then spread out the chain of transmission in humans. >> there is nothing about this that suggests anything other than a natural mutation and is a reminder that we don't need all kinds of series of biological warfare to really explain something that is natural. be a wake-upould call to all of us. 9 p.m. easternt on afterwards, netflix director u.n.clusion and former official michelle king with her fix."ccoun "the >> we're often in denial about the challenges women face at work, that people assume workplaces are -- this belief that everybody is the same everybody is treated in the same way, and so people