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tv   The Presidency Jeffrey Frank The Trials of Harry S. Truman  CSPAN  October 27, 2022 3:16pm-4:16pm EDT

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at 12:30 pm eastern, on the presidency, house speaker nancy pelosi, along with the mystery -- unveil a bronze statue of harry truman to the u.s. capitol rotunda. and on 1 pm eastern, to mark the 50th return of american p.o.w.'s from vietnam and that each of the three, author -- talks about their harrowing experience and the work of a national league of p.o.w. mia falies to bring them home. exploring theamerican story, watch american history tv, saturdays, on c-span two. and find a full schedule on your program guide, or watch online anytime, at slashes. three weekends on c-span two are an intellectual fst. every saturday, american history tv documents america story. and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span two comes
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from these television companies and more, including charter communications. >> broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charger has invested billions. building infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity, and communities big and small. charter is connecting. >> charter communications, along with these television companies, supports c-span 2 as a public service. >> well, today, we have a fascinating book. i think you will enjoy. jeffrey frank is a former senior editor at the new yorker, and deputy editor of the washington post outlook section. currently contributor to the new yorker, and has written for washington post, wall street journal, the guardian, forum, vogue, and other publications. he is the author of, a portrait of a strange political marriage,
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he has written for novels, among them, a washington trilogy, and he is coauthored with diana crump free on the translation of hans christian anderson's stories. one of the 2014 anton's christian anderson cries. his latest book? the trials of harry truman. so, we move there. the extraordinary presidency of an ordinary man, 1945 to 1953. simon -- issues the publication, 528 pages, illustrated, and is $32.50. you will get a book plate, they'll be author starts coming around in our studio, you will get a book plate that's fine, if you order a book from us, and he will get one of these special book plates that's our -- i love the dust jacket. i want to ask, did the beatles
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steal this image? [laughs] >> it's a wonderful picture. it's a little bit of a cheat, because it was taken after he was president, but there he is, walking in independents square in downtown, independents. and that is the way -- that's where he appeared. if you are out walking out of sight, as he was out of time, tourists would've loved to have seen more of him. he wasn't going to go out and walk around for them. >> we were speaking before our show, in that we noticed the period, which we never thought was there. when you would tell us he had done that once in the truman library, was this correct? >> i asked them. i said, could we settle this once and for all, or at least, temporarily, as there's a lot of evidence with -- that in the first place, truman signed the same with the s sometimes. sometimes, his name would get scrunch together and you couldn't see.
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but i think, for ponderous of the evidence, it actually does not stand for any particular name. he had two grandparents, but they were real people. so, bs without a period would look completely out. so, truman started putting it in. i go along with the archivist in the independents. >> i found this, jeff, excellent. read truly was. especially with all the posts that helped the narrative move along. so, i enjoyed reading from things that were behind the scenes when i was a child. so, it was really interesting to dive into this. now, i wanted to ask you, there were many, many books on harry truman. david collects, especially. what brought you to this book? why truman now, and how does this book differ from previous
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books on harry truman? >> i -- is because by all biography of truman. this is a biography of the presidency. it's more limited. book though, -- previously -- world war i, to the pendergast pashinyan and salon. also, i realized, more and more as i thought about it. , two things, i finish this book on eisenhower and nixon. i thought, that i found truman kept showing up. he was, something, in a sense, truman was a natural trickle too -- and i just thought everything, our entire world, was in that period. and i didn't realize it until i started getting into it. it was seven years. i had cold feet more than once. this was everything happening. everything happens. two wars and it. the adam bomb was dropped, for the first and last time ever.
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nato was formed. civil rights -- truman started pushing for civil rights, though he was not a great supporter of -- he was brought up in a segregationist environment, but he did it anyway. everything we have today, the nato alliance, and this sort of shape of american politics was formed than, too. >> yes. >> we had a democratic party that doesn't exist anymore, but you can sort of see the new republican party, the -- and after the 1948 election, when the south walked -- >> the democratic party and the republican party of this day, neither of them are the same today. >> no. no. >> so, things have changed. what was his education? you write there were gaps. where did those gaps reveal
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themselves? what were the consequences of that, as his life went on? >> he really was -- shot and autodidact, but he read and read and read. he didn't always read it the way we would read it, but he read it with an extraordinary interest. i found one letter right at the middle of the korean war, he was discussing ancient greece. he couldn't stop. he was definitely someone who was deeply engaged by the presidency. former presidents fascinated him, and he would actually, in his diaries, would write about the ghost of andrew johnson walking through the white house, or that. he was very moving. he felt that part of this, and he also felt that he was separate from. this he would say that i always remember harry truman, and the
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presidents, and the person sitting in this chair could be the president in my lifetime. he was separating himself from the office. he had real reverence for the office. >> you just said something before about southern quality is imbued in him. we, of course that the abraham lincoln bookshop, study the civil war. but truman's people lived through the confederacy and the war. what southern thoughts were imbued in truman when he was a kid? in kansas, nebraska, the troubles still resonated in his household growing up. how did it be around? that >> he didn't. i think his grand view was miles from lawrence, kansas, where they have the massacre. and he grew up in a house of confederate sympathies. he had confederate sympathies.
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but he evolved, as we would say today. he never evolve to the point where he wanted social equality with blacks and whites, but he wanted fairness. he wanted fairness, and he was deeply moved by the brutality of the lynchings in the south, and by a particular case where a gi coming back from the war, who was blinded, intentionally blinded, by a sheriff in south carolina. that got to him. by 1947, despite the complaints of one of his sisters, who said harry will never do this, he actually came out very strongly for what was then a real change in civil rights. interstate travel, he actually appeared on the stage with eleanor roosevelt and the naacp,
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and -- this was a real step forward for him. he actually commissioned a panel on civil rights. so, it was something for his background. he never got over his attitudes. he never liked the idea of interracial marriage. he couldn't stand. that but he wanted -- he understood he had a certain duty to history, and he tried to do the right thing. he really wanted everyone to have an equal chance. that was real. >> i was going to ask this a little later on, but since you brought it up, how often did he really interact with minorities? i'm thinking of two that really feature in your book. one, of course, african americans. you just spoke about that. how about the jewish population? you have a partner who was jewish, and that certainly interceded in certain areas when he was president. but did he have a life with minorities at all? >> you've got no catholics
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during the first world war, and he almost joined the ku klux klan, long, long before when he found out they didn't want to help catholics. he wanted no part of it. he had lots of jewish friends. i found it was interesting, i don't know whether you spotted it, it was in the prologue, and i -- tracked it down, it was a story in the kansas city star, he was elected to something, and he would go to passover and independents with a jewish friend, and this was -- are there any jewish people and independents, and that was one of truman's friends. and his friendship with eddie jameson was -- he had no social interaction with blacks. >> yeah -- >> none, actually he felt -- he felt fairly towards walter, why that is for sure he felt extremely angry about powell. howell had called and referred
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to -- as the last leg, not the first lady it was something she had done. >> yeah. tell us about his character. he certainly was a direct person. and usually honest. i know that with abraham lincoln, with one of his colleagues and private protector. he said that link instructs the truth when necessary. what about truman? what was his character like? >> truman was good to the truth to. he would also remember things that never happened. i was fascinated to find in one of his late books, he carefully described a conversation he had with roosevelt discussing history. roosevelt had never, would have never had a conversation like that. they had one meeting together, a lunch in august of 1944 before the election. he would show up at the white house but truman wanted this to
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happen. he wrote it as it had happened. i would say it was many years later that he wrote about. it he really wanted -- so, that really meant a lot. he would definitely stretch the truth. he would also inflate himself. there was an early meeting with molotov who was the prime minister for the soviet union, this was crystal after roosevelt's death that he referred to a conversation. it was not a pleasant conversation. truman said he gave a right left to the jaw. and that never happened. he did have this capacity, this -- to inflate his -- what he said and did in private. he could stretch the truth somewhat, to. but deep down he was an honorable man. that is the thing, that is why you end up liking him. that's why i ended up liking him. >> did his character about being so direct, did that get in conflict with others because of that? they couldn't see past that?
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>> sure, i mean it also helped him, it helped him with the voters sometimes. of course is directness, his temper jeffrey frank revisits harry could've also got him in trouble. truman's presidency, including when i the end of world war ii, was at the washington post and paul he was alive, i never asked him about that famous letter that truman sent. i was speaking about another example. he certainly was, again he would inflate himself and there was no question after the war when he met with churchill and stalin. he would in his diary and his letters say he told stalin this and i'll tell him where to get off and he would get off. well if you look at the transcript of the potsdam conference, which are not perfect, but there's not a hint of any of that. in fact, he was always full of nice things about stalin, uncle joe. he always thought that storm was being run by this mysterious politburo, as if
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stalin was helpless before their power. >> how did churchill and stalin treat him? he was new to things when he had to meet them at the beginning of the presidency. it wasn't done yet, but how did they treat him? >> i think churchill that really mistreated by roosevelt and stalin at yalta they treated truman with great deference. he was, after all, the president of this wealthy, powerful emerging -- urgently powerful, is that award? a powerful nation. it was something that churchill really, really put on truman for the future of england the united kingdom was dead broke. he actually said at one point, we are going to need your help it almost sounds like a senator from a state hit by a tornado asking for national emergency.
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stolen it is tough, i don't think stalin much like dimmer had great deal of respect for him. he would become impatient with him. as a particularly -- that was only time they ever met. he definitely got angry with him. and from afar because after his confrontation with his prime minister, molotov. and also he got very upset with truman, understandably so. truman invited churchill to come to the states and sat on the stage. churchill basically attacked russia. >> yeah. >> but they were deferential to him. they understand that the world had changed. and they also understood that america had, for a while, america was the power. america was the only nation they have an atomic bomb. that counted for a lot. >> yeah, you have a wonderful photograph in your book of lincoln in a car during berlin and it reminded me very much of
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abraham lincoln who toured richmond right after the war. so, the war was still going on but he went there at the end of march beginning of april. so, i can only think of that watching this. what were truman's thoughts on this visit to berlin? did it change anything? did it angered him? how did he feel? >> it's interesting, i kept hoping that he would say something really interesting. he just said he chosen people -- this kind of tragedy happened, he wasn't very interested on the subject. he didn't see terribly moved about what he had seen either. others i mean, germany, berlin was basically rubble. people were -- you would see this in some amazing footage from that period. you can just watch people lining up in passing food and water, rocks and so on. and churchill actually rather enjoyed it i think, after having -- what he had been through.
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so, i couldn't compare it to lincoln's visit to richmond. first, lincoln was visiting -- it was his countryman still. he was their president. this is the enemy, the really hated enemy. and so, i think truman just said well, this is what happens if you overstep. and as he did -- >> did he go through any of the camps at the time? >> eisenhower did. i think eisenhower came out for his first time the churchill and said, do you hate them now? he was talking about the germans. >> right, exactly. >> yes? >> i'm sorry. he wouldn't shake the hand of the man that came to bring the peace treaty? i have a it's for robert to be,
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a friend of his. it is 53. i want someone to read this. very much, your first editorial which was not imposed u.s. directed me to read it but i didn't. i don't seem to have had an opportunity, and then he says because toby was taking over a daily enterprise be sure to pay a lot of attention to look at a situation with parties, weddings, funerals, valedictorians. parent teacher associations the politics, it's a national issue roger this is an ignoramuses talking to an expert. how is his humor like coming to this -- >> his humor was --
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i think there was one place where he talks about the people turning to see the present when it comes to town. coming out to see the cardiff giant when he shows up. he makes one of himself and the idea of people coming out to see a great man. he had a great sense of humor, and it came through all the time. even unintentionally. i love that there were these two very powerful columnists joe alsop and stuart alsop, and he called them the sop sisters. it was very funny and almost inadvertant. he liked them, and he had that talent. >> before we get to the presidency, which is your book, the theme of it, tell us how he came up through the pendergast machine, and tom pendergast. of course, he got into the senate partially because of them. but he seemed to pull himself away from that in a second term. how did he do that? how did he blossom in the senate? and is there anything to see that in
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the pendergast time? was there a shadow of who become the presidency? >> he was loyal to the pendergasts. that's where he won his senate seat. they put a picture of tom pendergast on the wall. he owed a lot of people for his first senate seat. he owed a lot of people who found votes where they might not have been. he came to town he was looked at as a provincial in debt to the machine. but i think his real breakthrough was when he became a real senator in a second term, he just squeaked by again, and that was when he started the truman committee, which was looking at waste and fraud. that was before the war. then he kept it up during the war, to. it sent millions of dollars, and it was the real thing. and he got on the cover of time magazine. so, the truman committee was really something and that made him much more of a national figure, and then he became a real senator, trying to get real legislation passed, and that was something that in the first term, you didn't see so much of it. he had a great
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time as vice-president, he had three months of parties. having opera singers sit on the piano while he played and so on, that was great. being a senator was also fun for the first three months. and then suddenly, sorry for the cliché, the roof fell in on him. >> yeah. well, he was kind of schizophrenic about regarding himself when he became president and the office he held. he had to keep reminding himself, as you write, that he was president when reacting to events. did he find it difficult to keep his personal feelings from intruding in either policy or meeting with individuals, and remember, oh yes, i'm the president, i can't just go off on people? >> yeah, i'm not sure. i think he was pretty direct. i don't really know what his personal feeling was. the only big case i can think of was with the recognition of israel. that fascinates me, because i do think it was personal. i do think that eddy jacobson had a
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role. margaret truman, his daughter said that's nonsense, but it's not. nonsense. from all i can see, he visited truman fairly frequently. he visited truman in key west, which was something that people, outsiders and lobbyists and so on wouldn't do. he really liked him. and i think he was very
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affected personally by the sight of the refugees in europe after the war. so that was personal, that was real. and i think that was the only time where he went against the advice of dean acheson, who >>
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the committee picked him as first choice, but sherman basically said that they're going to go ahead. he couldn't resist the general. years and years of planning, he was persuaded that a half million lives could be saved. it really was not a decision. in fact, i'm not even sure that he gave the decision for the nagasaki bomb. his biggest role as commander-in-chief was korea, and that was a big deal! >> i wanted to get to that. i did want to show, since i have it here over my shoulder, the
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famous chicago newspaper, the tribune made this mistake -- dewey defeats truman. it's interesting, it was put together very quickly in the early morning hours here in chicago, and harry tribolet, their stringer in washington called them and said, no, it ain't true! don't do it. they had already gotten this out to the suburbs. in michigan, the outer suburbs got these early newspapers. that is why chicago did not get this. there had been a newspaper employee strike so some of this is upside down! they put it together so quickly. the editors came down there and they put it together, they did it wrong in some instances. i once had one of these years ago, wish i had it back. a couple of them where truman had signed the newspaper. but one of them, someone knew both dewey and truman. and so he had, he went to truman, and truman signed. this was a mistake, harry truman. and then dewey, the only one he signed, it said, it
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sure was! thomas dewey. but truman did sign, he was in missouri when he got one of these papers. he signed it. the photograph came from a newspaper itself. he signed many of these. really briefly, how come dewey didn't defeat truman? >> because truman got more votes. [laughs] >> okay, that's easy enough. >> really, was it wasn't even close! that was the interesting thing about it. it wasn't even close. truman won -- he lost in congress in 46. terrible, terrible defeat, a vote of no confidence, almost. in 1948 he got the senate and the house back, along with winning the presidency. it was a great victory for him. that paper is really, that's a beautiful copy you have. the copy of the truman library is more beat up nowadays. and there are very, very few of them. as you said they were just sent out to the suburbs. the very early additions, you're right. >> you know, there are going to be fewer as time goes on. the
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paper, newspapers are acidic. the pulp paper. >> i know. >> they are just going to continue to eat themselves out from the inside. it's gonna take a while, but it's going to be done. you get letters or newspapers from george washington's era, or abraham lincoln's era, they're in perfect condition since they're rag. these need to be deacidified if you're going to keep them. since we're talking about newspapers, let's talk about the press. what was his relationship with the press before the presidency and during it during news conferences, and potentially after? what was his relationship with the press
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going on? >> i love this subject, stop me if i go on too long! he had, he basically had a press conference almost every week. and i think he kind of enjoyed it. he enjoyed reporters, he was friendly with some of them. they gave him a tough time, but they knew him, they recognized socially, who they were. he didn't much care for the columnists. they had someone, as they say he called the alsop brothers the sop sisters. walter lipman he just couldn't stand. walter lipman turned at the very end, he began to find some virtues and truman. but he thought he was just a mediocrity. the average reporters who hadn't gone to college. who were working for not much money, who were slaving every day -- truman liked them and they liked him! it showed. he did not duck them. the idea that, he actually said in his last press conference, nothing is more valuable -- i'm paraphrasing but he the value of being able to act a president directly, face to face, a question. that
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is a very amazing ability we have in this country. he kept that going. he did not care for the owners. he did not care for hearst. he didn't care for roy howard, the scripps howard people. he didn't care for the columnist, they were often from a different social class than truman and that showed. >> we write about his last presidential year, the last month certainly. he wasn't exactly himself in what way how did affect his decisions, how did it affect his relationship with the press as well? >> there was one press conference, towards the end he was very shaky. he didn't seem to know -- something he was recalling, he had given stalin an ultimatum, he hadn't given an ultimatum. he got sick. he had a terrible flu, i think in
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the summer of 52. then he had the steel strike which didn't have to happen. he seized the steel factories and the supreme court basically said, no. this is a supreme court, his appointees the roosevelt appointees, one justice compared -- this is the sort of thing that george the fifth would do. and so, he had a very shaky last term and then korea wasn't going well either. it was going better than the worst time of, the fall and winter of 1950 when it looked like it could all go bad. that was when the chinese came into it, despite warnings. >> you mentioned that, in here how he did not travel to -- he did certainly travel to be with mcarthur. that was very consequential, i presume, not
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only to this relationship in politics, but afterwards, but also to the war, how did that go? >> i'm not sure -- i don't know why, he actually traveled by propeller plane to wake island and back. he spent maybe four or five hours there, macarthur was at a meeting, an all hands meeting. a couple of rides, nothing was accomplished! truman had an election coming up. that did not help him. i'm not sure what it accomplished. but truman said it was important for me to meet my general and talk to him. nothing changed. afterwards they claim that he had been betrayed by macarthur. >> he didn't go to korea to see him. >> no, no. >> you do mention that -- perhaps if he had seen it and how close china is, perhaps he would have not put both feet
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into the war. >> he might have. they met -- the thing that is important to remember when they met on wake island, it was just a month after mcarthur's great victory of inchon. it was a spectacular victory. a landing, he basically -- some people think the war was actually won, could've been won. then mcarthur decided he was going to conquer all of korea. then disaster followed. he, in all kinds of ways -- it's a war that i can get obsessed about. when i get over there i am not good looking at maps. one of the invaluable things for me was flying over the place, seeing this country. with mountains, it was a terrible place to fight a war! before it was all over, people forget -- people call it the forgotten war. it is not forgotten by the people who were there! there are fewer of them now. 37,000
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americans were killed in the korean war. i don't know how many countless number koreans, probably 1 million chinese. when it was all over nothing had changed. except the koreans had a slight advantage. they got one city more than they had when they started. there was a terrible, terrible, terrible war. when he met macarthur, he assured him that the chinese were not going to come in. he said it would be a big slaughter if they did. it was a slaughter, all right. it almost ended the war in the wrong way. >> the korean memorial is wonderful in washington. i think every american should go, to understand the korean war just from that memorial. >> i. agree >> a very affecting and emotional. >> i went to the war museum in seoul, korea. this wasn't our war, it was their war, too. before it was all over there
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was basically nothing left in north korea. every village, every town had been burned on macarthur's orders. south korea as well had just extraordinary devastation. it's so far away, we don't realize what a terrible, terrible, war it was. >> were the south korean -- were the south koreans now, they were happy we were there? >> i think, i think -- i think they are happy now. >> that's what i mean. >> yeah, and i say -- in some way you could call, what is the problem with having this war? south korea is great. but there could have been a south korea is great at making hyundai and samsungs -- without that. i think the war could've ended in september of 1950. >> there are so many great stories in this book. so many terrific quotes. as i mentioned in the beginning, the quotes
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just drive the narrative, drive the reading. one that was kind of interesting, i had a note about korea and about nukes as well. i never heard the story, just a short paragraph in the book but it hit me that al gore senior, we know al gore junior, but al gore senior proposed an atomic death belt in between south and north korea. did truman know of that idea? to the express any thoughts on that? >> i don't hear any thoughts. lyndon johnson, senator johnson wanted to bomb them with nukes too. that hasn't changed much, has it? easier to be a senator to propose a war policy than to actually make a decision. >> truman thought that the cold war, though, was one of his legacies. is that correct? >> [inaudible] >> his part in it helped set the stage for what eventually occurred? >> i think he considered, the truman document which is basically stopping the
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expansion of soviet russia, they never got into western europe for example. i think he considers that -- no, i think he considered his legacy nato, which has been a huge success. as you know, when it began to expand 25 years ago, george kennan, the author, the father of the containment, he thought it was the most dangerous and reckless thing that we've done on foreign policy since the war. but that is another story. truman was not part of that. the marshall plan was a great, great, achievement. again, it wasn't truman's idea! but he certainly got out of the way and let it happen. he also was smart enough to let it be called the marshall plan. [laughs] not the truman plan. this was after the republicans had taken over the house and senate for the first time since 1928. >> do you think that madison
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and marshall led truman through the war more than truman led them to the war. they knew him, he thought that they had ideas that he should follow? >> i hadn't thought of it that way. i don't think he would've used the word they let him, but he listen to them. basically, i can't think of anything -- apart from the recognition of israel, where he disagreed with them. i think there is no question that they guided him and help to make decisions. >> you as a historian looking back, do you think that they did lead him? >> yeah, i mean -- sure. actually they did, in that sense. i think truman, basically, they led him because i think he knew that he would listen to them. in that sense they let him. but they realized, he was the president! they had to let him lead. although they kind of pushed him in the right
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direction. george kennan once said that it was truman had only one adviser, and that was dean atchison. >> i have behind me a set of his memoirs. truman wrote after the presidency, of course. those two volumes. he and herbert hoover lived long lives! they were happy to sign everything that was put before them so these books are not rare to find inscribed people, he was happy to do it. same with hoover, as i mentioned. how was his writing in this? is it all his writing? did he, what was he saying about those who were enemies or friends before? did he make any new enemies writing this diary? >> i think he reawakened some old enemies. the writing is not
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very good, and he had a lot of help. the parts where i think the real truman comes through was whenever he would let loose on henry wallace or james byrd. he would never -- and then eisenhower, he would let eisenhower have it. from the 52 campaign when eisenhower ran against adlai stevenson, and truman and he had always had a very respectful relationship. then it all changed. i think truman was personally deeply offended when eisenhower didn't come to the defense of general marshall, when mccarthy attacked. he would call marshall -- the essence was, morally bankrupt. so there was no forgiveness possible and he let truman have it in the memoirs. eisenhower and he were not fond of each other by that time. it was sort of a reconciliation but not a real one after that. that is where
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truman's real voice comes through, where he is letting you know how he feels about him. >> that is kind of nice to read just for that. but you write that he demonstrated impressive self awareness and a talent for self invention. so maybe elaborate on both of those points. >> well, the self invention is the idea that he was this barefoot from missouri who just took over and became a great commander. it wasn't quite like that, and he did have a lot of help. and i think he acknowledged that. what was the other thing you were saying?
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>> well, how he -- his expectations were in there as well. >> i think he was -- when he wrote these memoirs, he was a much more confident person than he was when roosevelt died. so he was able to rewrite history. i did this, i did that, i decided this. >> he was inward looking, as well? >> not really, that wasn't truman's strength. but he was outward looking, and since he was the office and it was his history, he could describe himself as making big decisions, as making good decisions, as changing the world. he could have this confidence. his -- history's view of him was already beginning to change by the time these books were published in 1955. he was a far more confident person about himself and his role in history than he was when he left office. >> well, what about the legacy? biographers certainly have been looking at it for a long time. they didn't think there was greatness in him. how did his legacy change? in his last year, for instance, his shakiness, did that impinge upon biographers? how did that
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legacy change? today we have a different feel for him. >> i do think that almost right away, there were some people that were beginning to say that he is bigger than we think he is, and so on. and he definitely grew, he grew as time went on and he grew in the estimation of more and more people. i think david mccullough's book was very important in saying, well, let's give him credit for this, that and the other. i think people were already recognizing the marshall plan, nato, and so on, that these were all programs that were his legacy. and the fact that there had not
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been a major war. korea is the one big blot, to me, on his presidency, because it didn't have to happen. not in that way. i think we had to respond, we had to respond to the north korean attack on south korea. we couldn't just let them walk over the south. and also, it was a real test for truman and the united nations which he put a lot of value in. but it was not a great moment in his presidency. >> you had alluded to joseph mccarthy and acheson being attacked by him. as a child, i came home from grade school age six, seven, eight, and they were on the tv and i'd watch it and didn't know what i was watching. but i saw a drama.
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one of my cousins was called before the mccarthy committee. was truman outspoken at all in his presidency? >> mccarthy got more and more powerful later on. truman let mccarthy have it. mccarthy gave his famous first speech in wheeling in 1950. and truman, actually there was one press conference said that mccarthy is the best friend the kremlin has. those were the days when presidents could take it back -- truman modified it somewhat.
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he hated mccarthy, despised mccarthy. mccarthy hadn't really just become powerful person he was, he became a destructive person. his attack on general marshall was extraordinary. i quote some of it in the book, and people remember just a couple of lines. it was pretty insane, some of the things he said. the idea that marshall was at the root of everything, the loss of china... it's extraordinary and crazy. i don't know whether mccarthy -- there's a number of books about mccarthy, too. and i think richard revere said, he wrote the line that he saw anti communism as a sort of a great oil, it came up a gusher and he
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went for it. i think he but after a while, he began to truly believe this stuff. he was very popular with the journalists because he was great copy. but then it became more serious. he was the villain of herb block cartoons. and then he began to chart a path to his own destruction under eisenhower. >> i sort of brought up herbert hoover. truman certainly had an effect on herbert hoover by bringing him to the oval office. hoover is known, he was asked by truman to give some help in europe, which was something he had done before as well. he was asked to do that. and hoover went out of the oval office and cried. >> yeah, truman was very generous that way, i mean. and i don't know the whole story on the bad feelings between hoover and roosevelt. i know they never spoke, i don't think they
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even rode to the inauguration together. but truman was very generous and really brought him into the campaign and hoover appreciated it. hoover appreciated the dedication of the truman library in 1956. and i think that truman would have, truman had fallen down. he couldn't go to hoover's funeral, but he would have gone if he could have. >> i think you mentioned at the end, as interesting as this book is, by the way, that the truman presidency is somewhat uninspiring. is there anything inspiring that we should take away from his presidency? is there a lasting effect of his presidency that we have --? >> i think what i meant to say is that truman himself was not inspiring. he was not an inspiring personality. he was almost recessive as a personality. if you watch him, it's painful to watch him, for example announcing the surrender of germany is painful. after the bomb was
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dropped, he was on the ship back from potsdam. but there was a statement that his press secretary read in washington. but then he videoed something of himself and it is pathetic. he is almost reading by rote and he seems hardly there. and as a campaigner, unless he was on his own and he was making it up, where he could be very fun and sometimes make it up. someone said he was reading from the hindustani. no so he was never an inspiring president. what we remember is what he did and not how he was. when we see this post presidential harry truman, someone who's fun, always there, and traveling all over the place. that is the truman that we all begin to remember. but as president, he was not a greatly inspiring figure. in fact, quite the contrary.
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>> these are events, 60, 70, more years ago. but you had lunch -- it's interesting as a historian to be able to have lunch with one of the characters, one of the main characters in your book, and that's dean acheson. >> his son, david. >> yes, in 2018. his son is a direct line to the father. and he must have -- did he represent his father, do you think? did he try to keep up the legacy of his father? or did he get into other areas, and maybe some areas that we don't think are as fondly memory for acheson himself? >> well, david, i really, really got to like david. he looks like his father too, by the way. if you saw him a crowd you'd say, my god, there is dean acheson. he was wonderful. he is completely loyal to his
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father. the most interesting thing was that there was a wonderful collection of correspondence between acheson and truman. there was all post presidential. i recommend everyone get a copy of it. because you can see him getting all rough about -- he refers to stalin as a little son of a (bleep). it's pure truman! david acheson was behind it and margaret truman tried to stop it. she tried to stop it because it didn't show the dignity of the presidency. it came out after margaret died and david told me about this. david acheson was very, extremely -- i think i called him mr. acheson, never david. he was very loyal to his father's memory and there was never any wavering. he said that he did admire truman and he did dedicate his book to the captain with a mighty heart. but he thought that truman was too political and too quick. i
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think he actually wrote someplace that his mouth works faster than his mind. he did feel that about truman. >> is there anything -- we're really at the end of our time. is there anything surprising that you came out of this with truman? especially since you started out with eisenhower and nixon and went back to truman, is there anything surprising that came to you that you would like to impart to us? >> i feel like i really got to
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know him. i had a wonderful guy who works for the department of the interior. the house in grandview was being -- i couldn't get into it, it was closed -- and he said, i will take us and we got into it. going upstairs through the backstairs, and seeing where truman lived for basically ten years. they were not a poor family, but i have lived in the country, and they had one stove. he shared a room with his brother, vivian. two beds in one room with one chamber pot under the bed and you sort of think about it, my god. he was there for ten years. you begin to say, oh, this is where he came from. this is this man. he had a lot of guts, and he had a lot of strength. that's
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also what he brought to the war, the first world war, where even despite having bad eyesight, he got promoted to captain. and even though he was a mason, he had a lot of irish catholics around him. and they liked him and he commanded them. then you began to see where it all came from. he was for real, so it didn't come out of nothing, this is truman's strength, and that's what i began to see. and all the rest of it began to follow. his mistakes, but the strength was always there in the honor was always there in when he dissembled and when he made it up. i think that's where i came away from. >> does the truman library really represent the man fairly? >> now it does, i think like all presidents i think he wanted it to be a happier view at first. but everything is there, it's on! the library's wonderful. i think it's maybe the best library, they
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archivists were terrific too. i don't know, i mean, the eisenhower library is also pretty wonderful. i feel so bad, the nixon library was a much more interesting and bifurcated place when i was out there. the truman library, the first time that the national archive and record administration was there too. it is a terrific, terrific, library. i hope that the last president, whose name i never mentioned in the book -- >> thank you. >> [laughs] not even in the end. i hope that the national archive and record administration can take some control of this, under some historical records. although a lot of it will be lost in 2020. >> well, we've been talking to jeffrey frank about his wonderful new book the trials of harry s truman: the extraordinary presidency of an ordinary man, 1945-1953. and i enjoyed this because, the third time i'm saying this, the narrative just went along. all of the interesting people that you have ferreted out around him, as well. and the quotes that come with it! this is, today was the day of release. we appreciate that. those of
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you who are watching right now can still get a day of release book plate. you can, if you are watching later on c-span, we'll still have book plates just like this that jeffrey had signed for us. we will have those, as well. we want to thank c-span for carrying our interviews, and all of you for watching us, as well. you can go to our website abelincoln book shop. com to be a part of our interviews and our artifact shows. thank you for being with us, goodbye and be safe. >> c-span now is a mobile app, live and on demand. keep up with the event, live hearings and proceedings from congress, white house events,
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