Archive for Friday, July 11, 2003

Diary reveals darker side of Truman

Authentic Harry’ seen in discovered writing

July 11, 2003

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Harry Truman had a reputation for direct and sometimes-salty speech.

But a newly discovered diary from when he was president shows the extent of his political incorrectness and a somewhat darker side.

For example, in a July 21,1947, entry, Truman rails against Jews, saying that when they are in positions of power they can be as cruel as Hitler or Stalin.

But the diary also offers a unique view of American history as seen through the eyes of one who was making it.

Discovery of the diary at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., was hailed Thursday by national archivist and former Kansas Gov. John Carlin as one of the most significant discoveries in Truman's papers in the past 20 years.

"It's tremendously exciting to think that after all of these years, we are still finding original materials that will shed new light on this crucial era in our history," Carlin said. "This significant new discovery underscores the importance of preserving the historical record."

1947 -- a pivotal year

The 42 handwritten entries record a tumultuous year in Truman's life, when he was fighting for his political future and no one gave him much chance of winning the 1948 presidential election.

The Truman Library in INdependence, Mo., has recently discovered a
1947 diary by President Harry Truman. The writings -- some of which
surprised historians with their anti-Semitism -- were found in the
back portion of a book that had been given to Truman as a gift. The
discovery has been hailed as a significant addition to Truman
scholarship.

The Truman Library in INdependence, Mo., has recently discovered a 1947 diary by President Harry Truman. The writings -- some of which surprised historians with their anti-Semitism -- were found in the back portion of a book that had been given to Truman as a gift. The discovery has been hailed as a significant addition to Truman scholarship.

Historian Richard Kirkendall at the University of Washington said, "1947 was a pivotal year for the Truman presidency and a big year for the country."

It was the year Truman pushed through the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and started the doctrine of containment to ward off communism, Kirkendall said.

In the diary, Truman calls the White House a "great white jail," grieves the death of his mother, complains about his political enemies and even notes an offer he made to Dwight Eisenhower that the general run for president as a Democrat with Truman as his vice president. The offer was recorded in an entry that noted Truman and Eisenhower's mutual contempt for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who the men thought was positioning himself for a presidential bid as a Republican.

'Authentic' Truman

"This is authentic Harry Truman," said Francis Heller, a retired Kansas University political science and law professor. In 1954-55, Heller assisted Truman in the publication of his memoirs.

Heller said there weren't any historical surprises in the diary, but that the writings showed a complex man grappling with monumental tasks at the point when he didn't care much for the job.




"You go through these pages and you can see that throughout he is saying, 'This is the job I've got to do, but there is nothing that says I have to like it, and sometimes it isn't much fun,'" Heller said.

Heller said Truman's remarks about Jews reflected the president's upbringing and lack of education. The president never attended college.

"It was the kind of pejorative outburst that is essentially what a lot of uneducated Americans thought in those days, and I suspect some of them still do," Heller said.

Here is a portion of Truman's diary entry for July 21, 1947:

"The Jews, I find, are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D(isplaced) P(ersons) as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes."

Francis Heller, a retired professor of law and political science at
Kansas University who helped President Truman write his memoirs,
discussed the significance of Truman's newly found diary on
Thursday.

Francis Heller, a retired professor of law and political science at Kansas University who helped President Truman write his memoirs, discussed the significance of Truman's newly found diary on Thursday.

Kansas University history professor Ted Wilson said the tone of Truman's remarks about Jews was surprising.

"This is pretty harsh indictment of Jews in general. I don't think I've seen that anywhere else" in Truman's writings, Wilson said.

He said the traditional portrait of Truman was that he was sympathetic to Jews because he had a Jewish business partner in the 1920s in Kansas City, Mo., and that Truman extended U.S. recognition of Israel extremely quickly.

Surprising find

The diary was found in the back portion of a book that had been given as a gift to Truman. The book bears the title "1947 Diary and Manual of The Real Estate Board of New York Inc."

A portion of a page from a Harry Truman presidential diary is shown
at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The archives announced
the discovery of the diary from 1947, calling it the most
significant find about the former president since letters between
Truman and his wife were discovered in 1982.

A portion of a page from a Harry Truman presidential diary is shown at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The archives announced the discovery of the diary from 1947, calling it the most significant find about the former president since letters between Truman and his wife were discovered in 1982.

On Jan. 6, 1947, Truman wrote about being alone in the White House. "This great white jail is a hell of place in which to be alone. While I work from early morning until late at night, it is a ghostly place."

The diary contains about 5,500 words and greatly increases diary entries from other holdings in the Truman Library, officials said.

The diary book was transferred to the Truman Library by Truman's office staff in June 1965. The library staff was not aware of the Truman entries, and the book was cataloged into the library's book collection where it remained until its recent discovery.

A transcript of the diary is available on the Truman Presidential Museum & Library's Web site at www.trumanlibrary.org.

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