Was Truman a Monster? No.

No, because monster “is too forgiving a word for his depravity.”

Lord Acton’s claim that “great men are almost always bad men”[1] holds broadly for the great leaders (men and women) of the world. I think the larger the nation or country, that tendency to badness in leaders tends to get exaggerated. The US produces some of the worst excesses of the abuse of power since the US is such a powerful nation. One example of a terrible person is Harry S Truman, who became the president of the US upon the death of President Franklin D Roosevelt in April 1945.

Here’s an article by  David S. D’Amato, “Everything Wrong with the Truman Administration“, which asks, “Was Harry Truman one of the worst terrorists of all time?” and answers, “If words mean anything anymore—then absolutely, yes.”

Remember that Hiroshima suffered a nuclear attack on Aug 6th 1945 (and Nagasaki three days later). Truman ordered those mass murders.

Here are some excerpts from the article mentioned above:

(Begin quote)

Truman was, as we shall see, instinctively and reflexively authoritarian; the principles of bureaucratic centralization at home and arrogant imperialism abroad run through his time in office. The Truman years stand for the further distancing of government power from democratically elected officials, for the arbitrary power of an unelected elite. Nothing defines the alarming excesses of the Truman years quite like the fell acts of August 1945, when the world discovered a new meaning of horror and entered a new age of ever-looming dread. It was a weapon of terrible power, one whose development had cost billions (the equivalent of tens of billions in today’s dollars) and taken years, a weapon whose destructive power exceeded that of all previous mechanisms of death. Still new to his office, Truman faced a moment of decision the repercussions of which would alter the course of history. His judgment and his character failed him in that moment, the cost of his failure being hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

The reasoning advanced to justify using nuclear weapons were likewise dishonest. Truman’s own diaries show that “contrary to his public justification of the bombings as the only way to end the war without a costly invasion of Japan, Truman had already concluded that Japan was about to capitulate.” Germany had, of course, surrendered months earlier, in May 1945, and the Soviet Union was soon to declare war on Japan, marching on Manchuria with a force more than a million strong. Japanese surrender was, at this juncture, inevitable. The claim that such unspeakable atrocities were necessary to save American lives was thus patently unfounded, though convenient for a president determined to put the world—and in particular, the Soviets—on notice. It is nonetheless important to state explicitly that even assuming that this claim were true, American lives are not, and were not in 1945, more valuable than Japanese lives, and it is difficult to imagine what could justify the intentional murder of civilians on such a scale.

The death toll, updated in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of America’s nuclear terrorism of 1945, brought the number killed by the bombing of Hiroshima alone to over 190,000. Sergeant Bob Caron, the Enola Gay’s tail gunner, likened the horror he saw that day to “a peep into Hell.” Fires burned for days following the bombings, making unrecognizable wastelands of what had been lively cities. If words and facts yet have meaning, then these are among the worst terrorist acts in humankind’s history (perhaps the worst) and Truman is among history’s most abominable terrorists.

… Rightly afraid of what they’ll see if they do, Americans have been reluctant to look directly at these horrors, unable to accept the possibility that their government could have committed such an unthinkable atrocity. The whole of the war has been draped cynically in the language of patriotic propaganda, insulated from serious moral questioning. But as Bruce M. Russett observed … “it is precisely moral considerations that demand a re-examination of our World War II myths.”

…If presiding over the unconscionable mass murders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the creation of the CIA is not enough to position Truman amongst the century’s greatest evildoers, it’s hard to imagine what would be. It may even be that monster is too forgiving a word for such depravity.

Truman’s legacy is disturbing for freedom-loving people. Among the many problems with creating an opaque, permanent, unelected bureaucracy, armed with broad discretion, is that such an institution is difficult to hold accountable or to prevent from abusing its myriad powers. Americans today live under a government that wages wars, both open and clandestine, the world over; that imprisons and murders its own citizens without due process; that spies on citizens, elected officials, and foreign leaders with utter impunity; and that still engages in torture. The United States government of today is arguably more Truman’s than it is any other president’s, one of thoughtless cruelty and mechanized violence, of lawless, arbitrary power exercised by an officialdom responsible to no one.

(End quote.)

I recommend that article because I learned a lot from it. Go read it all.


[1] Full quote:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

For more on that, see my post “Power Tends to Corrupt” from last year.

Author: Atanu Dey


One thought on “Was Truman a Monster? No.”

  1. David S. D’Amato’s use of superlatives against Harry S Truman and his administration, as quoted in this blog, is not convincing. This is the first time I read about such hyper historic evaluation though these things happened 70 years ago. There was no dearth of monsters, one bigger than the other just in the 20th century human history. We need to wait and see if the apparent left ideologue Mr. D’Amato’s evaluation of Mr. Truman sticks. Caveat: My circumspection is on the use of superlatives in describing Truman. He doesn’t deserve the highest dis-honors.


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