0

A monumental decision

Harry Truman was president when I was born. I like Harry Truman. Always have. His disposition was very similar to mine. They called him "Give 'Em H--- Harry," but he said, "I never gave anybody h---. I just told the truth about people, and they thought it was h---."

My favorite Harry Truman story concerns his wife, Bess. Truman, as you might know, was a little coarse in his speech as well as his mannerisms, and the president's press secretary became concerned about his salty language. He approached the first lady and asked if she could perhaps help persuade President Truman to discontinue his use of the phrase "horse manure" in public.

Mrs. Truman said to the press secretary: "You don't understand. It has taken me 20 years to get the president to use the term 'horse manure' in public."

Truman was, of course, the last person elected to the high office of president of the United States without benefit of a college education, but it's hard to say the lack of a formal education hurt him any. He was a straight-talking, common-sense sort of guy who believed in accepting responsibility for his decisions. I don't think there was much need for a pollster or a spin doctor in the Truman administration and, as just about everyone knows, he kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that read, "The buck stops here."

A couple of summers back I found myself driving, with my family, on Interstate 40 near Independence, Mo., Truman's hometown. I couldn't possibly pass through without stopping by his presidential library, and it was very impressive. There were all sorts of displays and exhibits, including a replica of the Truman Oval Office - complete with the "buck stops here" placard.

Truman is buried behind the library, alongside his wife of 53 years. We went outside to pay our respects and I'm glad we did, because in the courtyard, along with the graves and a number of other monuments and tributes was a simple granite stone, upon which were engraved these words: "In gratitude to President Harry S. Truman for saving many lives by using atomic weapons to end World War II."

It's a good thing Harry Truman wasn't afraid to make a decision and accept responsibility for his actions, because after inheriting the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman had to make one of the most monumental decisions in the whole long history of the world, and on Aug. 6, 1945 - exactly 60 years ago today - a B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world's first atomic weapon on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and soon thereafter, American GIs stopped dying in the Pacific.

Things were a bit more clear-cut in 1945 and few people questioned Truman's decision or his motives. He had two choices: invade Japan - at the expense of millions of lives on each side - or use the weapons at his disposal to end the war.

Nowadays, of course, things are different and history is viewed in shades of gray. And lots of people - with very short memories - like to rewrite it from time to time.

Over the past few years, Truman has come under attack for his decision to bomb Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki. These folks point out that Truman's decision ushered in the atomic age and they hold him responsible for the threat of nuclear holocaust that we live with today.

Yeah. That's logical - because if we hadn't used the weapons we had at our disposal, the Russians - or the North Koreans or the Iranians or any of our other would-be enemies - would have never developed one of their own.

Many folks point out that tens of thousands of innocent civilians died in the blast - that neither city was a military target and that Truman was little better than a war criminal. These are the same people who blame the attacks of Sept. 11 on our own arrogance instead of Muslim terrorists and think we should apologize to those we are currently holding in Guantanamo Bay. You know the type. I bet that few, if any, of this group have ever visited Pearl Harbor.

I personally like the folks who argue that the use of the bomb was unnecessary because the Japanese were already whipped - that they were just looking for a chance to surrender. Not many of the 72,000 U.S. casualties from the Battle of Okinawa, which ended about a month before Hiroshima, would agree with that assessment. The Japanese didn't even give up after the first bomb. In fact, about eight weeks ago, two Japanese soldiers wandered out of the jungles in the Philippines and finally surrendered - 60 years after V-J Day. Doesn't sound like a group of folks ready to give up to me.

I think the folks who paid for that marker were absolutely correct. Harry Truman saved millions of lives - American and Japanese, men and women, soldier and civilian - 60 years ago today.

And if I may say so, I think those who say otherwise are full of horse manure.

I bet Harry Truman would agree.

Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County, where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net .