Tag Archives: Harry Truman

White House leadership is MIA

President Harry Truman had that sign on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.”

President John F. Kennedy told the nation after the failed Bay of Pigs, Cuba, military operation that “Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he commanded Allied forces in Europe during World War II, planned the D-Day landing at Normandy and wrote a letter he would read to the world if the mission failed; he would take full responsibility for its failure … which thankfully he never had to read.

These men were leaders of the first magnitude. The current president of the United States, Donald John Trump, has demonstrated what I have to label as a “fair weather style of leadership.”

He takes credit when matters go well; he even takes credit when and where he doesn’t deserve it. When the strategy fails? He says he “takes no responsibility at all.”

We are witnessing how leadership becomes missing in action when the fecal matter hits the fan. Donald Trump keeps boasting about what he’s done to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Yet he denies the virtually proven instances when he fell short.

Trump’s leadership, such as it exists, has fallen far short of the kind of presidential leadership that an unprecedented health crisis of this scale requires. Trump can brag and boast all he wants. It doesn’t wipe out what we all know about the federal response to this crisis.

The nation needs focused, driven and dedicated leadership that presents itself at all levels. We are not getting it from this president, during this crisis.

Donald Trump’s mantra, unlike Harry Truman, is that the “buck stops … over there.” 

Passing the buck, eh, Mr. POTUS?

Donald John “Buck Passer in Chief” Trump took a question this afternoon from a reporter who asked if the president took “responsibility” for the lack of testing kits available to help detect the coronavirus among Americans.

Trump called the reporter’s inquiry a “nasty question,” but then added that he takes “no responsibility at all,” even though the Trump administration dismantled the safeguards it inherited to deal with crises such as what we’re experiencing at the moment.

Trump said he didn’t know about the dismantling of the team that had been formed. He looked around at the folks standing with him in the White House Rose Garden for someone who could answer the question directly.

Wherever he is, President Harry Truman is seething. It was President Truman who famously displayed the sign on his White House desk that declared that “The Buck Stops Here.”

That is no longer the case. Donald Trump doesn’t accept any responsibility for any decision that reflects badly on him, the administration or the presidency itself.

Interesting, yes?

Consider, finally, something that I have noted already on High Plains Blogger: Donald Trump stood before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in the summer of 2016 and pronounced to the entire world that “I, alone” can repair what he said ails the nation.

That was a lie, too.

God bless President Truman

I have commented already on this blog about the significance that Aug. 6 has to the country and to me personally.

On that date in 1945, President Harry Truman issued an order that stands the test of time. He ordered a B-29 crew to take off from Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. It carried a single bomb.

The plane dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The A-bomb killed about 70,000 people instantly. Three days later, another bomber would fly over Nagasaki, Japan, and would drop another bomb. It killed 50,000 people.

Five days after that, Japan surrendered. World War II had come to an end.

I long have saluted President Truman for having the courage to act as he did to bring that war to an end.

He became president after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. World War II would rage in Europe until May 8. The Nazis surrendered as the Soviet Red Army marched into Berlin. The Japanese would continue the fight into the summer on the other side of planet. Truman knew a tiny bit about some New Mexico project that was developing a new kind of weapon. Then the Joint Chiefs briefed him, telling him, in effect, “Mr. President, we have this bomb that we believe can end this war quickly.”

My father was part of an occupation force in The Philippines that summer. He was preparing to take part in the invasion of Japan, were that operation were to commence. He had already seen plenty of combat in the Mediterranean Theater. Dad told me once he figured that more combat awaited him once the invasion of Japan commenced. He was a Navy boatswain’s mate. His shipboard duty required him to fire a deck gun in anger at enemy aircraft in the Med. More of that kind of duty likely awaited him.

But then the president ordered the dropping of those atomic bombs. The war ended quickly afterward.

I never have questioned for a moment the wisdom of President Truman’s decision or doubted the courage he demonstrated in issuing the order. Hey, I have some “skin in that game” … you know?

I mean, if Dad hadn’t survived, well, I wouldn’t be here today, writing this blog telling you about how grateful I am to have been given life.

I once told a veterans group in Amarillo about my personal connection to the events of Aug. 6 and 9, 1945. I told those vets, “God bless President Truman.”

They clapped and cheered.

I feel just as strongly today as I always have about the president’s decision to end that terrible conflict in the manner that he did.

‘The buck stops with everybody’?

John F. Kennedy once said that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

Harry Truman once had a sign on his desk that declared “The buck stops here.”

Ronald Reagan once admitted that he was mistaken when he said he never traded arms for hostages.

Donald Trump now says that “the buck stops with everybody.”

Which of those statements connotes a weak leader? Which of them suggests the person who abides by it doesn’t want to take responsibility?

If you said the fourth one, we are on the same page. Donald Trump won’t accept responsibility for the dispute that has closed part of the federal government and has thrown hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work, causing them varying degrees of financial hardship — all over whether to build The Wall along our southern border.

Trump’s equivocation speaks volumes about his lack of leadership. He is illustrating once more how he won’t accept what most of the rest of us believe already, that he cannot stand by what he said, that he would be willing to take the heat for shutting down the government.

Now he’s done it. Federal employees are hurting.

Own it, Mr. President.

A feud ended 55 years ago today

Ex-Presidents Truman and Eisenhower outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral after President Kennedy’s funeral, 55 years ago today.  According to , this picture was taken after they saw young JFK Jr. salute his father. On this day, Truman and Ike ended their 11-year feud.

This Twitter message came from presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who posted it with this picture I am sharing here.

The photo was taken at JFK’s funeral. It shows his two immediate predecessors, President Harry Truman (left) and President Dwight Eisenhower. The “ClintHill_SS” referenced in the above tweet is the name of the Secret Service agent who climbed aboard the limousine carrying the president and first lady as gunshots rang out in downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

The two men disliked each other intensely. Their domestic and foreign policy differences became personal between them. Ike succeeded Give ‘Em Hell Harry in January 1953 and the two men barely spoke to each other for the decade that preceded President Kennedy’s brutal murder.

Then the two former presidents came to pay their respects to their slain successor.

And while there they buried the hostility they held toward each other. As Beschloss noted in his tweet, the picture was taken as the two men saw John Kennedy Jr. salute his father’s casket as it wheeled past him.

I had learned long ago about the Truman-Eisenhower feud. It ended when they sat together and listened to the tributes to the young president who succeeded Ike in 1961. The youngest elected president was laid to rest and the two old warriors laid their antipathy toward each other to rest at the same time.

It’s a long-forgotten, but still poignant testimony to the fragility of Earthly life. Ike and Truman got to live to become old men, something denied to JFK. The two presidents came to that realization when President Kennedy was laid to rest.

It’s one of life’s most valuable lessons.

Why now do we talk about POTUS and racial intolerance?

I came into this world more than 68 years ago. My first memory of anything takes me back to when I was around 3 years of age.

Over many of the next nearly seven decades I have been fairly politically dialed in. I have had a great interest in politics and public policy. I was able to shake Bobby Kennedy’s hand in May 1968, a week before he died at the hands of an assassin. I returned from the Army in 1970 and became a college campus volunteer for George McGovern’s failed campaign in 1972. I have been able to cover two national presidential political conventions.

Thus, I must declare that this time in our history — during the presidency of Donald John Trump — is the first time I can recall such widespread discussion of whether the president of the United States is friendly to white supremacist hate groups.

This upcoming weekend will mark the first year since the riot exploded in Charlottesville, Va., the incident that started with white supremacists protested the removal from a public park of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

It got ugly. Counter protesters challenged the haters. A young woman died when she was run over in the melee; a young man associated with the hate groups has been charged with murder.

Donald Trump has refused to condemn the white supremacists singularly. He has been virtually silent about the Klan and the neo-Nazis.

I was born during the Truman years. My first presidential memory is of Dwight Eisenhower. Every single president from Ike’s era has not been the subject of this kind of discussion.

Until now. Trump has broken the mold. He is the first president in my lengthy memory who continues to be associated in the minds of many Americans with those who espouse the kind of violence that the rest of us condemn with a full-throated roar.

We are witnessing a scary precedent coming from an equally scary president.

So … sad.

Nagasaki: That bomb ended it!

The United States Army Air Force dropped a second big bomb 73 years ago today.

That one exploded over Nagasaki, Japan. The first big blast, at Hiroshima, didn’t bring Japan to the surrender table. The second one did.

The atomic age had entered the world of warfare. It was called the Manhattan Project, where some of the world’s most brilliant nuclear physicists worked to perfect the atomic bomb.

They did. It worked.

The United States had been at war with Germany, Italy and Japan for nearly four years. Germany surrendered in May 1945; Italy called it quits in 1943.

Japan was left as the remaining Axis power. President Truman, new to the office he inherited when President Roosevelt died in April 1945, had the most difficult of decisions to make: whether to use this terrible new weapon.

He went with his gut. Yes, drop the bomb and hope to save many more lives than will be lost. That calculation proved accurate, too.

Nagasaki was devastated on Aug. 9, 1945 by an even bigger bomb than the one that leveled Hiroshima three days earlier. Less than a week after Nagasaki was incinerated, the Japanese surrendered.

World War II came to an end.

President Truman said he didn’t regret deploying the bomb. Many of the great men who developed it had second thoughts. The likes of Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein eventually expressed some form of regret for their roles in developing this monstrous weapon.

We all hope never to use them again. Twice was more than enough.

I can recall a quote attributed to Einstein, who once was asked how he thought a third world war would be fought. He said, in effect, that he didn’t know with absolute certainty, but was certain that the fourth world war would be fought “with sticks and stones.”

Yes, we’ve seen ‘fire and fury,’ Mr. President

You no doubt remember when Donald John Trump threatened North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un earlier this year with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Kim had issued some threats to the United States. The president was having none of it. Well, the president isn’t exactly a student of history, as we know.

Seventy-three years ago today, one of Trump’s predecessors, President Harry Truman, issued the order to release a new kind of “fire and fury” on a nation with which we were at war.

A U.S. Army Air Force B-29 bomber took off on Aug. 6, 1945, from Tinian Island and headed for Hiroshima, Japan. It dropped a single bomb on Hiroshima. It killed tens of thousands of Japanese citizens in an instant. It was the first time the world saw a nuclear weapon deployed in a hostile act. It wouldn’t be the final time.

Three days later, another bomber flew over Nagasaki, Japan, and repeated the destruction.

The Japanese surrendered five days later, ending the world’s greatest, bloodiest and costliest conflict.

President Truman took office in April 1945 upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. The new president knew only a tiny bit of information about the Manhattan Project, where scientists were working on this terrible new weapon way out yonder in Los Alamos, N.M.

President Truman was briefed fully not long after he took office. The military brass told him, in effect, “Mr. President, we have this weapon under development that we believe will bring a quick end to the war.” The president agreed.

He would say many years later that he harbored no regret over using the atomic bomb. I have saluted President Truman many times over the years for the decision he made, based on the evidence he had at the time — and the lives he saved by persuading the enemy to surrender and allowing us to forgo an invasion of Japan by sea, air and land forces.

Fire and fury? There it was.

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

‘Power like the world has never seen’?

Donald J. Trump has issued the sternest of statements to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. It’s full of bluster and a bit of bravado.

It’s also frightening in the extreme — to our side as well as to the North Koreans!

The communist regime reportedly now is able to place a nuclear weapon aboard an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States. That’s a line that the president cannot tolerate.

So, while vacationing in New Jersey, Trump issued a direct threat to North Korea, saying that the United States is prepared to unleash “fire and fury” and a “power like the world has never seen.”

Let’s hold on. The United States once did unleash “fire and fury” on an enemy combatant state. It occurred on Aug. 6 and again on Aug. 9, 1945. We dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. World War II was drawing to a conclusion and President Truman decided he needed to deploy those weapons to persuade the Japanese that continued fighting would be futile.

Truman learned of the Hiroshima bombing while returning from the Potsdam Conference.

The strategy worked. Japan surrendered just days after Nagasaki was incinerated.

If Donald J. Trump is proposing measures that would eclipse those twin events in August 1945, then we are truly embarking down the most dangerous path anyone ever imagined.