Truman in the Saddle
BY D. W. BROGAN IN discussing what is the most dramatic, if not most important section of his Memoirs,* the removal of General MacArthur, Mr. Truman recalls a story of Lincoln and that other brilliant product of West Point, General McClellan. McClellan, Lincoln said, reminded him `of the man whose horse kicked up and stuck his foot through the stirrup. He said to the horse : "If you are going to get on, I will get off."' It was McClellan who had to get off; it was Douglas MacArthur who had to get off. For both Lincoln and Truman had a firm idea that the office of Commander-in-Chief which they held concurrently with the presidency, meant something. It meant civilian control. And if in the first volume of his Memoirs Mr. Truman succeeded in giving some impression of the sudden, crushing burden of the presidency, here he gives an impression of a man who had grown up to his job. who never for a moment forgot or underestimated his respon- sibilities, but who did not lose sleep in fretting over the inevitable, of a man who, when he had made up his mind, went ahead, did what he thought right and let the chips fall where they might. One guesses that Mr. Truman does not much admire, as a President, General Grant, but what the soldier said of U. S. Grant the spectator must say of H. S. Truman : 'He doesn't scare easily.'
A man who scared easily would have passed many sleepless nights during Mr. Truman's years of office. The Berlin blockade, the Russian atomic explosion, the invasion of South Korea were disturbing enough. But even if Mr. Truman had known what we now know, that Russia was ruled by a man no more sane than Ivan the Terrible, he wouldn't have scared. So he rose to all the occasions; ordered the air-lift, ordered the making of the H-bomb and, in the crisis of 1950, deceived the Washington wits who had prophesied that the United States would give South Korea every kind of aid except help. The decision to intervene with ground forces in Korea was, perhaps, the most important recorded here; it is recorded soberly, without vainglory.
* MEMOIRS. Vol. 2: Years of Triumph and Hope. By Harry S. Truman. (Hodder and Stoughton, 30s.) That intervention involved Mr. Truman in, many crises. There was the shock of the defeat of General MacArthur by the Chinese. Since Mr. Truman doesn't scare easily, he rather fails to convey to the British reader the fact that a -great many Americans scare more easily than he does and fails to convey the tension, the Dunkirk atmosphere that I noticed on arriving in New York and Washington in December, 1950. Would the Marines get out? It was a question that was on every lip and, since we have never managed to develop enough sympathetic imagination to understand the strain that the Korean war imposdd on the American people, we cannot understand fully the great service that the brave 'chipper' ex-artillery officer in the White House rendered when he kept the boat steady. Of course, the news was bad, ominous, but what of it?
'Tis true there's better booze than brine, But he that drowns must drink it. And 0, my lass, the news is news, That men have heard before.
The Marines did return and President Truman was left to face the problem of a discomfited general with an ego developed even beyond the standard set by*General McClellan. General MacArthur wanted to run a war his way; Mr. Truman was determined that it should be run as he ordered, and when the clash came General MacArthur was removed or, as the Americans say, had the rtig pulled from under him. In the long run this demonstration against proconsular claims may be the most important institutional legacy of the Truman presidency and it came with especial force from Mr. Truman. For it was a common enough criticism of his first term that ho had too reverential an attitude to the 'high brass,' was too willing to use them for all kinds of non-military jobs, that Colonel Truman assumed that high military rank meant more than just high military rank.
If Mr. Truman ever thought that, he was cured not only by General MacArthur but by General Eisenhower. Rightly or wrongly, Mr. Truman thought that General Eisenhower, as the Republican candidate, was, whether he knew it or not, playing politics. So President Truman expressed himself with his usual vivacious candour. He forgot that candidate Eisenhower was not used to the rough and tumble of politics, that what passed for simple, frank political warfare in Kansas City was not so perceived by a candidate who had led the sheltered life of an army officer. Obviously Mr. Truman thought that President-elect Eisenhower sulked, and any remaining shreds of reverence for the high brass that President Truman may have had went with the wind. It is difficult, in any circumstances, to see Mr. Truman, a good Democrat if ever there was one, welcoming a Republican President, but it may be guessed that he would rather that the next Repub- lican President were a civilian (but not, one may suspect, Mr. Nixon).
Mr. Truman's belief in politics as an art and craft and the highest form of service is illustrated by his account of his meetings with Lord Attlee during that winter meeting in Washington when, so the gullible averred here, only the sagacity of the Prime Minister saved us from the risks of a world war launched by the impetuous President. Mr. Truman did not agree with all or, perhaps, with most of what his guest said. He turned on Mr. Acheson to put some pertinent rhetorical questions (they arc still worth pondering), but the Prime Minister, like the President, was a politician. He could understand what it was to have to deal with people like Senator Wherry. He had his own headaches at home. It is an entertaining and illuminating story, with its necessary amount of semi-comic relief, with the picture of Sir Oliver Franks, who normally towered above the two statesmen, on his knees between them, drafting, with his famous skill, an agreed statement (not the same thing as an agreement).
For the student of American politics and even for the British reader (if such 'there be) who cares nothing for the arcana imperil of the American system, the revelations of how the presidency works and what Mr. Truman thought of his job, are fascinating. We see him determined not to permit any diminution of the prerogatives of his office and convinced that the essential presidential functions cannot be delegated. It is, I think, the opinion of most competent observers, that as an administrator, as the manager of 'the Presidency,' Mr. Truman was very superior to FDR. There was far less over- lapping, far less playing off one official against another, no equivalent of Harry Hopkins (or of Colonel House). Mr. Truman was and is industrious; he 'rose early, he read docu- ments, not précis or briefings, he delegated widely and wisely. But there was a limit. On his desk stood the engraved legend, 'The buck stops here.' The President is not the head of a team any more than JOc Louis was the head of a team. We have here Mr. Truman's considered judgement on his job : 'I do not know of any easy way to be President. It is more than a full-time job, and the relaxations are few.
Naturally enough, the sections of this book that deal with world affairs have the most general appeal. We see the United States scraping the bottom of the barrel when the Korean War revealed the military weakness of the United States (a weakness for which Mr. Truman has some responsibility if the American people have more). We have an account of the origins of the 'Truman Doctrine' and of the 'Marshall Plan' which, as Mr. Truman points out, was really first adumbrated by Mr. Dean Acheson, but it required the authority of General Marshall and, perhaps, the especial sacredness of a Harvard Com- mencement to get the idea over, a great, generous, bold idea that owed a great deal of. its success to that well-known saboteur of Soviet policy the late 'Stalin' and his hatchet man 'Molotov.' (I put these names in quotes as, by the time this appears, the persons who used these pseudonyms may have suffered a damnatio reducing them to their real names.) If 'Stalin' had not forbidden the satellites to participate, the Marshall plan might never have got through Congress. Perhaps what the Soviet Union needs is a Joe McCarthy to uncover 'twenty years of treason.' Can Joe Stalin have been an agent of MI5 or the CIA? When will a Soviet leader plead the Fifth Amendment? Today, Mr. Truman, still smarting under Republican imputations of being 'soft on Communism,' still sore at General Eisenhower for his refusal to defend General Marshall against Senator McCarthy, may reflect that Alger Hiss was nothing to Beria, that the United States escaped boring from within better than did the USSR. But even so, I do not expect Mr. Truman to forgive Senator McCarthy, Mr. Nixon or even President Eisenhower.
Mr. Truman, good Baptist as he is, doesn't forgive easily and there are some delightfully acid portraits, recalling the famous assault on the 'remote and ineffectual' music critic who dared to attack Miss Truman's singing. Endearing him- self to millions of American fathers, Mr. Truman slapped down the critic, who took it, nobly, as all in the day's work. After all, only a lunatic would set up as a music critic and expect to be loved. But it may be surmised that the most eminent or, at any rate, best advertised member of the American genero, Mr. Bernard Baruch, will not like this little sketch : 'He had always seen to it that his suggestions and recommendations, riot always requested by the President, would be given publicity. Most Presidents have received more advice than they can possibly use. But Baruch is the only man to my knowledge who has built a reputation on a self-assumed unofficial status as "adviser."' Mr. Baruch, sitting in con- spicuous anonymity on a park bench, 'waiting for Godot,' was not pleased, we may imagine, by the public brush-off he got. Possibly Mr. Adlai Stevenson was not pleased, either, with the advice that, more in sorrow than in anger, Mr. Truman recounts that he gave and that was not taken. Senator Kefauver is also given tepid praise and some candid counsel, and Senator Barkley is told how he missed the boat in 1952. It is evident that Mr. Truman thinks that the Democratic candidates in 1952 in various ways mismanaged the campaign, though Mr. Truman admits that no one, probably, could have beaten the Eisenhower symbol. He tells us that he had decided not to run himself long before he announced it to a stunned party. Mr. Truman has always been fond of history and although the amendment limiting the President to two terms did not apply to him, lie refused to run. He had already made up his mind. He remembered the great days of the Roman Republic; he remembered Cincinnatus. (H, G. Wells was possibly right when lie said that it was Plutarch that kept the United States a republic.) The republican form of government is in danger and we must have regard to the wisdom of the ancestors. Sic fortis Etruria crevit.
The Republic still stands. Mr. Truman is always ready to counsel his fellow-countrymen and he is listened to. He deserves to be. His second volume not only shows a man better fitted for his terrible job, but there is more of the highly personal voice of HST than there was in Volume One. That voice is not that of a timid or diffident man. It is the voice of a courageous and patriotic and cheerful American. And these pages recalled many things to me, but above all that joyous entry to Washington after the election of 1948, With the re-elected President waving the Chicago Tribune with the giant banner headline of 'the greatest newspaper in the world': 'Dewey Elected.' The man who had made a monkey of Governor Dewey and Colonel McCormick was a match for Stalin. It's good to have him around, so the Americans think. So do 1.