A visit to historic Independence, Missouri wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Harry S. Truman Library. We knew that he started life on a farm in a rural town. We were unaware of some of the experiences that shaped him to be able to lead the United States through one of the most turbulent periods of history.
Truman Library – Humble Beginnings
The entrance to the Truman Library includes an amazing mural by Thomas Hart Benton. It represents the origins of Missouri as the jumping off point for pioneers heading west. No matter how many of his paintings we see, we are always captivated by his use of vibrant colors, as well as the animated facial expressions.
Our first stop inside the museum was to watch a 15 minute movie about Truman’s formative years. Here we heard about his service in World War I, and his early political years in Missouri. It also covers his courtship of Bess, who would become his wife. The movie concludes with his election as Vice-president to Franklin D. Roosevelt, which leads to his taking the oath of office of President upon FDR’s untimely death.
Taking Office in Difficult Times
On April 12, 1945 Truman was sworn into office. After the funeral for FDR, Truman sets to work reassuring the country of his dedication to a victory in the war. As a slight side-note, on April 18th Truman officially declared the first Mother’s Day to show “gratitude, love, and devotion” for mothers. This was a fact that we had not previously known.
The Buck Stops Here
The next section of the Truman Library explains the circumstances that faced Truman after he was sworn in. The country was in the waning years of World War II. By May, the war in Europe had ended, and it was time to begin the reduction of troops. Japan was issued a directive to surrender, but refuses. Expectations are that the war in the Asian Theater could drag out another year, and cost many more lives. Truman makes the difficult decision to use the newly tested nuclear weapons. On August 6th, and again on August 9th, the United States drops atomic bombs on Japan. The war with Japan ends on August 15th.
Post War Fears
Now that the war had concluded, the exhibits turn to the post war efforts. Americans were fearful that the end of wartime production would bring a return of the depression that had gripped the country prior to the war. Instead, the economy boomed from the relief of pent up consumer spending during the war. This area has displays that include many images often seen in our textbooks as we grew up.
Post War Europe
The years of war had ravaged Europe, and it would take decades to revers much of the effects. This next part of the museum at the Truman Library shows the economic and social struggles that faced European countries. Unlike the United States which was experiencing an economic boom, Europe continued to wallow in economic and political strife.
The Marshall Plan was put in place to help Europe recover economically, but the political atmosphere continued to change. Communism had taken a foothold and was spreading across the continent. This set the stage for the development of the Cold War. We were surprised to learn that the United States sent about 590 airplanes full of materials to Europe daily during the Berlin Airlift of 1948.
A Political Upset
The year was 1948, and Harry Truman was facing election time. Besides facing a Republican controlled Congress, his support of Civil rights had created a rift in his own Democratic Party. In this section of the Truman Library, the focus in on Truman’s unbelievable victory. A light up display showcases his whistle stop tour, and visitors can listen to excerpts from his speeches at various stops.
Truman’s second term was marked by an increase of unrest in Asia. The Soviets had developed their own nuclear program, and China was in the midst of change from the fall of Mao Tse-tung. The Korean peninsula would be the site of the next armed action, as the conflict increased. The United States, under Truman, would enter the Korean War in as part of a NATO coalition. He would not oversee the end of the conflict, as he left office in 1952.
In 1952, America was brimming with prosperity. Even with this success, Truman’s approval rating had been declining since the United States had entered the Korean War. Throughout the museum we found the written words of Truman himself. These offered glimpses into the mind of a man who seemed simple from the outside, but in reality was extremely complex.
Before we departed, we made our way into the Legacy Gallery. Here we found a life-size bronze statue of the 33rd President of the United States. Even though he left office with a 30% approval rating, history would eventually confirm the importance of his actions during his time in office. For the rest of his years he dedicated his time to developing his library, as well as educating youth on the importance of understanding your government and history. These were too important to leave to chance, so he made sure that ” The buck stopped here”.