Harry S Truman on War & Peace



1950: sued for peace in Korea, but MacArthur waged war

The 38th parallel was the line of latitude that separated the northern and southern portions of the Korean peninsula. After World War II, Stalin and the Soviet government created a sphere of influence in the north; America backed the South. This would eventually lead to conflict when in June 1950, North Korea attacked the South leading to President Harry Truman sending troops in to protect South Korea.

Once America regained the territory from the Chinese, President Harry Truman decided to make peace to avoid continued fighting. But on his own, General MacArthur argued to press the war against China [and suggested] using nuclear weapons on the mainland. Truman feared that America could not win, and these actions could possibly lead to World War III. MacArthur's actions caused the peace negotiations to stall and caused war to continue for approximately two more years. Because of this, President Truman fired MacArthur, saying, "the cause of world peace is more important than any individual."

Source: AmericanHistory.About.com on the Korean War , May 27, 2016

Soviet spies kept USSR posted on atomic bomb progress

The 1st successful test of an atomic bomb took place in New Mexico during the Postdam conference. A report of this test was sent to Truman. Shortly afterward, Truman took Stalin aside and told him that the US had a super-bomb in production. The news didn't seem to surprise the Soviet leader. Stalin said simply that he was glad to hear about this weapon and hoped it would be put to good use against the Japanese. As it turned out, spies in the US nuclear weapons program had been keeping the Soviets posted on its progress. "When I told Stalin about the atom bomb," Truman later recalled, "he merely shrugged his shoulders, as though he knew the secret of it all the time, which the son of a bitch probably did."
Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p. 92 , Oct 12, 1999

Atomic bombing of Japan saved 100,000s of American lives

Truman called his decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan "a purely military decision to end the war." In his own thinking and that of his advisers, doing so was preferable to prolonging the conflict by invading Japan with untold casualties on both sides. 20 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled by atomic bombs, Truman elaborated on his thinking in a lecture: "It was a question of saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. I don't mind telling you that you don't feel normal when you have to plan hundreds of thousands of complete final deaths of American boys who are alive and joking and having fun while you are doing your planning. You break your heart and your head trying to figure out a way to save one life."

[When] asked if he had any misgivings about using such horrible weapons, "Hell yes!" Truman replied. "I've had a lot of misgivings."

Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p. 92-93 , Oct 12, 1999

1949: No military response to Communist victory in China

The news from China added to the dark foreboding: Mao Tse-tung declared Communist sovereignty over the entire Chinese mainland, trapping American's World War II ally Chiang Kai-shek into what appeared permanent exile on the island of Formosa.

Reaction to the Asian situation was swift and angry even within Truman's own party. "That responsibility for the failure of our foreign policy in the Far East rests squarely with the White House and the Department of State." Cong. John F. Kennedy declared on the House floor in January 1949. "So concerned were our diplomats; with the imperfection of the democratic system of China after 20 years of war and the tales of corruption in high places that they lost sight of our tremendous stake in non-Communist China." The Truman policy "of vacillation, uncertainty, and confusion had reaped the whirlwind." The failure of the president and the State Department had left it to Congress to stop "the onrushing tide of communism from engulfing all of Asia," Kennedy said.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 67 , Jun 3, 1996

Soviet Union is animated by a new fanatic faith

In June, Communist North Korea attacked South Korea. Truman dispatched American troops. Two weeks after that, Americans Julius & Ethel Rosenberg were charged with stealing atomic secrets for the Soviet Union. These stories riveted the nation and brought with them a bone-chilling reassessment of Moscow's intentions. In an internal directive, Truman described the Soviet Union "animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, that seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world."
Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 71 , Jun 3, 1996

Opposed to "preventive" war; you only "prevent" peace

"I have always been opposed even to the thought of fighting a 'preventive war.' There is nothing more foolish than to think that war can be stopped by war. You don't 'prevent' anything by war except peace."

"Warfare, no matter what weapons it employs, is a means to an end, and if that end can be achieved by negotiated settlements of conditional surrender, there is no need for war."

Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p. 69 , Jan 15, 1953

The threat of world war is still very real

If there are any among us who think we ought to ease up in the fight for peace, I want to remind them of three things--just three things.
  1. The threat of world war is still very real. We had one Pearl Harbor--let's not get caught off guard again. If you don't think the threat of Communist armies is real, talk to some of our men back from Korea.
  2. If the US had to try to stand alone against a Soviet-dominated world, it would destroy the life we know and the ideals we hold dear. Our allies are essential to us, just as we are essential to them. The more shoulders there are to bear the burden the lighter that burden will be.
  3. The things we believe in most deeply are under relentless attack. We have the great responsibility of saving the basic moral and spiritual values of our civilization. We have started out well--with a program for peace that is unparalleled in history. If we believe in ourselves and the faith we profess, we will stick to that job until it is victoriously finished.
Source: Pres. Truman's 1952 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 9, 1952

Aggression in Korea is part of Communist world conquest

American soldiers are fighting a bitter campaign in Korea. We pay tribute to their courage, devotion, and gallantry. Our men are fighting, alongside their United Nations allies, because they know, as we do, that the aggression in Korea is part of the attempt of the Russian Communist dictatorship to take over the world, step by step.

Our men are fighting a long way from home, but they are fighting for our lives and our liberties. They are fighting to protect our right to meet here today--our right to govern ourselves as a free nation.

The threat of world conquest by Soviet Russia endangers our liberty and endangers the kind of world in which the free spirit of man can survive. This threat is aimed at all peoples who strive to win or defend their own freedom and national independence.

The imperialism of the czars has been replaced by the even more ambitious, more crafty, and more menacing imperialism of the rulers of the Soviet Union.

Source: Pres. Truman's 1951 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 8, 1951

Oppose the menacing imperialism of the Soviet Union

The imperialism of the czars has been replaced by the even more ambitious, more crafty, and more menacing imperialism of the rulers of the Soviet Union. This new imperialism has powerful military forces. It is keeping millions of men under arms. It has a large air force and a strong submarine force. It has complete control of the men and equipment of its satellites. It has kept its subject peoples and its economy in a state of perpetual mobilization.

The present rulers of the Soviet Union have shown that they are willing to use this power to destroy the free nations and win domination over the whole world.

The Soviet imperialists have two ways of going about their destructive work. They use the method of subversion and internal revolution, and they use the method of external aggression. We of the free world must be ready to meet both of these methods of Soviet action. We must not neglect one or the other.

Source: Pres. Truman's 1951 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 8, 1951

Terminate hostilities from WWII and end emergency powers

In my proclamation of December 31, 1946 I announced the termination of hostilities [of WWII]. This automatically ended certain temporary legislation and certain executive powers.

Two groups of temporary laws still remain: the first are those which by Congressional mandate are to last during the "emergency"; the second are those which are to continue until the "termination of the war,"

I shall submit to the Congress recommendations for the repeal of certain of the statutes which by their terms continue for the duration of the "emergency." I shall at the same time recommend that others within this classification be extended until the state of war has been ended by treaty or by legislative action. As to those statutes which continue until the state of war has been terminated, I urge that the Congress promptly consider each statute individually, and repeal such emergency legislation where it is advisable.

Source: Pres. Truman's 1947 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 6, 1947

1945: We have discovered the most terrible bomb in history

"We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

This weapon is to be used against Japan so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. We as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capitol or the new [Kyoto, Tokyo].

The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb, but it can be made the most useful."

Source: The Wit & Wisdom of Harry Truman, by Ralph Keyes, p.142 , Jul 25, 1945

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022