Archive for April 24th, 2009

At some point in your life, I’ll bet you’ve uttered a phrase that started with, “If only I was the President…”.  I’ve done it…many times.  But like the rest of us, I really have no idea what goes on behind the doors of the White House.  There are incredible burdens that the President has to bear…burdens with which I’d never want to be troubled.

Take President Harry Truman.  On April 24, 1945, the man hadn’t even been in office two weeks following the sudden (though not totally unexpected) death of his predecessor, President Roosevelt.  In two short weeks, he had been thrust from the relative safety and obscurity of the Vice President’s job to that of Commander-in-Chief, where the buck stopped on a bundle of issues, not the least of which was a massive 2-front war.

One front, in Europe, was in the last phase.  The Americans were a day away from meeting the Russians at the Elbe River and the German military was in its death-throes.  And with the Russians pulverizing Berlin and fighting just a couple miles from Adolf Hitler’s last redoubt, the outcome on this front was no longer in doubt.

But the other front, the one made of up mostly water and islands of coral, that front was far from being decided.  U.S. Army and Marine forces were now fighting an increasingly violent and treacherous battle on Okinawa.  In the air, the Air Force was pummeling Japanese cities one after the other, and the Japanese military steadfastly refused to throw in the towel.  An invasion of Japan was looking more and more likely.

It was on this day and against this backdrop that President Truman was given the full details of the top-secret Manhattan Project.  Employing well over 100,000 people and costing several billion dollars, the goal of harnessing the power of the atom into a weapon was nearly complete.

When Truman was the Vice President, “Manhattan” meant things like “that area in New York City” or “an end-of-the-day libation”.  He was given zero information on the bomb project.  But for President Truman, the full weight of the military’s “Manhattan” (with all its associated implications) was laid squarely in his lap.

And when the first atomic test was a resounding success, Okinawa was firmly in American hands.  Japan had reached the brink of collapse as LeMay’s bombers and Nimitz’s Navy surrounded and pounded the island nation.  But still they refused to surrender.

And President Truman’s burden got a lot heavier.  Yep, it’s great to not be the President.

Recommended Reading:  Truman – This might be McCullough’s masterpiece.

Read Full Post »