Truman Museum evokes memories

The Canadian Press
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Late U.S. president credited with saving Europe, founded CIA

In just one day in April 1945 Harry Truman went from being an isolated mushroom of a vice-president to the leader of a global colossus.

A Harry Truman statue greets visitors to the entrance of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Mo. — Photos by The Canadian Press

He was in charge of ending a world war, then rescuing Europe from starvation and devastation and containing Josef Stalin’s steely determination to erect an iron curtain as a barrier to nations recently reeling from the horrors of Nazi domination.

He also found out his country had developed an atomic superbomb capable of destroying entire cities and making the future destruction of all mankind a real possibility. Shall we drop it on Japan?

Visitors to the Truman Presidential Museum and Library, just minutes east of downtown Kansas City, can see, hear and read about the man who went from haberdasher to president and in doing so forged the modern world.

“I want this to be a place where young people can come and learn what the office of the president is, what a great office it is no matter who happens to be in it at the time,” Truman is recounted as saying about his museum in David McCullough’s eponymous biography of America’s 33rd commander-in-chief.

It’s a stately, low-rise building of Indiana limestone.

Visitors walk through galleries retracing the steps of Truman’s life focusing on his days in the White House.

There are short films, video loops and audio recordings recounting the momentous actions of Truman’s time as a controversial president.

Truman rescued Europe through the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift. He created NATO and the Truman doctrine to contain communism, then went to war in Korea to back it up.

He supported Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Korea, but sacked him at great political cost in a public fight with the general over who calls the shots in foreign policy.

He helped put the bogeyman in the Red Scare by ordering up government loyalty oaths. He created the CIA.

He indeed dropped the bomb on Japan — twice — ushering in the era of potential global destruction we live with today.

The museum does not cheerlead for Truman, but looks at both sides of that decision and many others.

The museum has multiple displays and artifacts, including the guns used in an attempt by two Puerto Rican nationalists who tried to kill Truman in 1950.

There is a replica of the Oval Office under Truman, with the first television set ever used in the presidential office.

There are projects for kids, including making campaign buttons and colouring cardboard replicas of the famous “The Buck Stops Here” slogan that sat on Truman’s desk.

It’s geared for junior high school children, but in the age of XBox and iPads, the static displays will probably keep them going for half an hour or so before the fidgets kick in.

The museum became the focus of Truman’s life after he left the Oval Office. He attended fundraisers and dinners to find the cash for it and turned the sod for its groundbreaking in 1955.

After it opened in 1957 Truman spent six days a week there, in his study surrounded by his beloved 1,000 books.

Those who called early enough in the day, before staff arrived, had their calls answered by the man himself.

When he died in 1972 he was buried in the museum courtyard.

There, visitors can stand and remember a president who was despised for firing MacArthur, but said it had to be done, as good government must come before party and popularity — a message too often lost on those who came before him and those who have followed.

Organizations: Truman Museum, CIA, Oval Office NATO

Geographic location: Europe, U.S., Japan Korea Kansas City Indiana White House.There

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