How The Media Seduced And Captured American Politics

A noted historian argues that television, a relative newcomer, has nearly destroyed old—and valuable—political traditions

TELEVISION HAS BEEN accused of many things: vulgarizing tastes; trivializing public affairs; sensationalizing news; corrupting the young; pandering to profits; undermining traditional values. The indictments are no doubt too harsh, and they ignore the medium’s considerable achievements over two decades. Yet even the severest critics have not noticed the way in which television first seduced and then captured the whole American political process. Read more »

Letters of a Most Uncommon Common Man

Harry Truman’s lifetime correspondence with his adored Bess opens a window on their time

TWO THINGS ABOUT Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s town, strike you immediately as different from what you might expect. It isn’t plain, flat Midwestern. And it isn’t hick.

The surrounding country is high and rolling with lovely, sometimes panoramic, views, which must have been lovelier still in Truman’s youth, before the town turned suburban. The Truman family farm, twenty miles south, was beside a village aptly named Grandview. Read more »

Truman At Potsdam

His newly discovered diary reveals how the President saw the conference that ushered in the Cold War

For the past year and a half, Robert H. Ferrell, a diplomatic historian at Indiana University, has been at work among President Harry S. Truman’s newly opened private papers at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Early last year, working with Erwin J. Mueller, an extraordinarily able library archivist, he uncovered a hitherto unknown personal journal kept sporadically by the President during the 1945 Big Three Conference at Potsdam, Germany. Scribbled on miscellaneous scraps of paper—White House stationery, lined sheets from a tablet, note paper picked up aboard the U.S.S.Read more »

Dear Boss:

Unpublished letters from Dean Acheson to Ex-President Harry Truman

Dean Acheson, who served as Secretary of State under Harry S Truman from 1949 to 1953, kept up a lively and unusual correspondence with the former President after the two men left office. Acheson's letters were lively because their author was a witty and elegant writer; they were unusual because he was no sycophant. The letters reflect Acheson s respect and affection for his chief, along with a readiness to assert his own views that mixed inquiry, mischief, advice, and admonition, befitting a correspondence between two retired statesmen in a democracy.Read more »

Presidents Emeritus

The ex-Presidency now carries perquisites and powers that would have amazed all but the last few who have held that office

What should be done with exPresidents? William Howard Taft once remarked that perhaps the best way to handle a former President was to chloroform and ceremonially cremate him when he left office, in order to “fix his place in history and enable the public to pass on to new men and new measures.” Taft did not insist on this ritual for himself, however, accepting instead a professorship at the Yale Law School when he finished his presidential term, and later serving as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

 
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What We Got For What We Gave

The American Experience With Foreign Aid

Imagine a person of great wealth with a habit of giving away vast sums and lending more. In order to understand his character, we should examine how the money is dispensed and why. Who are the recipients? What does the donor expect of them in return? How does he react if his expectations are not fulfilled? By asking the same questions of a wealthy and seemingly generous government, we can acquire a similar insight into its character. Read more »

Recognizing Israel

The behind-the-scenes struggle in 1948 between the President and the State Department

In the nearly thirty years that have passed since President Harry Truman issued the directives to support the partition of Palestine and afterward to recognize the State of Israel, the motivations of the President have been the subject of extensive historical discussion. A school of revisionist historiography has emerged which argues that President Truman’s Palestine policy was motivated by the purely political consideration of wooing the Jewish electoral vote.Read more »

The Birth Of The CIA

When and how it got the green light to conduct “subversive operations abroad”

The history of successful ideas is sometimes marked by a trade-off. In his old age General William J. Donovan, founder of the United States intelligence service, may have reflected on the phenomenon. The trade-off goes something like this:

 
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“…to Serve The World-not To Dominate It”

United States policy, Henry Wallace said in his spirited challenge to Truman and Dewey in 1948, should be

It was a one-man campaign from the start. Without Henry Agard Wallace there would have been no Progressive Party in 1948. He made it almost a religious revival. With his Calvinistic devotion to duty, his determination to bring the Lord’s work into politics, he gave his platform of planned economy the fervor of a camp-town meeting.Read more »