Monday, August 27, 2012

"Two Americans" by William Lee Miller (2012)

On the surface Presidents Truman and Eisenhower would seem to have little in common. One was a former artilleryman who saw combat in World War One, going on to become a failed haberdashery owner, before entering politics and becoming President of the United States. He was the last President to have not attained a college degree. The other was a product of the military academy at West Point who never saw combat, but went on to lead the Allied Powers to victory in the Second World War. Both of their Presidencies were bracketed by Harvard graduates. What makes this book so interesting, and the perfect companion to last week’s selection “Red Scare” by Griffin Fariello, is the time in which both men lived and how they handled some of the same problems in uniquely different ways.

These two men from the Midwest, both faced the challenges of their times in very different ways, yet both were deeply committed to a strong America. The differences in their views on dropping the Atom bomb; at a time when Eisenhower was preparing to move all his equipment to the Pacific for the final push into Japan; is fascinating. We had already had success with firebombing cities like Dresden and Hamburg in Germany, and done the same in Japan. As a matter of fact, with the incendiary bombing of Tokyo, as well as other cities, those bombings killed more people in one night than both of the two atom bombs combined. The real reason behind the decision to drop the bomb was that the Nazi’s were already working on a bomb of their own; making it imperative that we develop, and use, ours first.  Had we not, the whole face of post war Europe would have been changed drastically, with the Soviets taking over much more than just Eastern Europe.
Socially, both men were not that far apart. Although not a “New Deal Democrat” by any means, Eisenhower was concerned with the stability of the middle class in the same way as Truman. On the subject of Civil Rights Eisenhower was not as groundbreaking as Truman was. Although Ike favored the integration of the Armed Forces in 1947, he dragged his feet on the Little Rock integration issue, waiting for it to turn violent rather than use his leadership as a bully pulpit for change.

In an engaging and highly readable fashion, the author charts the course taken by both men, from their earliest days, through to the pinnacle of their careers as the respective leaders of the free world. And though there is much difference between the two men, they were more alike than either would ever admit. Ah, but to have the likes of these two running for office now…

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