Accidental PresidentSome of the most significant events in world history transpired in April through August of 1945. Germany’s surrender, the creation of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the testing and use of the atomic bomb, and Japan’s surrender to end World War II all happened from April 12 – August 14, 1945 – the first 4 months of the Truman presidency.

A.J.  Blaine has penned a compelling chronicle of this time in The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. This well-researched work takes the reader day by day through this momentous period but this is not a dry timeline of events. Blaine brings the events and people to life on the page and you feel as if you are in the room.

Blaine starts his narrative on April 12th which began as an ordinary day for Harry Truman. He rose at his normal early hour and took his walk before heading to his office in the Senate building. But this was no ordinary day and by nightfall he was sworn in as president and briefed on the secret weapon being developed, the atomic bomb. Stunned by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, many in the country wondered who Harry Truman is and would he be able to do the job. Truman himself said “I’m not big enough for this job”.

Before continuing with Truman’s presidency Blaine gives us an abbreviated biography. The author uses these pages to show us the qualifications and character Truman brought to the White House. He never went to college but he was well read and loved music. He was devoted to and loved Bess from the time he met her. In the Army during World War I he showed his ability as a leader but was unsuccessful in business. Even though he was elected with the help of Tom Pendergast (who ran Kansas City politics) Truman was honest in all his dealings as presiding judge in Jackson County.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate while Pendergast was still powerful and was dubbed the senator from Pendergast. But he won, to the surprise of many, a second term after Pendergast’s arrest and imprisonment. His committee to investigate waste and corruption in the national defense program saved money and brought him some national recognition.

Even though Truman wasn’t a complete unknown, the Democratic Party was stunned by his nomination as Vice-President for Roosevelt’s historic fourth term. He was a reluctant nominee but once nominated he campaigned tirelessly for the president.

Even though he was Roosevelt’s choice for VP he was not part of the inner circle and was not included in briefings or negotiations. On April 13th, his first full day as president, Truman began to learn the depth of what he did not know.

As Blaine recounts the next 123 days not every decision and meeting is detailed. Instead you get a sense of just how busy each day was and the amount of information Truman has to absorb from meetings and reports. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman’s cabinet meetings were for reporting and information. Following this meeting he would sometimes spend his whole morning in back to back 15 minute meetings.

During the first 2 weeks of the new administration, Roosevelt was buried, Nazi death camps were liberated, the United Nations conference began in San Francisco, Berlin fell, Mussolini was executed, Hitler committed suicide, and on President Truman’s 61st birthday, Germany surrendered.

The next weeks and months were more of the same with a deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, the war with Japan and the fulfilling of his official duties as president. The conference with Stalin and Churchill was to begin in July and the president wanted to be prepared. While determining what he believed was best for the U.S., Truman was aware of his obligation to honor both the agreements Roosevelt had made and the man himself.

The Potsdam Conference, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14th ends this historic and pivotal 4 months.

The biographical information was an important part of the book but slowed the pace of the narrative. Once the countdown of days began however, this work was hard to put down. This fascinating look at what has to be one of the most difficult periods any president has faced, shows that the man who thought “he wasn’t big enough” greatly underestimated his abilities.

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