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File:Dewey defeats truman.jpg

Covers Always Lie...

The Buck Stops Here
—Plaque on Truman's desk

I'm From Missouri
—Other side of plaque on Truman's desk

Finding himself President after the sudden death of Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry S Truman was President until 1953. As such, it was Truman who gave the order to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman did not have the "need to know" about the Manhattan Project until FDR died (hell, Josef Stalin and his spies knew about the Manhattan Project before Truman did). Thus he took the decision to use them in a bit of an information vacuum, something historians have subsequently either downplayed or over-emphasized. He also desegregated the US military in 1948, because of his disgust over the way African-American war veterans were treated; the fact that it also saved some tax dollars getting rid of that ridiculous redundancy helped sell it too.

His middle name is actually just an "S" - his parents wanted to please both of his grandfathers that way, who were named "Solomon" and "Shippe" respectively. It was a tradition among Scots-Irish immigrants in America.

He's featured in a famous article, where the Chicago Tribune famously boasted, based on inaccurate opinion polling, "Dewey Defeats Truman" (he didn't). If you look at the example picture, you can see how happy he is. This can be considered his Crowning Moment of Awesome, especially when one considers that he had to contend with two third-party splinter candidacies during his campaign, one from Henry Wallace (a leftist who opposed Truman's anti-Communism) and another from Strom Thurmond (a Southern segregationist who opposed Truman's support for civil rights). His later presidency, however, was a slew of unpopular, nuanced decisions and a slide in the polls.

Truman's period was very much one domestic crisis after another. He sent troops into The Korean War and when this became a stalemate, he became seriously unpopular, especially after sacking General MacArthur. (Despite MacArthur being partly responsible for said stalemate and wanting to directly attack China with thermonuclear weapons.) He ended up going as low as 22% in approval ratings, the lowest of all time in the Gallup poll.

Although he wasn't term-limited by the 22nd Amendment passed during his presidency — he was explicitly excluded — he decided that he couldn't stand the heat any longer and got out of the kitchen (an expression popularized by Truman), announcing he would not run again in 1952. Losing the New Hampshire Primary helped. Estes Kefauver--a liberal Senator from Tennessee[1]--won most of the primaries, but the party bosses (who actually chose the delegates then) went for Adlai Stevenson, who lost to Dwight D Eisenhower in an Electoral College landslide. (Of course, pretty much anyone would have lost in landslide to General Eisenhower.)

Truman died in 1972 from pneumonia. Since his departure, Truman has enjoyed a rise in popularity and is rated highly by many historians. In particular, his decision to fire MacArthur, while deeply unpopular at the time, is now commonly viewed as a smart move that prevented the Korean War from escalating into World War III (MacArthur wanted to invade and bomb Red China, which is why he was fired), though there are plenty who still say that focus on simply holding the North, instead defeating it is the real reason the war was ultimately a stalemate. He has a carrier named after him, a bit ironic, since Truman actually tried to limit the expansion of the US Navy's aircraft carrier program during his tenure. Truman has also become a kind of political trope in and of himself, as he is frequently cited by politicians down in the polls as a reason for supporters to keep the faith. As a general rule, when a politician starts citing Harry Truman, it's a bad sign for his electoral prospects.

He popularized the expression "The Buck Stops Here" (meaning that he'd take full responsibility for all actions of the Executive Branch.).

Truman in fiction:

  • The one-man play and film Give 'Em Hell, Harry! feature James Whitmore as Truman.
  • Truman, a 1995 HBO feature starring Gary Sinise in the title role.
  • In Watchmen, Rorschach frequently expresses admiration for 'decent men' like Truman and his father. It's shown in several in-story documents that he wrote an essay in his youth expressing how good it was that he dropped the bomb, because he saved many more lives by ending World War II. This is particularly ironic given that Rorschach claims to be a moral absolutist and attacks Veidt for killing millions in a fake 'alien' attack on New York to prevent World War III from breaking out.
    • Rorschach is being nuanced himself here (shock horror.) He's more than capable of calculating that an evil act will perpetuate a greater good; note that he doesn't try very hard to escape Veidt or stop Manhattan from nuking him- it's just that, as a costumed vigilante, he is outside the law and so is Veidt, whereas Truman was acting as executive officer with authority to use a munition against a declared enemy. That's why Veidt's actions are irreconcilable to him. Being capable of extrapolating from that, Rorschach must conclude that it is not the mere fact that Veidt made that choice which is the moral absolute that has been wronged, it is that Veidt had no authority to make that choice. Seeing how he himself doesn't have that authority either, he's more than willing to Suicide by Cop.
  • A Doctor Who Tie-in Novel.
  • In M*A*S*H, it is often mentioned that Truman is President.
    • In one episode (called "Dear Harry", I think) Hawkeye actually writes a letter to Truman describing conditions in Korea and imploring him to end the war.
      • Interestingly, Truman was portrayed by Harry Morgan in the series Backstairs At The White House, and Morgan played Colonel Sherman T. Potter on Mash.
  • The Graveyard Book has a ghoul (that tries to abduct the main character) who is named after Truman, or rather, called "The 33rd President of the United States".
  • Appears in the Futurama episode "Roswell That Ends Well", treated with all the respect you'd expect Futurama to show a POTUS:

  [interrogating a captured Zoidberg] If you come in peace, surrender or be destroyed! If you come to make war, we surrender!

  • Makes a minor appearance at the end of the Timeline-191 Alternate History series by Harry Turtledove as the Democratic nominee for vice-president in the post-war election of 1944 (Thomas Dewey is the top half of the ticket). When they pull off a surprise victory against the Socialist Party incumbnent (Charles M. LaFollette), Truman is seen holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline LaFollette Beats Dewey.
  • In an Earthworm Jim episode, Peter Puppy found a framed letter from President Truman in a museum and read it. "Thank you for your kind offer to end World War II, but we have a bomb we wanna try out."
  • In the That 70s Show episode "Prank Day", Red says to Eric that his punishment for putting a bucket of oatmeal over the door (intended for Kelso) will be "the kind of thing that Harry Truman might order to end the war!" Fez asks who's Harry Truman and Kelso responds that he "invented electricity".
  • In Peanuts, Snoopy as the World War One Flying Ace claims to have met Truman when he was serving as a US Army captain in that conflict.

Provides real life examples of:

  • Assumed Win
  • Badass Bookworm
  • Batman Gambit: Used to get him to accept the Vice Presidency. See Thanatos Gambit below.
  • Broken Base: Was dropping the atomic bombs on Japan justified?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Truman, a plainspoken Missourian, disdained typical political puffery. His greatest moment came immediately after Douglas MacArthur's farewell speech, whom Truman had just fired for insubordination. Truman's comment on the speech: "What a load of bullshit."
  • Locked Out of the Loop: During his tenure as Vice President, he suffered from this because the VP was pretty much a placeholder--even though by that time it was getting noticed that presidents elected in years ending in 0 expired before their terms did and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected in 1940--oh, and he had polio[2]. Unsurprisingly, this backfired when Franklin Delano Roosevelt followed this pattern 3 months into his fourth term and Truman became President.
  • One-Letter Name: His middle name is just "S"
  • Papa Wolf: His daughter, Margaret, was an aspiring concert soprano. When one of her concerts was poorly reviewed, he informed the critic that he would need "a new nose and plenty of beefsteak, and perhaps a supporter below."
  • Tear Jerker: During the Korean War, a soldier was killed and had received the Purple Heart for his heroic duties. However, the soldier's family sent the Purple heart back to Truman with a letter telling him how he it was his fault that their son died. For the rest of his days, Truman kept that Purple Heart on his desk as a reminder about all of the difficult decisions that came with being President.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Several of Roosevelt's advisors were aware of his declining health, and suspected he might not live to see the end of the war. His current Vice President, Henry Wallace, was deemed too liberal by them and unsuited to take over should FDR die. Deciding Truman was best for the job, Roosevelt and several of the Democrats subtly maneuvered him into the running for the nomination, assuring him his chances were slight while quietly whittling away his opponents. Truman, however, began to suspect them, and did not want the position, since he didn't want to bring publicity to his wife, who was currently on the payroll. As such, Roosevelt and the others staged a conversation in a next door hotel room where they "accused" Truman of not standing up for the party. This was enough to motivate Truman, and he reluctantly accepted the Vice President nomination, a job he only held for 82 days.
  • Vindicated by History: Though he was wildly unpopular during his time in office, Truman experienced a resurgence in popularity among historians since many of his policies actually turned out to be good ideas, such as his firing of MacArthur, the desegregation of the armed forces, the creation of NATO, and the approval of the Marshall Plan.
  1. Not terribly surprising, as Tennessee used to be a good bit more liberal than it is now. Kefauver's junior Senator for much of his term was Al Gore, Sr, who while less liberal than his son was pretty fair for his time and state.
  2. Ironically, this wasn't what killed him.