Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Harry Truman, Plain Speaking - by Merle Miller

Official Presidential Portrait painted by Greta Kempton,
Public Domain
The book, Plain Speaking, An Oral Biography, is a collection of observations by Merle Miller who invested hundreds of hours in one-on-one interviews not only with the former President, but with his staff, family members, former teachers, and a variety of every-day people who knew him before 1935 when he first went off to Washington. They spoke of his honesty, integrity, ethics and the kind of man who was held in high esteem.

Former President Harry S. Truman was a voracious reader. I always had my nose stuck in a book,” he said, “a history book mostly. Of course, the main reason you read a book is to get a better insight into the people you're talking to. There were about three thousand books in the library downtown, and I guess I read them all, including the encyclopedias. I'm embarrassed to say that I remembered what I read, too.”

He was a student of history, a man with an intense desire to preserve the records of history. Mr. Truman said, in talking about libraries, “The worst thing in the world is when records are destroyed. The destruction of the Alexandrian Library and also the destruction of the great libraries in Rome…Those were terrible things, and one was done by the Moslems and the other by the Christians, but there’s no difference between them when they’re working for propaganda purposes.” He believed “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.

He also was concerned about the influence of money and donors. “I was always very particular about where my money came from. Very few people are going to give you large sums of money if they don’t expect to get something from it, and you’ve got to keep that in mind.” He was aware of the power and corruption money brings when he said, No man can get rich in politics unless he's a crook.

The 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, and served from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. He was the son of a rural farmer and mule trader in Lamar, Missouri. He served as Vice President for 82 days before the sudden death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt catapulted him into the Oval Office at the culmination of the Second World War.

He was outspoken and downright humorous in his memoirs of those with whom he came into contact. His forthright nature was apparent in summary of many in the political limelight, including Adlai Stevenson of whom he said, “a man who could never make up his mind whether he had to go to the bathroom or not.” Speaking of Henry Wallace, an opponent when Truman ran for reelection, Truman said, “What he said he wasn’t going to do was exactly what I knew he was going to do. I don’t know in Henry’s case if you’d say he was a liar as much as that he didn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.” He says that Wallace accused him of trying to get this country into war with Russia, which he says, “was the opposite of what I was doing.” Sound familiar?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice-President-elect Harry S. Truman, and Vice-President Henry Wallace, November 10, 1944, Photo by Abbie Rowe, Truman Library, Public Domain

Despite his share of “frustration, of failure, of disappointment, of poverty, of mortgage foreclosures, of heartbreak” and bankruptcy in his haberdashery business, he remained cheerfully optimistic and “never wore his heart on his sleeve.”

About heritage, he would add, “I wouldn’t think much of a man that tried to deny the people and the town where he grew up. I’ve told you. You must always keep in mind who you are and where you came from. A man who can’t do that at all times is in trouble where I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have anything to do with him.”

His early life reflected the challenges of a studious and somewhat frail child, who preferred reading and learning to the outdoor games and activities of his peers.

The book captures the essence of his personality, philosophy and ethics in his own words. He makes viable recommendations on books that every citizen should read, he speaks on how to regard those seeking office and cautions the same. “You see the thing you have to remember. When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things, you have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency and you’ve got to keep yourself separate from that in your mind.

Public Domain, US Military Department of Defense, Wikimedia Images

He believed that you have to appeal to people’s best instincts rather than their worst which might win you the election, but will do a lot of harm to the country.

Mr. Truman’s home-spun and self-enlightened wisdom rings true in today’s world, just as he described the plots and campaigns of the Roman Empire as no different than the modern strategies. Through his forthright appeal to the masses telling the truth about what was going on, he won the bid for reelection, in his own words, “by a statement of fact of what had happened in the past and what would happen in the future if the fella that was running against me was elected.

Two final insightful quotes from the man who was my Dad’s favorite president; on the differences between mules and machines – “There’s some danger that you may get kicked in the head by a mule and end up believing everything you read in the papers.”

Caption: President Truman in St. Louis, Missouri. *Description: President Harry S. Truman with Bernard F. Dickmann, holding the Chicago Tribune, showing the headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman". They are in the St. Louis, Missouri train station.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things he said was this. “Sometimes I was advised to hold my fire on this and that because they said telling the truth would offend people. But whenever I took such advice I never thought much of myself. If you keep your mouth shut about things you think are important, hell, I don’t see how you can expect the democratic system to work at all.”

Entertaining, funny, witty, and full of important observations about the nature of men and politics, this book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to see for themselves that history repeats itself. Whether it’s dirty campaign tactics or political game playing in Congress, this book is eye-opening in its observations.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Killing Floor - Jack Reacher Series by Lee Child, Book Review

Lee Child's first book in the Jack Reacher Series was fast-paced and full of mystery and intrigue. He shares a glimpse into the family history of the main character which explains a lot about his actions and well-developed skills in combat. Jack's reasoning power and deductive abilities take him out of harm's way after he's locked up as a murder suspect before earning the respect of the police. He manages to work his way into a role that leads them to solve multiple homicides and kidnappings which plague the town.

The author's writing method is like reading the spoken word rather than conforming to the laws of sentence structure, but he never loses the train of thought in the process. The story is at times, graphic and gruesome; depicting a trained ex-military man who sets the trap for would be assassins. He is able to overcome odds of those who pursue with intent to do harm.

In this adventure, he unravels the mystery of a small town that conceals a huge secret which enables the prosperity of merchants who have few if any customers. He presents characters who are realistic in their depth of evil and weaves a story that kept me turning the pages into the wee hours of the night.