Read: November 2023
Inspiration: Came across on Amazon’s bestseller list; wanted to learn more about the events surrounding the end of World War 2
Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.
“The Accidental President”, published in 2017 by journalist and author AJ Baime, provides an engaging account of the unexpected rise to power of Harry S. Truman following the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the closing days of World War II. Baime’s narrative explores Truman’s transition from an unassuming Vice President to the leader of the free world in a time of immense global challenges. The book delves into the complexities of Truman’s presidency, including the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, the beginning of the Cold War, and the establishment of the Truman Doctrine. Baime provides a vivid portrayal of the man behind the presidency, emphasizing Truman’s integrity, decisiveness, and the profound impact he had on post-war America and the world. “The Accidental President” offers readers a compelling historical perspective on a pivotal moment in American history and the leadership qualities that defined Truman’s presidency.
Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.
April 12 1945 was when FDR died and Harriet Truman took power, FDR was a four term president and was a hero in the US and respected globally, death was a shock to the country, Truman didn’t go to college and had no real political background, was no name senator and surprise pick for VP, no one knew what they were getting with Truman, FDR’s death considered at the time as one of the great tragedies in history, Truman was senator for 10 years from Missouri (KC), was seen as from corrupt machine, was 82nd day as VP when FDR died, 4 years into ww2 at the time, US encroaching on Berlin, soviets surrounded nazis in vienna, hitler on the run to bunker, Eisenhower led first troops into Ohrdruf death camp, war raging in Okinawa Japan in last bloodiest battle, plan to bomb tokyo enacted, this wall on happening on April 12 1945, Churchill-FDR-Stalin had a Grand Alliance to that point, FDR had faith in Stalin others did not, early ’45 Stalin turn as deny elections in Poland, go into Romania as well, March 29 FDR cable new concerns to Stalin as Stalkn renege on Yalta agreement, FDR died at Georgia estate around 4:30pm and Truman sworn in by 6:30pm, Truman really was nervous and never wanted the job, Truman born in late 1880s and grew up as a farmboy going from various failing get rich ventures until join military in March 1917 when Woodrow Wilson declar war on Germany, Truman was far removed from politics but wanted a new path, soon was deployed to France and quickly promoted to command a Battery (though never looked the part), was on front lines leads heavy artillery battles until ultimate ceasefire and Treaty of Versailles, had impressive way of gaining respect of his men, post war Truman opened a haberdashery in KC that quickly went bankrupt and soon after approach randomly by Pendergast to run for judge in Jackson county Missouri 1922, Pendergast controlled politics there, but Truman won depsite no experience, ran on honesty and local reputation, became judge at 38, Pendergast known for corruption/kickbacks, 1926 became chief executive Judge backed by Tom Pendergast, was going well in KC until Oct 1929 market collapse into depression, FDR elected 1932 and 1934 Pendergast desperate for MO senator and choose Truman to back, Jan 1935 took oath as Senator, basic premise of campaign was as FDR support and then Pendergast move the rest, was a New Deal Democrat, April 1939 Tom Pendergast arrested ahead of election year for Truman and cause nerves, as WW2 ramp Truman became know for creating bill/watchdog agency that scrutinized massive military spend—millions in inefficiency, was on cover of Time but still fairly unknown, FDR had issue a bit since testimonies and reports of Truman critical of FDR, July 1944 Dem convention in Chi—Truman became VP pick out of nowhere really, seen as least problematic for ticket, only knew of him from Truman Committee, but Truman said no way at first, didn’t want VP, Truman promoted as everyday man but also seen as “Missouri Compromise”, his wife never wanted him to accept nomination, thought 6 months to beat Germany but 18 for Japan and require ground operation called Operation Downfall, James Byrnes thought he would be VP so felt betrayed but stayed on to help Truman, Truman consider Byrnes for Sec of State, 3 days into Presidency gave speech to congress (day after funeral), not an orator, to his own shock was received incredibly well in first week as common man, honest, but constant doubt in his mind of his place in office, at same time Japanese fighters increasingly deploy suicide attacks at scale never seen, US has responded with intense bombing of urban areas which previously had been against US policy as wanted to precisely strike military targets but was not succeeding, guided by General LeMay and first firebombing in Tokyo march 1944 est killed 100k, europe is dissarray as well post-Nazi with millions displaced, power vacuums, and Soviets racing to Berlin—Churchill wanted Eisenhower to beat Soviets to Berlin but Eisenhower chose to stop at Elbe outside Berlin to the west, enable Soviets to take east Berlin at a minimum which Churchill strongly disagree, Eisenhower’s decision was a military one not political since beyond his purview, US fiscal 1945 budget was 99bn with 88bn towards wartime activities, US debt reach 250bn due to war and Keynesian deficit spending in war time (did help lift US out of depression), GNP doubled during war years but massive inflation as well, Morgenthau was Treasury Secretary from FDR but Truman not fully trust, ironic quote of wartime was that Hitler was the one who did the most for black americans to get jobs outside of “white people’s kitchen” as all mobilized, Averell Harriman was US ambassador to russia, met with stalin more than anyone else, family of Brown Brothers Harriman bank, Truman thrust into navigating Yalta secret agreements with FDR, particularly as it related to Poland, Apr 25 1945 Truman was fully given detail on Manhattan Project by Major General Leslie Groves and Henry Stimson (sec of war), began out of Einstein idea 1939–FDR commission research to begin, Groves led then Sept 1942 appoint J. Robert Oppenheimer to direct project and subsequent tests, ultimately wanted to be first with atomic bomb, Oppenheimer choose Los Alamos location—Congress not aware of funding, late 1943 truly fear Nazis close on same tech, nervous Manhattan Project simply would fail, when Truman learned of it had been $2bn cost, had massive enrichment complexes in TN and WA—workers never told what they were building for, same day Apr 25–Himmler sent surrender proposal to Swedish red cross for Nazis but talk to Churchill and Stalin and only accept if surrender to all Allied countries, soon got Nazi surrender and turn to war in East with Japan and the bomb, however did have issue of Stalin encroaching on Vienna, Bulgaria, Poland etc and Churchill use “iron curtain” for the first time Apr 1945 to describe what Soviets were establishing yet couldn’t see exactly what was going on, US and Soviet relations fragile—seen as inevitable war, Truman plan to use a-bomb as leverage, British ww2 debts to US (via Lend-Lease program) not paid off until 2006, cut Lend-Lease to both Stalin and Churchill which anger both as much needed, Japanese war proving brutal as go on, Zionist movement ramp up simultaneously as liberate, Truman/Stalin/Churchill to meet in Berlin mid-July 1945, June 1 was first day Truman informed by Interim Committee of full view of bomb and whether to use/implications—final decision solely Truman’s, soon after Stalin inform Soviets join US vs Japan on Aug 8 but stalin demand get an occupying zone in Japan as a condition which Truman strongly oppose, June 18 Truman and war advisors reach plan for ground invasion of Japan on Nov 1–775k american troops required, but also contemplate a-bomb, june 18-19 UN charter signed in SF with 50 nations, Sacred Cow was presidential plane before Air Force One, Potsdam conference follow beginning of July with Churchill/Stalin, bomb test delayed to July 15 and as Truman to Potsdam July 6 approval rating at 87%, July 16 5:30am Trinity Shot a-bomb test go off—Oppenheimer bet 3k tons of TNT impact vs Edward Teller 45k (hugarian physicist and future father of Hydrogen Bomb), test immediately tell Oppenheimer war would end, cable to Truman while Truman in meeting with Churchill in Berlin, soviets lost 24mm people in ww2 (most of any country, china second at 20mm) and at Potsdam Stalin think this entitle him to power and expansion, Churchill aware of Trinity from FDR and Truman updated him at Potsdam, Churchill support use to avoid 1.5mm US and British troops lost in ground invasion, Soviets to join in Japan Aug 15 which already fear Japanese, Truman had never seen destruction like Berlin, Stalin called “Man of Steel”—born into abject poverty and rose against all odds to be one of world’s great men, debate on debate also revolved around unconditional surrender vs conditional (ie let emperor remain in power), Japan show willingness to accept conditional via intercept communications during Potsdam, Truman/Churchill increasingly consider conditional terms, but others say conditional would crucify Pres Truman in public view, and allow Soviets to exert influence as join Aug 15—need to end war before they join, Churchill attend amid election he was near losing to Attlee (Attlee was also present at Potsdam for continuation of power in case Churchill lost), churchill in despair at state of UK—dependent on US for aid, lots of debt, Soviets want weak states in Europe, divided Germany so soviets can survive vs US want strong united Germany and democratic other states, July 24 Truman give Stimson go ahead for use of bomb before Aug 10 on cities not tokyo or kyoto but of military import, to issue public letter of warning to Japan from US/UK and China but know Japan won’t surrender (“Postdam Declaration”), did plan for bomb failure and still invade with war end Nov 15 1946 target (16 more months), later on July 24 Truman quietly told Stalin in vague terms of destructive force for Japan and Stalin played coy and had been spying all along and developing in Soviet, to many this date was startbof Cold War as Stalin soon tell aides to speed development after Truman message, July 26 Churchill left for election and Truman felt as failed with gulf widened with Soviets and nothing to show, Truman considered resigning presidency, July 26 late night China sign off on Potsdam Dec and so spread to press for AM blast to Japan and to drop leaflets over Japan, just prior news Clement Attlee beat Churchill for PM, Soviets angry not consulted on Declaration but Truman say they were not at war with Japan so couldn’t make demands, Potsdam Accorrs released post conference to muted reaction—give and take by all with no true winners, Truman disappointed, Aug 6 date of Hiroshima bomb (military city, not previously struck, no american POWs), Little Boy pilot was Paul Tibbets, named B-29 plane Enola Gay after his mother, dropped with 20k tons of TNT, 2000x more powerful than next most powerful bomb ever used, Aug 9 came second bomb Fat Man over Nagasaki after Soviets joined war vs Japan with 1mm troops aug 8, Truman knew of second bomb but did not give direct order, this triggered talks of surrender by Japan aug 10, Japan issue notice of acceptance of Postdam Declaration terms morning aug 10–conditional surrender to keep emperor in power, US reply by afternoon, Truman want no more atomics and think Emperor Hirohito could be useful to peace under right terms, Aug 11 get agreement on terms and Aug 12 Soviets come around despite trying to get control of zones in Japan at first, Aug 14 7pm announce formal surrender accepted by Japan with Gen Douglas MacArthur as sole supreme commander over gvt in Japan, massive celebration ensure with Truman at white house, to Truman was a matter of saving american lives,