Congratulations to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, which just announced the next phase in its reopening after nearly two years and a $29 million renovation — the first major overhaul of the museum in two decades.
The renovation will reflect the evolving understanding of Truman, who is now considered one of our country’s great presidents.
Among the highlights of the renovated museum is a 14-foot globe emphasizing the many international crises that Truman inherited when he became president, as well as Truman’s response — the end of World War II in Europe and the Pacific, the Berlin airlift, the Korean War, the Truman Doctrine (containment), the Marshall Plan, recognition of Israel and more.
Another room takes visitors to April 12, 1945, with Bing Crosby playing on the radio, only to be interrupted by a bulletin announcing that President Franklin Roosevelt was dead. Kurt Graham, director of the Truman Presidential Library, told us recently that Truman was largely unknown to other world leaders, many of whom were wondering: “Who is this farmer from Missouri who is taking over the free world?”
Truman was born in Lamar in 1884, and nothing in his early days would have recommended him for presidential greatness.
So unprepared was Truman to be president, according to historian Ian Toll, that when a band first played “Hail to the Chief,” Truman did not know the protocol. In a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Toll writes, “It became painfully clear that Truman was not up to speed,” either on the war or what Toll calls “the latest moves in the global geostrategic chess match.”
But Truman grew into the role, and Toll writes, “proved more than equal to the job.” That is a view shared by other historians, who now rank Truman among our better presidents.
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt usually take the top three spots. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt typically come after that. Truman often shows up next.
What made Truman a great president?
David McCullough ends his biography with a quote from journalist Eric Sevareid: “Remembering (Truman) reminds me what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character.”
The museum begs for a visit, offering us a lesson in what makes a great president, what we should look for when choosing men and women to lead us, and the ability of our nation to produce such people.