Truman's story still instructs and inspires Americans
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and its many supporters in this community and around the country have done what they set out to do. The newly renovated and expanded museum more fully tells the story of the 33rd president and the turbulent times through which he ably led the country.
The museum reopens this week after a long construction-and-COVID hiatus.
Library officials are right when they say this sets the bar for new presidential libraries. The enhancement of interactive exhibits adds to the visitor experience, but the foundation of it all is what remains an amazing story – the Man from Independence, who improbably found himself in the Oval Office in April 1945 and who, in the end, generally is regarded among America’s best half-dozen or so presidents ever.
It’s important to point out again that Truman wanted a library but not a shrine. He believed in an educated electorate and deeply believed in heeding the lessons of history, and he wanted the library as a center of learning.
The new library continues to stand by that vision. He faced any number of major decisions that shaped the world as it came out of World War II, and history shows he got nearly all of them right. But was it a good precedent to send troops to Korea in 1950 without a congressional declaration of war? Was he right to use the atomic bomb in 1945 to end the war with Japan? The museum doesn’t skirt those kinds of questions but leaves the visitor – the citizen – to make up his or her own mind.
The America of the 1940s and ‘50s faced bigger – seemingly unsolvable – problems than we have today, but Truman and America found the backbone and decisiveness to not just muddle through but to make progress.
His example is still instructive.
“Harry Truman confronted some of the most difficult decisions of anyone in public office ever,” says Truman Library Executive Director Kurt Graham. “… And I think he sets a great model, a great trajectory, for us to follow, in that we're not all going to be president but we do all have to make decisions. And I think his ability to make decisions based on a moral core – returning to principles, returning to integrity – that's what got Harry Truman through, and frankly that's what can get us all through as well.”
Not that many presidential hometowns have presidential libraries. Independence – indeed, all of the Kansas City area – is greatly fortunate to have this library. This renovation is a home run. Truman’s story – the story of a messy, contentious America that is in the end still a land of laws, ideals and hope – is in good hands.