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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bess W Truman by Margaret Truman

Cover Leaf
Read this November-December 2017, another from my shelf, another book sale find, another keeper for my Presidential shelf ,another book proving that there are plenty to read from past years, no need to buy new.  Hardback, published in 1986, 432 pages.  The introductory paragraph on the leaf, "the untold story of Bess and her love for her husband.., as only their daughter could tell it."  In my opinion it is as much about Harry as Bess, often using his letters written over the years to Bess and his mother and his journals. Perhaps Margaret could not help herself with so much already written about Harry there are some things she disputes that other authors have written, I am inclined to believe her.  I enjoyed every page having long been a fan of Harry Truman.  What makes it endearing are the letters that he wrote to Bess over the years, from a young man, to World War I, to his Senate and Presidential Days when they often lived apart, Bess in Missouri and Harry in Washington.  

One of the precious letters is the anniversary letter Harry wrote to Bess June 28, 1957 where he details each year anniversary beginning June 28, 1920, "One happy year" , June 28, 1937 "Grand time in Washington", June 28, 1940 "Senate fight coming.", June 28, 1944 "Talk of V>P> Bad business", June 28, 1949 "President again.  Another happy day.", and ending with June 28, 1957, "Well here we are again, as Harry Jones (an old friend) would say.  Only 37 to go for the diamond jubilee!"  

Pages 128-129 detail from Harry's reflections the airmail he faced deciding to run for the Senate and his continuous fight against corrupt politicians, some of who tried to befriend him, some  in his party, some not. He summarizes the major events of his life from meeting Bess Wallace in kindergarten through his struggle on the farm to joining the army in World War I. He would maintain a lifelong respect and friendship with the men with whom he served.    "My mother and sister came to see me at Camp Doniphan.  My mother was 65 years old but she never shed a tear, smiled at me all the time and told me to do my best for the country.  But she cried all the way home and when I came back from France, she gained ten or 15 pounds in weight.  That's the real horror of war.  I believe that the great majority of the country were stirred by the same flame that stirred me in tose great days.  I was a Gallahad after the Grail and I'll never forget how my love cried on my shoulder when I told her I was going.  That was worth a lifetime on this earth."     Page 129  he philosophizes "I have always believed in Santa Claus I guess.  It was my opinion...that most men had a sense of honor.  Now I don't know.......Who is to blame for the present conditions but swindling church members who weep on Sunday, play with whores on Mondays, drink on Tuesday, sell out to the Big Boss on Wednesday, repent about Friday and start over again on Sunday...And now I am a candidate for the US Senate. ...I am going to pray as King Solomon did, for wisdom to do the job."  Bess was not with him when he wrote his lonely sounding meditation.  Margaret writes, "But even the closest, most enduring marriage is not always idyllic.  Perhaps the difficulty of perfect union between a strong man and a strong woman, even the impossibility is an important truth--it might even be the central truth of this book.  Perfect union suggests that there has to be a surrender of one self to the other self, usually the woman to the man.  Bess Truman never did that.  But she never forgot the promise she had made to Captain Truman in 1919."  
Margaret, Harry and Bess victory, VP nomination. 

The story of Bess reveals her athleticism and sense of competition as a young girl and her absolute devotion to her mother, widowed by Bess' father's suicide, and to her brothers.  Harry is usually always optimistic, Bess could be more realistic.  She was with him all through his political ups and downs, a counter balance to some heavy weight influences and often more skeptical and a better judge of people and their unstated motives than Harry.  Bess also tried to shun a lot of campaigning and reporters in particular.  Sometimes she merely refused to talk with them.  Still her political instincts were amazingly astute and very helpful to Harry over the years.  Pg 229, "..there was an invisible line in their partnership that Bess never crossed--a line that divided a wife's power over her husband between influence and control.  Bess never hesitated to try to influence...decisions.  But she never attempted to control him, especially in those lonely moments when he confronted his deepest self, the instinct that drove him to risk the pain and sacrifice of meeting history head on. While Bess had adjusted and become content with being the wife of Senator Truman she dreaded the vice presidency but she did not try to dissuade Harry from accepting responsibility.  It would change history or perhaps history indeed changed them.   Pg. 230 Margaret describes that Bess could barely get a smile for the photo above, "She was losing the serene, comfortable life of a senator's wife, which she had worked so hard to master.  She was fifty nine years old and all her life she had been making sacrifices for people, putting herself and her concerns second to her mother's peace of mind, her brothers' welfare, her daughter's health her husband's career.  " 

Page344 summarizes Bess' major accomplishments as first lady.  In 1949 Denmark invited the US to send a company to perform Hamlet at Elsinore Castle.  Bess facilitated the way for Blevins Davis a former Independence Missouri English teacher who became a successful Broadway producer and a wealthy widower, to gain State Department approval.  Blevins production which included a previously unknown actor, Ernest Borgnine and the  tour was a hit. In the mid-1950's the State Department created a division to routinely send artistic companies abroad.    In the 1948 campaign Bess met Florence Mahoney wife of a relative of a newspaper publisher. Mrs. Mahoney suggested that the National Institutes of Health(NIH) become the center  of a massive effort to conquer major diseases such as cancer.  Bess was fascinated by this and went to work making it a reality by urging Harry to increase funding for the NIH  By 1952 when Harry left the presidency the budget for NIH had increased to $46 million , twenty times what it was when Harry first became president.   

Pg 179 describes how he disliked FDR whom Harry believed was not able to keep his word and not interested in doing so.   Pg 214-215 summarizes the Truman Committee investigation of the Navy Bureau of ships in 1942, the contract for the Higgins boats and his concern over corruption especially in the war effort. .  I could write on and on about this book, but will stop here.  It is a worthy read for a history on politics, how perhaps the country changed and how things were still the same.  Another 5 ***** read. 

Cover jacket flaps

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