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The Truman Diary

As is evident from this week’s Media Monitor, readers of The Jewish Press should not be shocked by the revelation of President Harry S. Truman’s anti-Jewish statements discovered in a 1947 diary (“The Jews, I find are very, very selfish….”) We’ve seen this movie before. On the other hand, writing in Monday’s Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen had this to say: “I confess to shock at what Truman secretly wrote in 1947.”

But more important, Cohen and some of the others who similarly professed surprise in print
also went on to obscure an important point. Cohen represented them thusly:

I am tempted to say the remark is unforgivable, but this was the very same President who bucked the State Department and recognized the State of Israel. He did so with some reluctance, but he later declared it one of the most important and satisfying decisions of his presidency.

Truman instructs. The contemporary world is unforgiving of the blurted remark, the tossed-off opinion. We make little distinction between the private thought and the public action – between secretly acknowledging prejudice and refraining from acting on it. We believe it’s the psyche or soul that counts.

No Mr. Cohen, et al. It is positively scary that someone who rose to the Presidency of the United States thought in stereotypes. No one denies that Richard Nixon’s personal intervention really saved the day for Israel in 1973. Yet on the famous White House tapes, he was recorded as having spoken of the government attorneys who questioned his 1972
campaign treasurer, Maurice Stans, as complaining that “those Jew lawyers at the SEC
were all over Stans.”

The momentary outburst may be overshadowed by an inconsistent course of conduct. But it says something about our political system that our highest official could harbor such primitive perceptions.

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