The Monitor really hadn’t planned on writing once again about Harry Truman. Last week’s column, which wondered why everyone was professing shock and surprise at the anti-Semitic statements expressed in a recently discovered diary of Truman’s, elicited plenty of debate and discussion on several popular websites, including FrontPageMag.com and FreeRepublic.com.
The Monitor’s main point was that evidence of Truman’s anti-Semitism had been in abundant supply for at least three decades, beginning with the release in the early 1970’s of Merle Miller’s popular Truman oral biography (Plain Speaking) and Margaret Truman’s best-selling biography of her father (Harry S. Truman).
Thirty years and countless books later – David McCullough’s 1992 effort, Truman, was a colossal commercial success, but the best overview of the Truman presidency can be found in Robert J. Donovan?s two-volume opus, Conflict and Crisis and Tumultuous Years, published, respectively, in 1977 and 1982 – it’s simply unfathomable how any thinking, politically aware person can sincerely claim to be shocked at the very idea that Harry Truman had, shall we say, issues when it came to Jews.
All of which brings us to Abraham Foxman, the ever-visible national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Given all the information available about Truman’s feelings toward Jews, Foxman was either insincere or unthinking and politically unaware when he penned the op-ed column that appeared in last week’s Forward under the title “Harry Truman, My Flawed Hero.”
Here’s Foxman’s opening paragraph: “Okay, the Richard Nixon tapes were one thing. But Harry Truman – A heroic president to Jewish people, with institutes and forests in Israel named after him – and now we learn from the recently discovered Truman diaries of 1947 that he, too, was capable of the most sordid anti-Semitic attitudes.”
The first question that comes to mind upon reading this meaningless pastiche is why Foxman sets up what he hopes readers will accept as a meaningful contrast between Nixon and Truman. Foxman implies that with Nixon, well, what better could one expect anyway – but Truman, ah, now there was a giant, and who would have expected such impurities to cross his lips?
What Foxman seems to be saying is that the taped revelation of Nixon’s anti-Semitism was hardly a shock because he was, after all, Nixon – the very embodiment of evil to every good liberal of a certain age. But we know that Nixon harbored anti-Semitic feelings only because we’ve heard those White House tapes or read the transcripts, and the fact that Nixon’s anti-Semitism was as shocking when it was first revealed as Truman’s was when it first came to
light gives the lie to Foxman’s shrug-of-the-shoulders statement that “Okay, the Richard Nixon tapes were one thing.”
Probably even more disturbing is Foxman’s claim that “now we learn from the recently discovered Truman diaries” about Truman’s anti-Semitism. As argued above, this is clearly not the case, and if Foxman is only learning now, at this late date, of the anti-Semitism of a president of the United States, what in heaven’s name is he doing sitting atop an organization that bills itself the world’s foremost watchdog against anti-Semitism?
Nor was Foxman’s choice of words a careless slip. When news of Truman’s diary first broke earlier this month, the ADL put out a press release stating that it “was shocked [emphasis added] to learn that President Harry S. Truman…had given voice to anti-Semitism in his personal diary.”
That same press release quoted Foxman saying that “The diary entries reveal that, sadly, President Truman was a man of his times…. it is shocking [emphasis added] to learn that this great American leader was afflicted” with anti-Semitism.
So much shock and dismay over something that’s been common knowledge for so long. Doesn’t anybody over at the ADL read books?
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Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org