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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Tumultuous Years’

Vindication, Late But Sweet

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Forgive the Monitor a little self-indulgence this week. In its May 14 issue, Newsweek magazine published a chapter from historian Michael Beschloss’s new book, Presidential Courage (Simon & Schuster). The excerpt centered on Harry Truman’s role in the establishment of Israel, and Beschloss had no compunction about highlighting Truman’s nasty anti-Semitic streak or that after leaving office Truman admitted to the late television impresario David Susskind that his wife, Bess, had never allowed a Jew into their Independence, Missouri home.

In the book’s footnotes, Beschloss credits the latter information to a story related by Susskind to a former White House speechwriter named James Humes, who duly recorded it for posterity in his 1997 book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter (Regnery).

In the spring of 1998 your humble scrivener wrote a series of weekly features for The Jewish Press on American presidents and Israel. Humes’s story about Truman and Susskind was included in the piece on Truman, much to the surprise and dismay of many readers.

In July 2003, a librarian at the Truman Library in Independence discovered a 1947 diary of Truman’s that had been sitting unopened on a shelf for some four decades and that contained several derogatory references to Jews. Some so-called experts immediately professed shock at the very idea that Truman could have harbored dark thoughts toward Jews.

Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, reacted with a particularly appalling display of ignorance: “Wow!” she said. “It did surprise me because of what I know about Truman’s record.”

As the Monitor commented at the time, Ms. Bloomfield obviously didn’t know very much.

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, in which the widow of Truman’s close friend Eddie Jacobson told Miller that the Trumans had never invited her or her husband to their home) and Margaret Truman’s biography of her father (Harry S. Truman) and continuing with Robert J. Donovan’s two-part study of the Truman presidency (Conflict and Crisis and Tumultuous Years, published, respectively, in 1977 and 1982) and David McCullough’s massive 1992 bestseller Truman.

It was “simply unfathomable” as the Monitor put it, “how any thinking, politically aware person [could] sincerely claim to be shocked at the very idea that Harry Truman had, shall we say, issues when it came to Jews.” Your helpful scribbler then proceeded to list several examples of anti-Semitic statements made by Truman and for good measure recounted the Susskind-Truman story.

As was the case five years earlier, that story in particular seemed to rile Truman devotees, as many of them made very clear in faxes, letters and e-mails, some going so far as to question both its accuracy and the Monitor’s integrity for repeating it.

Last winter, your modest correspondent buffed, polished, and updated the aforementioned 1998 Truman article where needed and it ran as a front-page essay in the Dec. 31 issue of The Jewish Press under the title “Harry Truman Without Fanfare.” The Susskind/Truman anecdote was prominently featured. The piece was picked up by a number of websites and blogs, and the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle in Truman’s home state reprinted it on its front page.

Again, not a few readers took umbrage at the Susskind story and did not hesitate to make their feelings known.

And then, lo and behold, five months later – and a full nine years after your faithful servant first wrote about it – a major historian recounted the story in a book put out by a major publishing house and a chapter excerpted in a major magazine. Sweet vindication, indeed – though not one letter, fax or e-mail expressing regrets, remorse, or repentance from any of your suffering reporter’s erstwhile critics.

But at least the issue finally has been laid to rest, right? Truman’s anti-Semitism is no longer in dispute, correct? His outbursts against Jews no longer have any news value, do they? The answers might seem obvious to Jewish Press readers, but not necessarily to those souls who look for their Jewish news solely in the pages of the New York Jewish Week, which came a little late to this particular party.

In its July 13 issue, two months after publication of Presidential Courage, the Jewish Week’s Washington correspondent, in tones suggesting this was all an unpleasant revelation to him, first got around to reporting the juicier details about Truman found in Beschloss’s book, including, first and foremost, the shocking Susskind/Truman story.

Something tells the Monitor such tardiness would not have been the case had Truman been a Republican.

Not Your Typical Summer Reading List

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Not exactly light beach reads, the following books on American presidents deal with Mideast issues in an extended and intelligent manner. These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.

Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel by John Snetsinger (Hoover Institute Press, 1974): Superior to anything else written on the struggle for a Jewish state during the first three years of the Truman presidency. Very strong on how the 1948 presidential election influenced U.S. policy.

Conflict and Crisis, The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1948 and Tumultuous Years, The Presidency of Harry Truman, 1949-1953 by Robert J. Donovan (W.W. Norton, 1977 and 1982): This two-volume history of Truman’s years in the White House stands head and shoulders above the many books on the Truman presidency, including David McCullough’s much-acclaimed 1992 biography.

Eisenhower and the American Crusades by Herbert S. Parmet (Macmillan, 1972): A thorough look at the Eisenhower administration, with considerable attention paid to the Suez Crisis of 1956. Despite its having been written before the release of many classified Eisenhower-era documents, the book has aged well.

“Let Us Begin Anew”: An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (Harper-Collins, 1993): Real inside stuff here; the Strobers interviewed dozens of surviving Kennedy-era officials and opinion-makers who spoke candidly and on the record, many for the first time, on the major issues of the day.

Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance by Warren Bass (Oxford University Press, 2002): Though some have argued that Bass gives Kennedy too much credit for a U.S.-Israel relationship that really began to bloom in the Johnson and Nixon years, any student of U.S. foreign affairs would be well served to read this book.

Flawed Giant – Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek (Oxford University Press, 1998): Second and concluding volume of a well-written, authoritative biography, focusing on Johnson’s vice presidential and presidential years.

Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, 1989, 1991): Parts two and three of a magisterial three-volume biography of Nixon, with plenty on the evolution of the Nixon administration’s Middle East policies.

Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (HarperCollins, 1994): The Strobers do for Nixon’s presidency what they did for Kennedy’s. Essential reading for anyone who wants to know the thoughts and reminiscences of the actual participants.

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Green (University Press of Kansas, 1995): The definitive history of the Ford administration has yet to appear, but readers wishing a good overview will find one in this slim but informative volume (which includes an examination of the Kissinger-Ford Mideast policy).

The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. by Burton I. Kaufman (University Press of Kansas, 1993): As with Ford, a comprehensive history of the Carter presidency remains to be written; in the meantime, this concise account touches on all the important points. Contains some interesting details on the Camp David negotiations.

President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon (Simon & Schuster, 1991): A big book by a reporter who covered Reagan longer than just about anyone else.

Reagan: The Man and His Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (Houghton Mifflin, 1998): The third and, apparently, final entry in the Strobers’ superb series of oral histories.

George Bush – The Life of a Lone Star Yankee by Herbert S. Parmet (Scribner, 1997): The first full-length Bush biography. Fair to its subject and rigorously researched, with a detailed account of the Gulf War and the Bush-Baker Mideast policy.

American Presidents, Religion, and Israel: The Heirs of Cyrus by Paul Charles Merkley (Praeger Publishers, 2004): Fascinating examination of how the religious backgrounds of American presidents have influenced U.S. foreign policy.

The Unfinished Presidency by Douglas Brinkley (Viking, 1998): Books are rarely written about the activities of presidents once they’ve left office, but private citizen Jimmy Carter is a special case. In this revealing look at Carter’s post-presidential years, his obsession with the Palestinians and affection for Yasir Arafat are made clear as never before.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/not-your-typical-summer-reading-list/2006/06/21/

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