Harry S. Truman

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I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they think it's hell.

Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884December 26, 1972) was the thirty-third President of the United States (1945–1953); as vice president, he succeeded to the office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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When a High Explosive shell bursts in fifteen feet and does you no damage, you can bet your sweet life you bear a charmed life and no mistake.
  • Now days battles are just sort of a "You shoot up my town and I'll shoot up yours." They say that Americans don't play fair. They shoot 'em up all the time. I hope so because I want to finish this job as soon as possible and begin making an honest living again.
  • Have fired 500 rounds at the Germans, at my command, been shelled, didn't run away thank the Lord and never lost a man. Probably shouldn't have told you but you'll not worry any more if you know I'm in it than if you think I am. Have had the most strenuous work of my life, am very tired but otherwise absolutely in good condition physically mentally and morally.
  • When a High Explosive shell bursts in fifteen feet and does you no damage, you can bet your sweet life you bear a charmed life and no mistake. I didn't have sense enough to know what was going on until the next day and then I was pretty scared. The men think I am not much afraid of shells but they don't know. I was too scared to run and that is pretty scared.
At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.
  • If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word.
  • Some of my best friends never agree with me politically.
    • To a group of four congress freshmen on 2 July 1947. Quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44.
  • The Russians are like us, they look and act like us. They are fine people. They got along with our soldiers in Berlin very well. As far as I am concerned, they can have whatever they want just so they don't try to impose their system on others.
    • To a group of four congress freshmen on 2 July 1947. Quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44.
    • The Russians are liars – you can't trust them. At Potsdam they agreed to everything and broke their word. It's too bad the second world power is like this, but that's the way it is, and we must keep our strength.
      • To Richard Nixon and his wife Pat in 1969. Quoted in The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, p. 44.
  • Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me. I've got the most terribly responsible job a man ever had.
No government is perfect. One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.
  • I sincerely wish that every member of Congress could visit the displaced person's camp in Germany and Austria and see just what is happening to 500,000 human beings through no fault of their own.
    • Letter to Walter F. George (October 1946); as quoted in Great Jewish Quotations (1996) by Alfred J. Kolatch, p. 463
  • At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.
    One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.
    The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.
    I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
    I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.
    • Speech to a joint session of the US Congress (12 March 1947), outlining what became known as The Truman Doctrine.
All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
  • Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it. He'd no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs. Henry brought a thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed. When the country went backward — and Republican in the election of 1946, this incident loomed large on the DP [Displaced Person] program. The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DP as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes. Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on DP — and they all come from DPs.
  • The people can never understand why the President does not use his powers to make them behave. Well all the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
    • Letter to Mary Jane Truman (14 November 1947)
  • Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it — don't forget that! We will do that because they are wrong and we are right, and I will prove it to you in just a few minutes.
  • I was the only calm one in the house. You see I’ve been shot at by experts.
    • Comment on his World War I experience after an assassination attempt on (1 November 1950) as quoted in Bess W. Truman (1986) by Margaret Truman
  • I have read your lousy review of Margaret’s concert. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are an eight ulcer man on a four ulcer job … Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below.
    • Letter to critic Paul Hume, as quoted in TIME magazine (18 December 1950)
I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
  • On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government's farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government's labor policy.
    That's plain hokum. It's an old political trick: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em." But this time it won't work.
    • Address at the National Plowing Match (18 September 1948); as quoted in Miracle of '48: Harry Truman's Major Campaign Speeches and Selected Whistle-stops (2003); edited by Steve Neal. Truman's mention of an "old political trick" is often quoted alone as if it were a strategy he was advising rather than one he was criticizing.
I've said many a time that I think the Un-American Activities Committee in the House of Representatives was the most un-American thing in America!
  • I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
  • I don’t give a damn about “The Missouri Waltz” but I can’t say it out loud because it’s the song of Missouri. It’s as bad as “The Star-Spangled Banner” so far as music is concerned.
    • As quoted in TIME magazine (10 February 1958)
  • A politician is a man who understands government, and it takes a politician to run a government. A statesman is a politician who's been dead 10 or 15 years.
    • As quoted in The New York World Telegram & Sun (12 April 1958)
  • Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.
    • Lecture at Columbia University (28 April 1959)
  • I've said many a time that I think the Un-American Activities Committee in the House of Representatives was the most un-American thing in America!
    • Third Radner Lecture, Columbia University, New York City (29 April 1959), as published in Truman Speaks : Lectures And Discussions Held At Columbia University On April 27, 28, And 29, 1959 (1960), p. 111
  • We are in a troublesome period, and some "nonsense" as you term it — but this is a great nation with a high purpose, and we shall come to our senses and resume our course.
    • On problems during the Vietnam War, in a letter to Charles Kennedy (18 March 1970)
It isn't important who is ahead at one time or another in either an election or horse race. It's the horse that comes in first at the finish line that counts.
  • The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.
    • As quoted in Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Miller, p. 26
  • He’s one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides.
    • On Richard Nixon, as quoted Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Miller, p. 179
  • I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the president. That's the answer to that. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.
    • On General Douglas MacArthur, as quoted in Plain Speaking : An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman (1974) by Merle Mille
  • What do you mean "helped create"? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.
    • Response to being described by his friend Eddie Jacobsen as "the man who helped create the state of Israel." (November 1953); as quoted in "With Eyes Toward Zion" (1977) by Moshe Davis
  • It isn't important who is ahead at one time or another in either an election or horse race. It's the horse that comes in first at the finish line that counts.
    • As quoted in Bush's Brain : How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (2003) by Wayne Slater and James Moore, p. 173
  • I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they think it's hell.
    • As quoted in My Fellow Americans : The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents (2003) by Michael Waldman, p. 137

Address to Congress (1945)

Address Before a Joint Session of the US Congress (16 April 1945)
In this shrinking world, it is futile to seek safety behind geographical barriers. Real security will be found only in law and in justice.
The task of creating a sound international organization is complicated and difficult. Yet, without such organization, the rights of man on earth cannot be protected.
  • So much blood has already been shed for the ideals which we cherish, and for which Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived and died, that we dare not permit even a momentary pause in the hard fight for victory.
    Today, the entire world is looking to America for enlightened leadership to peace and progress. Such a leadership requires vision, courage and tolerance. It can be provided only by a united nation deeply devoted to the highest ideals.
  • In this shrinking world, it is futile to seek safety behind geographical barriers. Real security will be found only in law and in justice.
    Here in America, we have labored long and hard to achieve a social order worthy of our great heritage. In our time, tremendous progress has been made toward a really democratic way of life. Let me assure the forward-looking people of America that there will be no relaxation in our efforts to improve the lot of the common people.
If wars in the future are to be prevented the nations must be united in their determination to keep the peace under law.
  • It is not enough to yearn for peace. We must work, and if necessary, fight for it. The task of creating a sound international organization is complicated and difficult. Yet, without such organization, the rights of man on earth cannot be protected. Machinery for the just settlement of international differences must be found. Without such machinery, the entire world will have to remain an armed camp. The world will be doomed to deadly conflict, devoid of hope for real peace.
  • In bitter despair, some people have come to believe that wars are inevitable. With tragic fatalism, they insist that wars have always been, of necessity, and of necessity wars always will be. To such defeatism, men and women of good will must not and can not yield. The outlook for humanity is not so hopeless.
  • If wars in the future are to be prevented the nations must be united in their determination to keep the peace under law.
    Nothing is more essential to the future peace of the world than continued cooperation of the nations which had to muster the force necessary to defeat the conspiracy of the Axis powers to dominate the world.
    While these great states have a special responsibility to enforce the peace, their responsibility is based upon the obligations resting upon all states, large and small, not to use force in international relations except in the defense of law. The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not to dominate the world.
  • Today, America has become one of the most powerful forces for good on earth. We must keep it so. We have achieved a world leadership which does not depend solely upon our military and naval might.
    We have learned to fight with other nations in common defense of our freedom. We must now learn to live with other nations for our mutual good. We must learn to trade more with other nations so that there may be — for our mutual advantage — increased production, increased employment and better standards of living throughout the world.
    May we Americans all live up to our glorious heritage.
    In that way, America may well lead the world to peace and prosperity.

Radio address on the Atomic Bomb (1945)

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base...
Radio address to the American public (9 August 1945). (full text)
  • The British, Chinese, and United States Governments have given the Japanese people adequate warning of what is in store for them. We have laid down the general terms on which they can surrender. Our warning went unheeded; our terms were rejected. Since then the Japanese have seen what our atomic bomb can do. They can foresee what it will do in the future.

Listen to a recording of the original performance of this quote:

File:Trumann hiroshima.ogg
We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.

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The buck stops here!

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