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Paramount // Unrated // February 14, 2006
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted March 2, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri and growing up in Independence, Truman was studious as a child, enjoying pastimes such as reading history and literature. During these years his ambitions were to be a soldier. Unfortunately his poor eyesight prevented him from getting a commission to West Point, and the family financial status made college equally problematic. He instead went to work on their farm until 1914 in spite of his distaste for farming life. During this period he courted and eventually married Virginia "Bess" Wallace, and tried unsuccessfully to veer away from farming into operating a mining company. In 1917 his National Guard unit was shipped out to France during WWI; Truman, having always craved life as a soldier, made the most of the experience, turning his battery into a fine unit.

After the war Truman opened a men's clothing store with the help of an army pal. In 1922 he was asked by Kansas City Democratic boss Tom Pendergrast to run for a judgeship in Jackson County court. He was elected and served one term, lost a bid for re-election, then served as presiding judge from 1926 to 1934. During this period he became renowned for a man of honestly and integrity in spite of the somewhat shady and questionable reputation of friend Pendergrast. It was in 1934 when he and Pendergrast spoke about Truman running for Senator, was elected to the office and not long after became a nationally known figure as head of the Truman Committee during WWII, Investigating corruption in the area of government military spending and saving the taxpayers what was certainly billions of dollars.

Roosevelt needed a new running mate for his fourth term as president and tapped Truman for the position, despite Harry's misgivings over taking the spot. The Roosevelt-Truman ticket won the election comfortably, FDR being an icon beloved by the American public as well as being a sitting wartime president. What was not well known was the quickly deteriorating physical state of Roosevelt at the time- he lived less than three months after being elected to his fourth term. Quite suddenly, Harry S. Truman became the 33rd President of the United States.

Truman assumed the presidency at the closing period of World War II as far as the European Theater was concerned, with allied troops claiming victory on May 7, 1945. The Pacific Theater was another matter altogether- plans had been made to invade Japan if necessary, which would have been an enormous prospect in terms of both troops and artillery; Allied casualties were bound to be high. What was made known to Truman at this time was the fact that development of the first atomic bomb had been underway in secrecy, and one of Truman's defining presidential acts took place in this period, him making the final decision to use the weapon on Japan rather than invade. On August 6th, one bomb was drooped on Hiroshima, and on the 9th another was dropped on Nagasaki. Japanese casualties were staggering- somewhere in the range of 100,000. Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered soon after this devastation and the war was finally over.

Unfortunately there was still Russia and Communism to deal with, the two superpowers differing greatly on many areas at the closing of the war. By 1949 Europe was effectively divided by Communism and Democracy; the Cold War was underway. Domestically the government stepped in and effectively presided over areas such as price and wage control. In spite of this inflation was high, there were many shortages and the Democrats were losing power.

Finally deciding to run for President, Truman stormed the country in 1948- railing against the Republicans and the platforms of both Republican nominee Thomas Dewey and Congress. This campaign was the stuff of which the "Give 'em Hell Harry" catch phrase was made. In an election most expected him not to win, his campaigning paid off and he instead won a very close race, pulling off one of the most surprising political comebacks in American history. To this day the photo of a grinning Harry Truman holding a newspaper erroneously reporting "Dewey Defeats Truman" as its headline paints a telling portrait of a man who was unafraid to stand his ground and scrap if the need arose.

In his second term he introduced what he called the "Fair Deal", a liberal agenda which was spotty in its inception, the more notable successes it garnered being raising minimum wages and an expanded Social Security program. The economy had stabilized greatly since the post-war years and the 50's were indeed a time of growth. Truman was also accused of being soft on Communism by many, a hard blow to take during a period of increasing Anti-Communist sentiment as well as sometimes unfair and controversial actions by politicians such as Joseph McCarthy in the United States.

In 1950 foreign policy continued to play a large role in Truman's presidency, this time making a commitment to defend South Korea when it was invaded by neighboring Communist North Korea. Pushing the North Koreans back to the Chines border, China entered into the fray. What ensued was an uneasy, bloody stalemate that was not resolved until after Truman left office. One result of the conflict was massive build-up of American artillery and something of an intensification of the Cold War era.

As a result of all of this Truman's popularity eroded and again he was seen as an unlikely winner in the next Presidential election. He made the decision not to run for another term. The Democrats lost the presidency with nominee Adlai Stevenson being beaten by war hero and Republican Presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. In retrospect his far reaching successes in areas domestically and internationally are seen in a far more favorable light, the challenges given him during those years being enormous.

Narrated by Jason Robards, this American Experience presentation clocks in at 260 minutes and is a 2 disc set. As is customary with their documentaries, the program is laid out using a number of different sources in order to give the viewer a compelling, detailed look at Truman's life as well as the times in which he lived.


Presentation is in 1:33.1 fullscreen. The picture is clean and colors accurate, fine overall for documentary purposes.


Audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 and clear and easy to understand.


No extras here.

Final Thoughts-

This should be a fine addition to the collection of any history buff and student of 20th Century American History. The post-war years and early 50's were ones of fascinating transitions in both International and domestic politics, and Truman was a vital reason for many of the changes of the era. Recommended.
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