Harry Truman, Truman Presidential Library, Israel discussed on People of the Pod


Dr Kirk Graham is the director of the Harry. S Truman Presidential Library in Independence Missouri next year will be seventy five years since Truman succeeded. FDR's president and an anticipation of that anniversary sorry the Truman Library has undertaken a major renovation. Kurt join me in studio last week for a wide ranging and fascinating conversation on the importance of history. Sorry the founding of the State of Israel and Truman's legacy today Kurt. Thank you so much joining us great to be here. I WANNA start with kind of a Meta question from that thirty thousand in foot view before even dive into Truman. Why is it important to study history well. I mean if you think about where we've been that gives us. A good sense of is it provides context for where we are so I think the main reason to study history is to get context for your own time but also to expand your your experience we all lead fairly limited lives and I think you go back in the past and meet characters in the past for the same reason you take a plate of cookies and go meet your neighbors because that that expands your horizons expand your experience. It introduces you to people who don't think an act and talk and look like you do and I think that's always very beneficial. There's an interesting kind of debate. The in the community of historians think about or maybe a debate in the general public about whether history repeats itself your typical historian would say no but you can still learn something thing from history about maybe not learn about the future but as long as we know the lessons of history it can inform the way we address the future. Where where do you fall out. I think yeah I mean I think that people who who are fearful that somehow we're not learning the lessons of history. We're doomed to repeat some catastrophic decision. The fact of the matter is the context. The circumstances are always different so you you can't go back and say well see we learned this from World War. Two or we learned I mean honestly one of the reasons that Vietnam went the way it did is because we were applying the lessons of World War Two and it was a very different kind of engagement and so I I is obviously very worthwhile to study history to know ourselves better and to have a broader experience because it just makes us better the decision makers in general but the idea that we can go back and figure out what you know what Abraham Lincoln do in this situation well you know I mean you know people. Ask that all the time. What would the founders under. Do you know around this. You know global warming or something well. That was the furthest thing from their mind. They wouldn't have even known where to start with that question so we need to be bold enough to make our own decisions and not try to pass it off on other people who you know grab a quote and taken out of context and say we'll see here's what Emerson would have done or here's what Jefferson would have done well yeah. Maybe I'm picturing someone explaining leaning twitter to Abraham Yeah. I'm not sure how that would and trying to explain it. Not only one hundred forty characters Kurt your. AJC AJC story starts in two thousand eighteen at the AJC global forum in Jerusalem when you spoke on our main stage and you said quote you believe there's no better place in the United United States to tell the story of the founding of Israel than the Truman Library for our listeners who don't know that part of history. Can you tell us about Truman's role in the rebirth of modern Israel well. It is just to pick up on that on that statement. I appreciate you starting there. Because there is no other place there is no other museum. There is no other think tank. There is no other sort of university department or unit that is pursuing this important question and the thing that is important to me is that Harry Truman literally changed the map of the world. The fact that this farmer from Missouri became president it says a lot about a lot of things but it does have an impact on the world far beyond just farmers in Missouri so certainly his decision and desire hire to recognize Israel immediately upon its declaration and to have been concerned about that problem to have been concerned about the Holocaust about the DP camp. Some of this had been playing him for years. This was not oh he got three memos and you know sort of weighed this in in an afternoon decided what to do this decision which was momentous. Mantis was years in the making and and it speaks to the heart not just a crisis in the world and what needed to be done it speaks to WHO Harry Truman was he always was concerned about people who are being abused or or taking advantage of some ways I mean his civil rights. Legacy speaks to that he was ahead of his time in terms of an I don't know maybe that's not even the right phrase ahead of his time. He was concerned about others. It was a very basic principle whole there's a humanity to that. There's there's a reality that that Truman just always went back to kind of moral core when he made those kinds of decisions. I'm glad you mentioned that and Holocaust there. If I recall correctly Truman spoke at a rally in either New York or Chicago in Chicago. It was called. I'd like Rally for our Doom Jewish brothers in Europe something like that right to demand rescue the doom Jews I believe was the phrase and this was where where was this was in nineteen forty three when he was still in the US Senate yeah so he was a little known political figure at that time I mean he was getting known and being known for the Truman Committee which he went around the country in a crisis that we have on display at the museum the traveled No no first class jet travel in those days so he went from place to place and he was investigating fraud and abuse in government contracts around military installations and that kind of thing so so that was kind of what he was known for him he was getting known a a sort of a a guy that really knew how to find waste and fraud and the budget and whatnot but the idea that he was this voice for the underdog that he was this great humanitarian this champion the rights of other people even though those of us who look back on his career well of course I mean this was this was this was this was growing all along but the fact of the matter is that speech in Chicago was was a turning point for the rest of the world to hear from him with with that kind of clarity and this is a young senator with ambition establishing a foreign policy credential or this is just someone who feels called to speak out against injustice in the world. Oh I think it's I think but I think it's more the latter. I mean I really don't. I don't know that Truman at that time. I think that you know not only was he not necessarily trying to carve out his exact thing. You know we're we're used to the United States Senate Senate today being a place where as soon as people get there they start thinking about how they get on the ticket and what they do to position themselves for that next bump Truman was a senator senator. He was very hesitant to become vice president he wanted to stay in the Senate. you spoke a little bit about what the founding of if Israel would have meant to Truman and certainly what it meant for the world. Can you just back up a little bit and tell us the story you know my understanding is that kind of all of his advisors here in the states. All of his official advisors were saying you pump the brakes right so what happens in. May Nineteen forty eight well you know it is an interesting moment and it is not a moment that would be the easy to predict. I mean if you didn't know how the story turned out and somebody said okay. Here's all the data points leading up to this decision. How do you think it's going to go. I don't think you can clearly guess us what is going to happen because I think the decision was rooted. Not In policy not in the particulars was rooted in character and it was rooted in this deeper kind of humanity yeah the story was was that Truman with these DP camps and we had the Harrison report. He had all these things telling him look things are not good in Europe. These people are displaced in many cases. Don't have homes to go back to so this idea of a of a partition plan of the following through on the Balfour Declaration. which was you know? World War One product which basically basically promised the Jews a homeland and Truman just felt that that's something that should be honored but you're right. I mean he had to go against his own State Department. Many of his I mean including General Marshall who was very close friend mentor advisor someone he respected probably more than anybody else at the time he also had a to grapple with an ally the British who were were not wanting to take people from Europe allow them to land in in and with a called Palestine because they didn't you know the problems at that would create from their perspective but Truman valued and follow that partition plan that idea of sort of what we would call today a two-state solution didn't go that way obviously but but nevertheless it was something that he felt was important so when when the country was going to be declared this this new nation was going to be sort of birthed if you will he was right there within literally within hours of that declaration the United States recognized the new state of Israel. There's this famous story of high invites men who would go on to be the first president of Israel was in D. C. and the Jews in mandatory Palestine the Jewish community designers community unity in America kind of thought that the best chance for US recognition I think would be vitamins sat down with Truman and there's a fellow named Eddie Jacobson who kind of facilitates dates this right right the so Jacobsen is a as a World War Two buddy of Truman's they ran the commissary together and then after the war they went into business together in in Kansas City and that's the you've heard the failed haberdashery clothing store that went out the because the economy was bad they couldn't make a go of it but he Jacobsen Simpson Jacobson of course with Jewish and they were very close friends which when you go back into that time thinking about a southern Baptist an Jew being close enough friends to to actually go into business together you know I it speaks a lot about about Truman. I think even even then but they went into business and you know when that business failed. Truman's mom was the KKK supporter or something they were there. These overcoming some family history overcoming civil rights legacy the same..

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