Why did Truman's stature as President improve?

Some of those who say Bush will be viewed favorably in the future use Truman as example, because he also had low approval ratings while President but now is viewed as one of the better ones. Why is that? And could those causes reasonably be extrapolated to give Bush a chance for historic rehabilitation?

The answer is that some of Truman’s decisions were unpopular at the time but were shown to be correct by the passage of time. Let’s not forget that one of the things Truman was hated for was firing MacArthur - but this was a correct decision.

Other things were incorrect but were understood later to have been undertaken for decent reasons - Truman really wanted to do the right thing in the steel situation - he just chose the wrong thing. You can’t really fault his motives.

The economy was soft in the early 1950s, and that did him in as well. But people looking back tend to remember big foreign policy events and forget the inflation or unemployment rate - though those were hugely important at the time.

People blamed him for the Korean war which had ten times the casualties of the Iraq war. Now people know that it was the fault of Stalin, Mao, and Kim. Also they know that it saved millions of Koreans from communist enslavement, showed the communists America was willing to fight, and set in motion the containment strategy which ultimately won the Cold War.
Bush is similar in that he got us in a war that became unpopular, wether that was the right decision we will know more about in the future. If Iraq turns out as well as South Korea history will probably treat Bush very well.

The big problem with the Truman analogy from the Bush pov is that while Truman is remembered well today it’s not for the Korean war. It is for the institution building after the shambles of WW2: NATO, the Marshall plan and so forth which helped re-build Europe, keep it free and ultimately defeated Communism.

If all Truman had was the Korean war he would probably be remembered as one of the worst post-war Presidents which is probably what George W Bush's fate will be.

The Korean war was not a success, it was at best a draw. It is also not quite right to say it was all the Communists fault. I used to think that as well, but when I actually took a course on the history of the period I found out how bad at foreign policy Truman actually was. He thought he could treat Stalin like a naughty little boy and have fall in line. He was really out of his depth on the international stage.

I would need to check my books and notes, but one of the big mistakes his administration made in the lead up to the Korean war was a policy statement in a speech by (I think) his Sec. of State that was supposed to “draw a line in the sand”. It told the Communists we would not let them expand past a certain point. Unfortunately, they left Korea on the other side, which the Soviets took to mean the U.S. would not interfere if North Korea invaded.


I guess the first question is why Bush’s ratings are so low. If it’s primarily due to the Iraq war, and the significance of that fades over time, I wouldn’t be surprised if his approval goes up.

Another reason is that Truman followed FDR, one of the more beloved presidents. People with an emotional attachment to FDR had a harder time looking favorably on Truman.

At the time, the public backed MacArthur in wanting to go in and nuke the hell out of North Korea and mainland China. At the time, the public felt we looked weak and that Mac had the right idea. Then Truman fired him.

Now, fifty years later, we see that without that restraint, we would have been involved in a nuclear war very soon after that with the USSR. Truman did what was right in the face of popular opinion…

Truman’s stature went up because he laid the groundwork for the system of containment later executed under Acheson, he effectively arrayed long term US interests by working through and bolstering international institutions like the U.N., which established the new collective security regime, and was supplemented by the hard-power security guarantee through NATO.

These were all decisions vindicated by history, which demonstrated a long-sighted tempered kind of Wilsonian instinct.

The comparison with Bush is laughable. Bush is leaving the economy in recession, with two unresolved wars - one of which was launched on false pretences in opposition to both the collective security regime and the Powell doctrine. That approach sits in complete opposition to Truman’s upholding of the Atlantic Charter template laid down by Roosevelt and Churchill. This is an incredible departure from years of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. Bush’s approach has been to revert to primitive exceptionalism and he has fatally undermined US interests throughout the globe and left a weakened collective security regime.

I think you’ve got it backwards. Many people back in Truman’s time felt he was too accomodating to the Communists. They were more upset about his decison to fight a limited war in Korea and accept a draw rather than let MacArthur go all out against North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. Or to have send troops into East Germany when the Soviets blockaded Berlin. Or to send troops to support Chiang when he was losing to Mao. Or settling disputes with the Soviet Union over Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Yugoslavia by diplomatic rather than military means.

In retrospect, people are now just as happy we didn’t get involved in WWIII and acknowledge we might have lost such a war. But back in the forties and fifties, it was felt that the United States was unbeatable and the only reason for not achieving a complete victory was a lack of will.

That they are unresolved means it’s nearly impossible to really judge them like history will.

Well, let’s hope it is not fatally.

How do you think Bob McNamara is remembered? History doesn’t revert to some kindly attitude about hugely costly, erroneous jingoistic policy just because a future administration happens to salvage the situation.

Truman is invoked for one reason and one reason only here: he was a “big picture” president who left office with bad polling, only to subsequently rise in stature because of the prejudice arrayed against him at the time did not weigh with his broader legacy. Invoking him is a blatantly self-serving meme the Bushies have tried to create, more a sop for Bush’s ego than anything else, which ignores that Bush has taken an antithetical approach to Truman’s on internationalism.

Are you arguing that if we had let South Korea be conquered, we would have lost the Cold War? What’s the basis for that claim? I suppose you could argue that a lack of U.S. opposition in Korea would have emboldened the Communists to try to invade somewhere else . . . but ultimately that happened anyway.