Truman Deserves a Monument

Harry S. Truman's presidency should be recognized on D.C.'s National Mall.

This is an official portrait of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, taken on Dec. 21, 1948.

Underrated while in office, but respected now.

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It’s time Washington had an appropriate memorial to America’s 33rd president, Harry S Truman. The man from Independence, who never went to college and who failed in most everything he tried until entering politics, may have been a product of Kansas City’s infamous “Pendergast Machine,” but rose above his humble origins to become on of the nation’s near great presidents.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill thinks this historical oversight should be corrected and proposes renaming Washington’s Union Station in his honor. As reported by The Washington Post and other outlets, McCaskill said she wanted to give Truman the honor because no site in Washington carried the Truman name. “I hear Republicans all the time comparing themselves to Harry Truman. So I figured, with so many people wanting to grab Harry Truman’s mantle, this could turn into a great bipartisan effort,” she said.

So far the Missouri Democrat has gotten what she wants. Her same state colleague, Republican Roy Blunt, has joined on to the measure, as has D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who promised to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives where she serves as a non-voting member.

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Of course, McCaskill is wrong, as she no doubt now knows, that no site in Washington bears Truman’s name. As part of the arrangement in which the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House was renamed the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the main headquarters of the U.S. Department of State was, in a fitting tribute, named for Truman.

Consider his accomplishments. He was the first “Cold Warrior” president and he fought the international Communist menace with great force, not just through the Marshall Plan and the commitment of U.S. troops to the conflict in Korea but through the instillation of loyalty oaths for U.S. government personnel, some of whom were in fact spies working on behalf of the Soviet Union, as the Venona intercepts eventually proved.

Truman’s accomplishments in foreign policy set the stage for the Cold War policy of containment first proposed by U.S. diplomat George Kennan in his infamous “long telegram.” It was a policy that held sway for decades, until Richard Nixon replaced it with “detente” and, later, Ronald Reagan finished the job by deciding simply to win.

Truman deserves a memorial – just not Union Station, which evokes more about his come-from-behind, partisan political victory in the election of 1948 against Republican Tom Dewey then it does his presidency, and we don’t honor presidents for their partisan accomplishments.

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Truman already has the State Department building and the exterior balcony on the south side of the White House, which was installed as part of the renovations during his second term. It would be more fitting to erect a statute in his likeness than to affix his name to the city’s train station cum shopping mall. Perhaps somewhere around the ellipse or another part of the city where he famously took his constitutionals. Most of the good spots, unfortunately, are already taken, but there has to be at least one parcel of land that can accommodate a memorial to a man who was unrated while in office but deserves the respect and gratitude of us all.