During the trip I took on Monday to visit the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri I had the opportunity to quickly tour the facility before our scheduled activities to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, Virginia. I was excited to see the temporary exhibit that now takes up a great space in the lower level - Harry Truman's time in the first World War. Amazingly, Harry Truman is the only president to have served during WW1.
I am sorely deficient in WW1 history, but I found this portion of the museum to be compelling, with actual objects from the Truman collection on display. This was my second visit to the museum, but there were many items of interest that I had not seen before - the future president's pistol, uniform, WW1 chest and supplies, hat, medals, and stirrups.
The mock-up of Truman's Oval Office seems resoundingly non-modern and, honestly not very classy, but that may be because the 33rd president actually used the space more as a working platform and less as a movie set.
Connections to George Washington abound to a person who, just last month, spent five days at Mount Vernon. I couldn't help contrast the tombs. While George and Martha are on top of the ground and inside a brick structure, Harry and Bess are at ground level and outdoors. Each of the areas have both humble and majestic qualities.
While the actual-size statues at each museum depict men with great leadership abilities, the difference in physical stature is immense. I could not help but picture Washington's 6'2" frame standing beside the 5'8" Truman. The four inches is noticeable.
I found myself, once again, staring at the beam suspended above me, knowing that when Harry Truman renovated the White House around the turn of the 1950 decade, this beam structure was removed and replaced (along with the entire interior layout of the presidential mansion).
I feel as if this beam somehow makes a connection with Washington, even though Washington never lived in the White House. It is, at the very least, a connection between the two eras.
Finally, a great portion of the permanent display at the Independence facility includes a nod to the Second World War, and whether or not dropping atomic bombs on Japan was the right or the wrong decision - It has to be the most well-known of Truman's presidency - and I couldn't help but wonder how Washington would have led differently during WW2. There is no way of knowing, but there are some inherent truths that one must consider when employing the use of conjecture such as this.
Of course, the technologies of war (airplanes, ships, submarines, radios, telephones, and weaponry) would have dictated certain changes in Washington's strategy. Would Washington have led his men into the battlefields of Japan or would he have communicated strategic positions from afar? Would have used the planes to cross the Pacific as aggressively as he used boats and ferries to cross the icy Delaware River? And, of course, would Washington have come to the same conclusion to drop A-bombs on the enemy? It is enough of a puzzle to keep a historian's mind spinning.
Today, September 27, 2018, is the fifth anniversary of the $106.4 million, 45,000-square-foot Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Just thee days ago, I drove to Independence, Missouri, to celebrate with the folks from Mount Vernon at the Harry Truman Presidential Library (which, ironically, opened more than 60 years before the Washington facility.
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