I started this post last month. I don’t like it much which is why it has taken me so long to put it up. Rereading it, I found that it is not what I started out to write about. There are five people in the cast. I admire all of them. They are, in fact, great Americans. They all had flaws as human beings. They were contemporaries. They all served in WWII (although one was technically a civilian – the President of The United States is a civilian although he is also Commander in Chief of the armed forces). Much has been made of the “Greatest Generation”, those people who grew up in the depression and then went on to win WWII. Three of those, I write of, were the leaders of that generation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy is briefly mentioned here; he was of the Greatest Generation, but I mention him only in relation to his predecessors. Nixon is also mentioned, and like Kennedy was a member of the Greatest Generation, and mentioned only as VP to his President.
I encourage you to read “One last time they gather, the Greatest Generation”. This is a Guardian article from 2004. It is told from the British perspective, but it is also true of the Americans of that time.
What follows is the original unliked post–
It never ceases to amaze me how investigating the facts about stuff that I already know can throw my mind into tornado mode. I start to check on a few minor facts and wind up completely destroying an edifice of imagined knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of being curious.
In the case at hand, I stared with reading the Wikipedia entry for Dwight Eisenhower and was ‘sorta’ comparing his presidency with that of his predecessor, Harry Truman - HST, when I decided to check on the accuracy of my memory bank contents on the subject of Harry’s presidency.
My memories of Ike, Dwight Eisenhower, were mostly factual with only minor corrections needed. Truman was a completely different story. I was in high school during Ike’s last term as president and so was of the right age to learn and retain understanding of the presidency, history and the man. The views and history I read of Ike were mostly positive. Those I read of Truman and his presidency were not so much. Then too, I have actual memories of Ike’s 2nd term, fewer of his first and almost none of Truman’s tenure. My age was the major determining factor of retention.
I am an old guy. I am, in fact, old enough to remember both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman as President. My memories of Ike, Dwight Eisenhower, are considerably more vivid than those of HST, Harry Truman. Still, I have recollections of newsreel footage of Harry campaigning from the platform of a train car, and him in Guam meeting General Douglas MacArthur.
These memories were reinforced by my later reading of his presidency. First, there was the incredible victory in the presidential race of 1945 over Dewey. Everyone expected Dewey to win. So much so that the Chicago Tribune, (and others) printed a front page announcing that Truman had lost. As a teenager, I read of the sign on Harry’s desk in the oval office. It read “The buck stops here”. Later, I read of how MacArthur really pissed off the President by keeping him waiting for MacArthur at the airfield in Guam. Later on, Harry, as Commander in Chief, fired the general. Mostly, the firing was because MacArthur communicated with members of Congress about issues between him and his superiors including Truman. The President told the imperious MacArthur to get lost. I suspect that Harry found pleasure in doing so.
These snapshots paint a picture of a plain spoken man that did not quit when the going got tough, took responsibility for his own actions and the actions of his subordinates. I often wonder if his relationship with MacArthur set the tone for his relations with Ike. The two presidents seemed to have a mutual dislike of one another and HST told Ike almost nothing about what was going on before Eisenhower was inaugurated. Ike in his turn heartily disliked his replacement, JFK. Was the dislike because of Harry’s treatment of Ike? I have read copious amounts of these presidential transitions and I can’t recall such simple explanations of why there were these dislikes among these men who were all seasoned politicians. The most surprising thing to me is that their personal animosities came out in such petty ways. Eisenhower was successful as the supreme allied commander, (in Europe), because he was very good at handling prima donna generals, (Patton, Montgomery, de Gaulle), that did not get along with each other. (He was also a tremendously good organizer.) As a civilian, Ike seems to have lost the ability to make everyone play nice. Even with his Vice-President, Nixon, there were disagreements and a visible rift. (Nixon had served in the military even though he was a Quaker and could have been a conscious objector.)
When I get snarky, I try to be extra careful in my relations with others. I know that I am not thinking correctly and that I am apt to allow my minor prejudices’ affect how I treat others. I have been rather unsettled lately and have instituted my snarky-rule. I’m not sure why the crotchetiness. The temps have been above 105 for a while and I notice that most people, including me, seem to lose their cool in the heat. Yes, pun intended. Maybe it’s just because today is the longest day of the year and as Shakespeare noted, things get a bit weird around this day. In modern times even normally polite people drive erratically, forget turn signals, change lanes suddenly for no apparent reason, and act without regard to other drivers. In my case it could be that my meds need adjusting. Who knows?
I try to monitor these feelings because if I just let them go I find myself developing dislikes for types of people and if I let go long enough they turn into resentments that fester in my consciousness.
Whatever the reason, I have trouble in remembering the second commandment – to Love my neighbor as myself. So, I find myself snarling at strangers and even people I like and admire. Later, after I recover my politeness and humanity, I usually repent and feel somewhat guilty. Later still, I comfort myself by saying “I am only human”.
I don’t believe that Harry or Ike ever felt remorse for the petty actions and dislikes they had towards each other, MacArthur, (in HST’s case), or JFK and Nixon, (in Ike’s case). I admire both Presidents greatly but find it difficult to accept the feet of clay I see. And yet, they too are only human. It is doubtful that MacArthur ever felt he was in the wrong, Kennedy died too young to know about and if Nixon truly repented of his actions, I missed it.
I wonder if not repenting of such feelings is a hallmark of greatness.
There is an oddity about the cast I have assembled here. Truman was a Southern Baptist. Eisenhower was an Episcopalian. Nixon was a Quaker, and possibly the most religious of them all. Kennedy, famously, was a Roman Catholic. I am not sure what religion MacArthur was. From what I have read of him, I suspect that he would have had no God but himself. Still, all of them did great things.
I am humbled realizing that they could have snits and dislikes just as I do.