One month after taking office, the war in Europe ended with Russia invading Germany from the east while the allies moved in from the west. Truman participated in the Potsdam Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. At this meeting, the division of Europe was finalized including the dividing of Berlin into four separate occupation zones. This division of Europe would reinforce the coming issues of the Cold War as the Soviets would consolidate their control and holdings in Eastern Europe.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
America was still at war with Japan when the war with Europe ended. The Japanese indicated that they were willing to make peace, but the United States and its allies were not willing to accept anything less than unconditional surrender. It appeared that the only way to get this was to invade the mainland. The military estimated that this type of invasion would cost the lives of thousands of troops. However, there was an alternative to conventional warfare.
Truman discovered soon after taking office that President Roosevelt had authorized the creation of a weapon of mass destruction — the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project had resulted in two bombs, neither of which they were sure would work correctly. Faced with the estimate of troop losses, along with the specter of a postwar Soviet Union that was also busy developing atomic bombs, Truman decided to use the bombs on Japan. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima. On August 9, 1945, a second bomb nicknamed “Big Man” was dropped on Nagasaki.
In the end more than 200,000 Japanese were killed by the two bombs. Japan sued for peace on August 10 and formally surrendered on September 2, 1945, finally ending World War II.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS…
On August 6, 1945, Truman issued this statement: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima. The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. … The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.”
Aftermath of World War II
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had systematically killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust. At the end of the war, twenty-four Nazi leaders were brought before a tribunal at Nuremberg and accused of various crimes, including crimes against humanity for their role in the Holocaust. Nineteen of these men were found guilty and twelve were executed.
Many Jewish people around Europe had been stripped of their homes and properties. They fought for their own new homeland. In 1948, the Jewish people created the state of Israel in Palestine. The United States was among the first to recognize the new nation. This set up the conflict that still rages today between the Palestinians who were living in the region and the new Jewish state.
Truman agreed to help rebuild Europe in what was called the Marshall Plan, named after its creator, Secretary of State George Marshall. America spent more than $13 billion dollars to help get Europe back on its feet. At the same time, America set up permanent military bases throughout the region.
Additionally, Japan was occupied after World War II from 1945 until 1952. Led by General Douglas MacArthur, American forces helped ensure that Japanese war criminals were tried, the military establishments were destroyed, the economic infrastructure was rebuilt, and a new Democratic government was put in place.
At the end of the war, the United Nations was established with strong support from Truman. Representatives from fifty countries met in San Francisco to draw up the UN's charter. The purpose of the UN was to help the worldwide community settle conflicts peacefully so as to avoid another world war.
Cold War and Fighting Communism
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States began what has been called the Cold War. No open fighting between the two countries ever occurred, but many conflicts over the years resulted from America's fighting the incursion of Soviet-backed communism around the world. Truman created the Truman Doctrine that stated that it was the duty of the United States to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” The outside pressure he was speaking of was in fact the Soviet Union.
Moreover, Berlin had been divided between the Allies and the Soviets. By 1948, the Soviet Union tried to gain all of Berlin for itself by blockading the city. America joined with Great Britain to fight against this Soviet blockade by airlifting more than 2 million tons of supplies to the city until the USSR lifted the blockade. Due in part to this, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed on April 4, 1949. Its purpose was collective security for the treaty members. By 1952, there were fourteen members including the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, Italy, and Belgium.
From 1950 to 1953, America participated in the Korean Conflict. North Korean communist forces had invaded South Korea. Truman got the United Nations to agree that the United States could expel the North Koreans out of the South according to the Truman Doctrine. MacArthur called for America to go to war with China, which was backing many of the activities of the North. Truman would not agree, fearing this would set off another massive war. MacArthur publicly disagreed with and criticized Truman and therefore was removed from his post. This caused a huge drop in popularity for Truman. The Korean Conflict remained a stalemate until President Eisenhower managed to get a cease-fire from the Chinese.
At home, America started purging communist influences from government. Individuals with ties to communist parties were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). During this time, state department official Alger Hiss was brought to trial for alleged espionage for the Soviet Union. He was convicted of perjury during his trial. The important aftermath of this, however, was the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his claims that communist elements had infiltrated all levels of government.
Other important events that occurred during Truman's administration included:
• The passage of the twenty-second amendment, which limited a president to two terms.
• The Taft-Hartley Act, which restricted the power of labor unions.
• Attempts to get Truman's Fair Deal programs for social improvements passed.
Very few of Truman's Fair Deal programs actually became law because of lack of congressional support. On November 1, 1950, an assassination attempt was made on President Truman's life. The Trumans were living in the Blair House at the time when two Puerto Rican nationals, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, tried to storm their home. They were attempting to bring attention to the case for Puerto Rican independence. One policeman and Torresola died in the gunfight. Two other policemen were wounded, and Collazo was arrested and sentenced to death. However, Truman commuted his sentence to life in prison. In 1979, President Carter freed Collazo from prison.