I'm for Harry Truman, the anti-Semite.
Harry Truman was anti-Semitic. Who cares?
Last week, archivists at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., discovered several of Truman's 1947 diary entries. In the diary, Truman lambastes Jews. "The Jews, I find are very, very selfish," Truman wrote on July 21, 1947. "They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DP (Displaced Persons) as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog."
There is no excuse for this kind of racism. Comparing a group that has just undergone near annihilation at the hands of Hitler to Hitler himself is out of line. It is wrong for organizations like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to justify Truman's anti-Semitism as "typical of a sort of cultural anti-Semitism that was common at that time in all parts of American society. This was an acceptable way to talk." Calling blacks "niggers" was typical of a sort of cultural racism common 60 years ago, but that does not mean it was acceptable for people to do so.
But here's the bottom line: Truman was good for the Jews. In a world where Jews have consistently gotten the short end of the stick for two millennia, that should be enough.
There are three basic types of anti-Semites. First, there are anti-Semites whose hatred of Jews translates into action against Jews. In this category go such notables as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Yasser Arafat and Osama Bin Laden.
Then, there are anti-Semites who don't like Jews but also refuse to let that dislike alter their decisions on what is moral and what is not.
Truman was clearly the second kind of anti-Semite. As David McCullough notes in his biography of Truman, "In private, Truman was a man who still, out of old habits of the mouth, could use a word like 'kike,' or, in a letter to his wife, dismiss Miami as nothing but 'hotels, filling stations, Hebrews, and cabins.'" Yet it was Truman who overruled his State Department and recognized the legitimacy of the State of Israel. It was Truman who, in April 1943, traveled to Chicago to deliver a speech before a huge rally to urge aid for besieged Jews in Europe and implicitly criticized President Roosevelt for not doing enough. It was Truman who lobbied for change in the Displaced Persons Act to end discrimination against Jews as well as Catholics.
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