Harry Truman, the anti-Semite?

Posted: Jul 16, 2003 12:00 AM

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.

There is also a third type of anti-Semite: the practical anti-Semite. This is the person who does not hate Jews stereotypically but always acts against the interests of Jews. Perhaps this is the most dangerous anti-Semite of all because while an all-around anti-Semite can be labeled as merely anti-Jew, the practically anti-Jew person cannot be labeled as such.

Truman's predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was such a man. Though FDR was careful never to belie any personal anti-Semitism, his immigration policy before and during World War II played a crucial part in allowing the Holocaust to reach its unimaginable magnitude. To the larger Jewish community, the idea that FDR's policies were anti-Semitic is anathema. Nevertheless, FDR was no friend to the Jews.

The best example of this third type of anti-Semite is William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton was bombastic about his purported support for Jews. "If the Iraqi or the Iranian army came across the Jordan River," Clinton sententiously declared at a Toronto fund-raiser for the Jewish organization Hadassah, "I would personally grab a rifle, get in the ditch and fight and die." Yet it was Clinton who forced Israel into making massive concessions to Palestinian terrorists. It was Clinton who refused to condemn open anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan by name in 1995 during the Million Man March. It was Clinton who invited master-terrorist Yasser Arafat to the White House more than any other political leader.

Many Jews simply cannot comprehend the disconnect between feelings of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic activity. They do not understand that a person may not love Jews but can still treat them well, or that a person could like Jews but treat them badly. To them I ask: If the fate of the Jews rested solely in the hands of either Bill Clinton or Harry Truman, whom would you prefer to make the call?