While Dewey Focused on Election, Truman Dealt With Soviets

An original copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune’s famously wrong “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” edition from Nov. 3, 1948, sold for $1,493 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1948, Republicans selected New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey (Alice Roosevelt thought he looked like the groom on a wedding cake) to be their presidential candidate. He had lost in 1944 to FDR, but it was the closest anyone had come in four elections. Four years later, Dewey defeated a tough group of competitors that included Minnesota Governor Harold E. Stassen. In fact, Stassen was so close that Dewey challenged him to a debate just before the Oregon Republican primary.

The May 17 Dewey-Stassen debate was the first audio-recorded debate between presidential candidates in U.S. history. The debate centered primarily on the issue of criminalization of the Communist Party of the United States and was broadcast over the radio to the entire country. About 40 million people tuned in and Dewey was thought to be the winner. The real winner may have been voters, since this set a precedent that is still considered important today.

Dewey finally won the Republican nomination on the third ballot on June 24, 1948.

            Thomas E. Dewey

President Harry S. Truman had little interest in the Republicans or their convention since on the same date, June 24, the Russians decided to make a move in post-war Germany by blockading all rail, highway and water traffic in and out of Berlin. It seemed clear that Joseph Stalin was intent on forcing the Allies to withdraw from the partitioned city. Except for air, the Allied sectors were entirely cut off and nothing could come in or out of this critical German hub. About 2.5 million people were facing starvation and Truman was asked bluntly if American forces would remain in Berlin or pull out. In typical Midwest-style candor, Truman answered, “We stay in Berlin. Period.”

Four days later on June 28, while Dewey tried to rally voters to look beyond the crisis, Truman acted by ordering a full-scale airlift to Berlin. He sent to Germany two squadrons of B-29s, the giant planes associated with dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan. However, these particular planes were not equipped to carry atomic weapons, a small detail the Russians were unaware of.

Truman didn’t bother to consult with either the White House staff or any of his numerous political advisors in making the decision. He and Secretary of State General George C. Marshall were convinced that the future of Western Europe hinged on the Berlin issue and that leaving the Russians alone in Berlin could lead to a resumption of war. The numbers were sobering. The Allies had 6,500 soldiers in the city, while the Russians had 18,000. In addition, those 18,000 were backed up by 300,000 more in Germany’s Eastern Zone.

Politicians and newspapers editorialists thought it would be impossible to supply 2.5 million people with food, clothing and other essentials, especially when winter rolled around. However, by the fourth week of the airlift, American and British transports were roaring in by the hundreds each day. More pilots were being trained in Montana, flying blindfolded through extremely narrow mock routes, similar to Berlin routes. The New York Times even wrote in atypical tones, “We were proud of our Air Force during the war. We are prouder of it today.”

The effort was heroic, but it was not enough. So Truman stepped up and increased the number of planes, and 30,000 Berliners volunteered in the building of a new airfield. Voila! By October, the airlift was succeeding and Truman sent yet another 26 C-54 transports into the rotation. This increase helped guarantee supplies for the winter. Realizing their blockade ploy had failed, Stalin blinked and backed down!

“To do more would have been a direct threat to peace. To have done less would have been an abdication of our American honor and traditions,” said General Lucius Clay, the top U.S. official in occupied Germany. The 277,804 flights delivered more than 2.32 million tons of food and supplies, almost one ton for every man, woman and child in Berlin, the third-largest city in the world, behind Chicago and New York. Truman called off his airlift on May 12, 1949 … the same day Allied Powers approved the establishment of a new German Federated Republic, where the German people would rule themselves with their own government in Bonn.

They are once again the brightest country in all of Europe and dominate the E.U.

Note: I never met General Lucius Clay while he served as chairman and CEO of Continental Can Company from 1950-62 … although I received a short note from his office when I became plant manager of Continental’s South Gate, Calif., flexible packing group in 1962 at age 25. (I was told that was a record, but there is no proof.)

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Tidbits: Bluebonnets, Sherlock Holmes, Bums and Booze

Julian Onderdonk’s Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets sold for $437,000 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The bluebonnets in Texas are beginning to fade, but two names always come to mind when talking about the flowers: Claudia Alta Taylor (better known as “Lady Bird” Johnson ) and “Cactus Jack” Garner, who lobbied to make the prickly pear cactus the state flower (and lost).

Garner became the 32nd vice president of the United States in 1932 and concurrently was elected back to the House. So for one day, on March 4, 1933, he was both Psident of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

Earlier on Feb. 15, 1933, as VP-elect, he came close to being president when FDR just missed being assassinated in Miami.

Garner served two full terms as VP and died 15 days before his 99th birthday – making him the longest-living VP.

“A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle was the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual – with only 11 copies known to exist today.

Joe Louis by Irving Penn

The last heavyweight championship bout scheduled for 20 rounds was held in Detroit in 1941. Joe Louis TKO’d Abe Simon in 13 rounds. Simon was a member of Louis’ “Bum of the Month Club” – 13 opponents Louis defeated between 1939 and 1941.

After leaving boxing, Simon went to Hollywood, where he won roles in On the Waterfront, Never Love a Stranger and Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Our 35th vice president, Kentucky lawyer Alben W. Barkley, was elected with Harry S. Truman in 1948 and is still the only one with the middle name of William (he was actually born Willie Alben Barkley).

One of his career highlights was his keynote address at the 1932 Democratic Convention, where he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and denounced Prohibition (Kentucky bourbon?). It worked … FDR won and prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Although the oldest VP elected at age 71 (Joe Biden was 65 in 2008), Barkley is the only one to marry while in office … a woman half his age. Later, he denounced the 80th Congress as “Do Nothing,” but Truman often gets credit for the phrase.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Death of Last Astronaut on Moon Reminds Us to Press Forward

No more than 80 Silver Robbins Medallions were flown aboard Apollo 17, inscribed with the names of crew members Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt. This example, from the personal collection of astronaut Alan Bean, sold for $59,375 at a May 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 16, 2017, Eugene Andrew Cernan, the last NASA astronaut to walk on the surface of the moon, died in a Houston hospital. His historic flight on Apollo 17 lasted from Dec. 7 to Dec. 19, 1972, and man has not been back since then. Cernan was 82 years old and the first astronaut to be buried at Texas State Cemetery.

Eight space missions visited the moon between 1968 and 1972 as part of NASA’s Apollo program. Each mission carried three American astronauts inside a spacecraft launched by a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 8 was used to test the spacecraft as it orbited the moon. Then, in a dress rehearsal prior to landing, Apollo 10 flew close to the lunar surface.

Cernan

The first of the six missions that successfully landed on the moon was Apollo 11 in 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in July of that year, with Armstrong the first to actually walk on the lunar surface. Just 27 daredevil astronauts made that same remarkable trip and a total of 12 walked on the cratered, lifeless surface.

The Apollo astronauts were blasted into space inside the nose cone of the largest rocket ever built, the Saturn V. It was designed by Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph at Huntsville, Ala., and remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket brought into full operational status. It was developed as “Operation Paperclip,” a special program using German rocket engineers and approved by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to leverage their expertise in building Nazi Germany’ V-2 rocket.

Von Braun had started in the U.S. Army after World War II and then transferred when the National Aeronautical and Space Administration was established in 1958 in response to the Russian Sputnik panic. He then became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where they designed the Saturn V. After President John F. Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon, von Braun and his team ensured that the United States would win the space race against the Soviet Union.

The giant Saturn V rocket – 40 feet taller than the full Statue of Liberty – consisted of three rockets in one. The first two stages lifted the Apollo spacecraft into space and the third stage put Apollo on course after reaching low Earth orbit. Apollo also had three sections: command, service and lunar modules. All were linked together for the 250,000-mile journey. Once there, the lunar module took two astronauts to the moon’s surface and back. All three astronauts then returned to Earth in the command module. Its conical shape allowed it to withstand the heat of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere for an easy splashdown.

Each night, the moon looms over Earth, peering down and wondering when to expect the next visitors. Perhaps it will be Mars instead. Space … the final frontier!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Eisenhower’s Wisdom was Crucial to Ending Korean Conflict

Korean War tales were popular in American comic books. This copy of Frontline Combat #1, 1951, a William Gaines file pedigree, sold for $6,612.50 at a March 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On the last weekend of June 1950, the United States was sweltering in that summer’s first heat wave. Those who could, left their small-screen TVs for air-conditioned movie theaters (that was the month my family acquired our first TV). Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver, was Walt Disney’s first completely live-action movie and The Maverick Queen, Zane Grey’s 51st novel, was published posthumously. I missed both of them.

Half a world away, heavy rains from the first monsoon were falling on the rice paddies when the North Korean artillery – 40 miles of big guns, side-by-side – opened fire. The shelling was sporadic at first, but soon all artillery was erupting as officers corrected their range. Overhead, Yaks and Sturmoviks were headed toward Seoul, less than 50 miles away. North Korean People’s Army generals put 90,000 troops into South Korea smoothly with no congestion as junks/saipans were unloading amphibious troops behind Republic of Korea lines to the south.

It was early afternoon in New York, noon in Independence, where President Harry S. Truman was, and 4 a.m. on the faraway 38th parallel when, as General Douglas MacArthur later put it, “North Korea struck like a cobra.”

In a larger sense, it represented the inevitable collision of the Sino-Soviet push to extend communism and the U.S policy of containment. Truman secured a mandate from the United Nations to expel North Korea from the south, euphemistically called a “police action.” A U.N. force comprised of 90 percent Americans and South Koreans under MacArthur launched a counteroffensive with a daring amphibious landing in September 1950. By seizing the initiative, they drove the communists north, back across the 38th parallel. For the first time in history, an international organization had met aggression with force and when it was announced, Congress rose in a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune congratulated the president, noting the approval of the action was unanimous.

However, as MacArthur was busy planning the next steps of the campaign, he tragically misread the intentions of Communist China. As U.N. forces approached the Yalu River, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops poured across the border in January 1951 and drove MacArthur back south. These setbacks prompted him to consider using nuclear weapons against China or North Korea. When Truman refused to extend the conflict and a possible nuclear exchange, MacArthur criticized public policy. Unwilling to accept this insubordination, on April 11, 1951, Commander-in-Chief Truman relieved the popular general and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway.

Although peace negotiations dragged on for months, as soon as Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president, he made a special point to conclude all discussions. As the only general to serve as president in the 20th century, he was acutely aware of the ravages of war and was not about to let diplomats or the United Nations muddle along.

We miss him and his wisdom as we face an even more dangerous, nuclear-armed North Korea that grows more aggressive each day with solutions that are more limited and risky.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Death has Taken Eight Presidents, Yet Nation has Survived

Few items were produced to honor John Tyler’s presidency. This Tyler presidential silk ribbon sold for $6,250 at a May 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Tyler was the first person to become president of the United States without being elected to that office. He had been elected vice president in 1840 and when President William Henry Harrison died 31 days after being inaugurated, Tyler became president. However, it was not without controversy, since the Constitution was not explicit on the transition of powers in the event of death.

President Harrison’s Cabinet had met one hour after his death and determined that Tyler would be “vice president acting president.” Others, like former President John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, argued the vice president should become a caretaker until the next election under the title “acting president.”

Even Tyler’s selection as vice president had not been broadly popular, but the office was considered so inconsequential that there was not much interest. All of the previous nine presidents had served their entire terms of office. Perhaps New York newspaper publisher Thurlow Weed summed it up best: “Tyler was finally selected since no one else would take it.”

However, Tyler moved quickly and arranged to take the presidential oath of office in his hotel room and then simply asserted his legal right to be president. This maneuver worked, but his time in office was rocky and generally unproductive. His entire Cabinet resigned (except Secretary of State Daniel Webster). The Congressional Whigs booted him out of the party and overrode one of his vetoes (a historical first). A man without a party, he went home when his term ended in 1845, turning the keys over to James Polk.

The idea of “one heartbeat away from the presidency” became a factor in future vice president selections, although in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ignored it when he chose Henry Agard Wallace for his running mate. This caused an uproar at the Democratic Convention and the boos and catcalls were so prevalent that Wallace decided not to make the traditional acceptance speech. He relied on FDR to ram his nomination through by making veiled threats not to run a third time.

Fortunately, in 1944, FDR dropped Wallace from the Democratic ticket and replaced him with Harry S. Truman. Eighty-two days later, FDR was dead and Vice President Truman took his place. Most historians agree that the post-war period would have turned out significantly different had this mundane change not occurred.

The presidency has changed eight times due to the death of a president and so far, we are still the most remarkable country in the history of the world!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Truman’s Time in Office Was Tumultuous, but He Still Ranks Among Best

harry-s-truman-inscribed-photo-signed
Virtually every prediction indicated that Harry S. Truman would be defeated by Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 election. A copy of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photograph, inscribed by Truman, sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Harry S. Truman moved back into the newly rebuilt White House in March 1952 and he had already decided not to seek reelection.

Since Truman had only served one full term as an elected president (having filled a partial term after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office), he was eligible to run for president a second time. This was the same dilemma that had confronted two of his predecessors: Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, both of whom had decided not to run a second time. Truman was well aware of their personal deliberations; the first Roosevelt had lived to regret not running, while Coolidge had never looked back.

In 1951, after four years of debate, Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution, which limited an elected president to two terms. This was a reaction to FDR’s long tenure, and it specifically exempted Truman. But, he had made up his mind.

He addressed the Democratic Party’s historic Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the D.C. National Guard Armory. “I shall not be a candidate for reelection. I have served my country long and I think efficiently and honestly. I shall not accept a re-nomination.” He added in an ironic tone not typical of him, “I do not think that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House.”

Although he was a tough-skinned politician, he resented the negative public opinion that had risen around him. His time in office, eight years less about two months, had been tumultuous, filled with achievements that had not been easy. His call for liberal change had been rooted philosophically in the New Deal, but in the wake of World War I and increased prosperity, his call fell on deaf ears.

The American public was turning elsewhere, particularly after he vetoed an ardent Republican crusade to turn coastal tidelands mineral rights over to the states, and it was viewed as a lame-duck president lashing out. It was actually one of the few vetoes that stuck (12 of his vetoes were overridden by Congress) and it created an energy that would result in a Republican victory in the upcoming election.

At about the same time, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit would be double than the previous year and in the last months of his presidency, his popularity and spirits were low. He was ready to go home.

History has been kind to Truman. Every year, his standing on the Best Presidents list seems to improve. He was a small man in stature who assumed a big job at a crucial time and did his very best. Who could expect more?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Looking Back, President Ford’s Pardon was the Right Thing to Do

lf
A first edition copy of Gerald Ford’s 1979 autobiography A Time to Heal, inscribed to Caspar Weinberger, sold for nearly $900 at a February 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, accepting conviction for income tax violations in lieu of facing trial on bribery charges, the door to the White House swung open to Gerald R. Ford.

The Constitution’s 25th Amendment, adopted in 1967, came into use for the first time. It provided that a vacancy in the office of vice president could be filled by nomination by the president and confirmation by both houses of Congress. President Richard Nixon, reeling from the twin blows of the Watergate scandals and the Agnew bribery charges, began a frantic scramble to fill the vacancy with someone acceptable to the public and whom Congress would quickly approve. He also needed someone he could trust as unquestionably loyal.

Ford’s nomination was announced by Nixon on Oct. 12, 1973, barely two weeks before the House Judiciary Committee began formal proceedings to determine whether Nixon should be impeached. Nobody in Congress could dig up a smidgen of impropriety regarding Ford and the House approved his nomination 387-35 on Dec. 6 after a Senate vote of 92-3 on Nov. 27. During the hearings, Ford was asked if he would pardon Nixon should he resign and GRF replied, “I do not think the public would stand for it.”

A short but tumultuous eight months later, Ford became the 38th president of the United States in a moment of high drama at noon on Aug. 9, 1974. Shortly before, the nation had been glued to the TV as Nixon became the first president in history to resign. He departed the White House after a tearful farewell to his staff. A few minutes later, the cameras turned to Ford, the first vice president to ascend to the presidency by appointment.

Ford was sworn in on the same East Room platform where Nixon had stood moments earlier, although the White House was not the usual place for a swearing-in ceremony. Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in before the fireplace in the Red Room, FDR’s fourth term began on the South Portico, and Harry S. Truman had taken the oath in the Cabinet Room. By then, the Nixons were on Air Force One headed for San Clemente. When the clock struck noon, the designation of the plane was dropped.

Within a week of Ford’s swearing in, documents were being hauled out by Nixon staffers in “suitcases and boxes” every day. Working late on Aug. 16, Benton Becker, Ford’s legal counsel, observed a number of military trucks lined up on West Executive Avenue, between the West Wing and the Executive Office Building. Upon inquiry, he was told they were there “to load material that was to be airlifted from Andrews Air Force Base to San Clemente.” Sensing something was wrong, Becker got the Secret Service to intervene and the trucks were unloaded and the material returned to the EOB. Soon, an armed guard was stationed there to protect them.

Perhaps one last ploy by Tricky Dick, à la the 17 minutes of recording “accidentally” erased. We will never know. But we do know that the Ford-Nixon pardon that caused such a national outrage has finally been judged the prudent thing to do … finally.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Concerns Over Harry Truman Vanished as New President Exerted His Leadership

1945-white-house-press-release
A 1945 White House press release signed by Harry S. Truman as president announcing the bombing of Hiroshima realized $77,675 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in southeastern Russia to discuss plans for peace with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He reported to Congress that plans had been arranged for an organization meeting of the United Nations on April 25, 1945. He said, “There, we all hope, and confidently expect, to execute a definite charter of organization under which the peace of the world will be preserved and the forces of aggression permanently outlawed.”

Upon his return, he looked tired and older than his 63 years. Late in March, he went to Warm Springs, Ga., for an overdue rest. On April 12, 1945, he was working at his desk as an artist painted his portrait when he suddenly complained of “a terrible headache.” A few hours later, at 4:45 p.m., he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The last words he had written were “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

harry-s-truman
Truman

His successor, the first president to take office in the midst of a war, Harry S. Truman, said he felt “like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” The nation and world wondered if he was capable of taking Roosevelt’s place. His background and even his appearance added to the nervous uncertainty. He was the first president in 50 years without a college education. He spoke the language of a Missouri dirt farmer and World War I artilleryman – both of which he had been. Instead of talking like a statesman, he looked like a bank clerk or haberdasher – both of which he had been. And worst of all, everyone knew that for more than 20 years he had been a lieutenant of Tom Pendergast, one of the most corrupt political bosses in the country.

What most people didn’t know was that he was scrupulously honest, knew his own mind and was one of the most knowledgeable students of history ever to enter the White House. Importantly, he understood the powers of the president, and knew why some men had been strong chief executives and others had been weak leaders.

When he learned about the atomic bomb, there was no soul-searching or handwringing debates. He ordered it dropped on Japan because he was sure it would save American lives and quickly end World War II. It did not bother him in the least that years later, intellectuals would question whether one man should have made such an awesome decision alone. He knew in his heart that he was right … period.

Two of his well-known sayings capture the essence of Give’m Hell Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here (a sign on his desk) and my favorite … If you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen!

Leaders get paid to make tough decisions.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Deep Divisions Within a Political Party Nothing New

andy-warhols-screenprint-teddy-roosevelt
Andy Warhol’s screenprint Teddy Roosevelt (from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio), 1986, ed. 183/250, realized $23,750 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in September 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. Teddy was 42 years old and remains the youngest man to hold the office (JFK was 43).

When reelected in 1904, it was the first time an incumbent president won reelection after ascending to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor. Calvin Coolidge (1924), Harry S. Truman (1948) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) would later match this historic first.

When 1908 rolled around, TR honored his earlier pledge “not to seek a third term” and then maneuvered his associate William Howard Taft into the White House.

At the time, it seemed like a sound strategic transition for the Republicans. But it would turn out to be a colossal mistake that would grow in importance and haunt Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

When he returned from the historic Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition two years later, the group had collected 11,400 animal specimens that took Smithsonian naturalists eight years to catalog. And the political animals had also been busy during his absence.

A major rift developed between President Taft and TR over policies that had become administration priorities. This, in turn, caused a deep divide in the Republican Party that could not be reconciled. It was so serious that neither faction could generate enough support to defeat Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election.

Later, many politicians were convinced that Roosevelt was still popular enough to seriously contend for the 1920 Republican nomination. However, this conjecture was never tested since the mighty Bull Moose’s health was broken and he died on Jan. 6, 1919.

He still regretted making “that damn pledge not to run in 1908” and took it with him to the grave.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Idea of a ‘United Nations’ Enthralled the Country … but Surprises Remained

A print of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo dated November 1948 and inscribed by Harry S. Truman sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

“The buck stops here!”

“Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say, ‘On the one hand … on the other.’”

– Quotes attributed to President Harry S. Truman

By Jim O’Neal

It was during Harry S. Truman’s years that America irrevocably joined the community of nations. The phrase “United Nations” had occurred to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of the night during the bleak Christmas of 1941, while Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House. In its Jan. 10, 1942, issue, Time reported that “a new phrase, the United Nations” had slipped into the world’s vocabulary.

The year before, a Fortune survey had found that barely 13 percent of the electorate wanted to see the United States in any international organization. However, by 1944, 68 percent did and college students endorsed the proposal to send a U.S. delegation to a permanent U.N. by 50 to 1. The House, on a motion by J. William Fulbright from Arkansas to support “the creation of appropriate international machinery to establish and maintain lasting peace among the nations of the world … and participation by the U.S. therein,” resolved 360 to 20 to do so.

In the Senate, the measure also had bipartisan support.

Competition was fierce between Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Chicago, San Francisco and the Black Hills of South Dakota versus New York for the honor of providing the U.N. headquarters with a tax-free location. Only tiny Greenwich, Conn., voted not to receive it, probably more about an anti-One World sentiment.

Then there was the dramatic speech by U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg making his historic pivot toward the viability of international independence that was given a standing ovation by senators of both parties. The press hailed him for delivering a speech of “unquestioned greatness” … “the most important address to come from the senate in the last 80 years” … “a courageous pledge to meet all aggression with force” … “a promise on no more Munichs.”

In the excitement, no one heard a shot fired on the other side of the world. Returning from Paris in a rage, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, proclaimed himself president and took to the hills. The State Department yawned. After all, these were only natives who could be handled by a few companies of U.S. Marines and even that wouldn’t be necessary. The French Foreign Legion was on hand to suppress any issues.

Besides, we had more important work to rescue and rebuild our Allies in Europe with the new Marshall Plan. Remote places like Korea and Vietnam could wait as we established world order and focused on our domestic priorities. War was now passé and polls confirmed we would have peace for the rest of the 20th century.

As usual, the future would be laden with surprises.


Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].