Truman diary reveals anti-Semitism and offer to step down

Rupert Cornwell
Saturday 12 July 2003 00:00 BST

President Harry Truman is remembered for his stunning 1948 election victory - winning a second term in office - and his strong backing for the birth of Israel. A year earlier, though, he made a sensational secret offer to relinquish the Democratic presidential nomination to Dwight Eisenhower, and delivered a furious anti-Semitic tirade.

The Jews, mused Truman, "I find are very very selfish. They care not how many Latvians, Finns, Poles, Estonians and Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DPs [displaced persons] as long as Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler or Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment for the underdog."

Truman wrote this diatribe in July 1947, in a diary that he kept intermittently during the year that marked the nadir of his political fortunes, in a gloomy, lonely White House that he described as "this great white jail".

The writings have lain unopened in the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, for more than 35 years - perhaps not so surprisingly since they were tucked away in the back of a complimentary diary of The Real Estate Board of New York for 1947, which began with 160 pages of blurb about the Board.

They were finally noticed by a librarian who recently rearranged the shelves. The discovery has thrilled historians - not only for the light it throws on Truman's private feelings about the Jews he so publicly supported, but above all for the offer to Eisenhower.

It came on 25 July 1947, when Truman chatted with Eisenhower, who was about to take over as president of Columbia University, New York. Truman was expecting the hugely popular General Douglas MacArthur - whom he would dramatically sack four years later - to return from Japan to the US and make a pitch for the 1948 Republican nomination.

If that happened, wrote Truman, "I told Ike that he [Eisenhower] should announce for the nomination for president on the Democratic ticket and that I'd be happy to be in second place, or vice-president.

"I like the Senate [over which a vice-president technically presides]. Ike and I could be elected, and my family and myself would be happy outside this great white jail, known as the White House."

Truman noted that Eisenhower "won't quote me and I won't quote him".

Eisenhower, who never had the slightest inclination to be a Democrat, clearly rejected the possibility out of hand, and MacArthur did not make "the Roman Triumphal return" that Truman feared. Instead Truman ran again in 1948 and defeated the Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, in a legendary upset victory.

Three years later, MacArthur was sacked by Truman for insubordination. He came back as a hero, and made an address to Congress that ended with the famous line: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." In 1952, Eisenhower was elected president on the Republican ticket.

The Jewish material has also raised many eyebrows, given Truman's role in securing the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, over the objections of the State Department.

In his diary entry for 21 July 1947, Truman added that "the Jews have no sense of proportion, nor do they have any judgement on world affairs".

Sara Bloomfield, director of Holocaust Museum in Washington, said his attitude was typical "of a sort of cultural anti-Semitism" common at that time".

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