TUMULTOUS YEARS: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949-1953 by Robert J. Donovan
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TUMULTOUS YEARS: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949-1953

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Donovan's account of the second Truman administration, like his account of the first (Conflict and Crisis, 1977), is lucid and precise, fair yet finely shaded and un-temporizing--on HST, his colleagues and adversaries, and the still-burning issues. Truman, the surprise '48 victor, is cocky--out from FDR's shadow at last, more confident and combative. The Republicans, embittered, heat up the anti-communist issue. And Truman, who has ""a quite sensible view of Communists"" in the US, fails by going ""both ways"": to gain support for anti-Soviet measures (the North Atlantic Treaty, a billion-dollar military assistance program), he employs anti-Communist rhetoric; to protect himself politically, he institutes his own Employee Loyalty Program (about which he ""later felt regrets""). His off-the-cuff dismissal of the Alger Hiss case as a ""red herring"" backfires too. (So do his hasty retorts to attacks on his footling cronies.) And meanwhile the Fair Deal makes no headway: the only significant domestic legislation during Truman's second term, Donovan notes, was the 1949 National Housing Act. Most outstanding here, though, is the deep background and fresh detail (from archival sources and interviews) on the two matters that dominated those four years: ""the loss of China"" and the Korean War. Truman, totally ignorant about Asia when he took office, was buffeted first on aid to Chiang, then on recognition of the Communist regime. ""We bet on the wrong horse,"" he decided; but sensitivity to public opinion, as much as extremist pressure, militated against recognition or allowing Formosa to be seized. (Donovan doesn't believe, in any case, that the rejected Communist overture would have led to a rapprochement.) On Korea, the narrative is full and incisive from the ""dictatorial"" occupation of US General Hodge (the backing of Syngman Rhee, the withdrawal of US troops) through Truman's immediate determination to counter the North Korean attack (""a blow he felt personally"") to his firing of MacArthur--and why, from an eyewitness report, it was done so gracelessly. With many other spot-vignettes (like detection of the first Soviet atomic bomb), as well as frequent reminders of the prevailing climate of opinion: a work that scores as interpretive history with no axe to grind.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1982
Publisher: Norton