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When the Harry Truman Who Dropped the A-Bomb Gave a Downbeat at the Philharmonic

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Everyone was looking forward to being entertained by America's superstar comedian, Jack Benny, the main draw for this fund-raiser concert. Many had bought the expensive tickets, attracted by the double bill of Benny and Truman, and a chance to mingle with the city's elite at this high culture Philharmonic event.

And Jack Benny, so beloved for his hilarious routine of pretending to be what he wasn't, would not disappoint them. He would make his entrance on stage with the nonchalant aplomb of the great artist he was pretending to be. When the thunderous applause died down and the orchestra began the violin concerto's introduction the audience would roar with laughter when Benny noticed his having forgotten his violin bow.

But at this moment all attention was riveted on Missouri's own favorite son become President of the country. I, along with my musician colleagues were thinking, "We are about to be conducted by the guy who dropped the Atomic bomb on women and children.'

Truman seemed transfixed, nervous, embarrassed, for having forgotten what to do next, looking as if trying to remember what he had been shown to do in the rehearsal an hour before. ("Mr. President, just make a downward motion with the baton, the orchestra will start and play by itself.)

Harry Truman was in his late seventies, a silver haired elderly man. Though looking healthy and fit, he began to tremble and shake pathetically.

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At one of his more pronounced tremors, I suddenly heard my trumpet spontaneously sounding loudly the first note, the orchestra joining in instantly. It was an involuntary and instinctive reaction to save Truman in his embarrassment and us in our predicament. The former Commander-in-Chief, relieved, began to wave his arms to the music, smiling broadly.

I remember thinking "this guy who had had the nerve to drop Atom bombs was self-conscious and afraid just like anybody would have been with so many watching. Where was this normal, common fear of doing the wrong thing, making a mistake, being criticized, losing the approbation of one's peers, that Truman was showing this evening, when he gave the order that would incinerate, in two seconds, thousands of ordinary folks in Hiroshima feeding their children breakfast.'

He is forever notorious for having been the first and only man to vaporize human beings, yet, at that concert forty years ago, Harry Truman appeared to be an ordinary guy. Actually, Truman, once a hat salesman, was always perceived as a kind of ordinary Joe sitting in the big chair of the Presidency.

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If it was an ordinary Joe, who, one morning, overrode his conscience and gave the order to nuclear bomb a large city, couldn't most any American have given the go ahead? Maybe any one of us could have been capable of his atrocity? What would make one of us in his position lose the sense of shame, of right and wrong, the conscience everyone carries around all the time inside?

Well, most anyone could have rationalized that the Japanese had started the war and had killed a lot of people. Add to that, the strong racism in the States at that time and the result was little public concern for the victims of the Atomic bombings.

Even more importantly, a sitting U.S. president is under enormous pressure from all sides and especially binding pressure, though media and folklore would have it otherwise, from the people who arranged his gaining office. A president will feel forced to swallow his own conscience once those exerting the overwhelming pressure have discounted theirs as impracticable and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, the Japanese pilots and their families back home, were assured it was right thing to bomb the Asian military base of the most powerful of the White race nations that had brutally invaded, occupied and exploited most of Asia for centuries.

That's how it has always been. Those with controlling power convincing the crowd cowed in fear to do what those in control want done, and to put morality and kindness aside for that time being. In the case of a complex financial empire doing the controlling, one of the crowd can be elevated up to appear to be the one in charge, and take the heat and blame for whatever becomes regrettable.

Harry Truman is one of those to have been elevated and taken the heat and blame for a horribly regrettable inexpressibly violent and homicidal U.S. foreign policy.

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The Hiroshima Atomic bombing was not to be the most significant horror, even taken together with the second nuclear devise dropped on Nagasaki. The two bombs together killed a fraction of the millions burnt up in the bombing of sixty Japanese cities with incendiary devices - also ordered by this normal average American made into a commander of millions.

What was to be of greater portent for the world was Truman being President during the U.S. reneging on Roosevelt's promise of freedom and independence for people under European colonial rule and exploitation. This included blocking peaceable and just postwar arrangements in Korea, Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere seen as unfavorable to U.S. investment opportunities. In what would ultimately cost millions of lives, Truman had the French Army, which had turned its colony over to the Japanese, brought back in force on U.S. ships. He was to sign on to the U.S. massive military invasion of Korea though the civil war there was already over, and was so therefore so unpopular with the American public that his candidacy for a second term was made unthinkable.

But most of all, Truman's name is associated with the founding of the Cold War and the National Security State in a postwar world in which America held all the cards necessary to arrange the peace suffering humanity longed for.

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Jay Janson is an archival research peoples historian activist, musician and writer; has lived and worked on all continents; articles on media published in China, Italy, UK, India and the US; now resides in NYC; First effort was a series of (more...)

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