The Truman Presidential Library and Museum has re-opened after a two-year-long $29 million renovation that has updated the museum into a fascinating tour through the life of America’s 33rd President. The renovations have added 3,000 square feet of space filled with historic artifacts, interactive exhibits, and information related to Harry S. Truman’s eventful and often controversial life.
The museum not only tells visitors about the enormous decisions and actions made by Truman, but puts visitors in his position, to consider what decisions they would have made.
One of the new exhibitions takes you through Truman’s life from the very beginning, from when he was raised in a farming family in Missouri, to his time in France during WWI. The museum also contains an area dedicated to the letters exchanged between Truman and his wife, Elizabeth Virginia Truman, showing a more down-to-earth side of his life.
“Now you can truly weave through his boyhood into the presidency and beyond,” said Deputy Director of the museum Kelly Anders.
The museum particularly excels at revealing the complexity of Truman’s life, which like many historical figures’ lives, is often summed up by just a few key moments. In Truman’s case, he is most famous as the successor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt — who is considered one of America’s greatest presidents — and as the president who dropped the only two atomic bombs used in anger. In reality, Truman was a farmer, a father, a husband, a soldier, and a president, just to name a few.
He also had to make extremely difficult decisions that would change the world forever.
Kurt Graham, the director of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum said: “I think people will see that, yes, [Truman] was just an ordinary man, but he got launched on an extraordinary journey and had to make decisions that few people in human history have ever had to confront.”
Examining the problems Truman faced
The museum breaks his enormous choices down, too, like his decision to drop the atomic bombs. The bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, were dropped on Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 of 1945, respectively. This was the first and last time nuclear weapons were used in anger. The explosions these bombs unleashed killed 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more injured with burns and radiation sickness.
The existence and terrifying power of these weapons shocked the entire world, and fanned the flame of the Cold War.
Today, many scholars and historians believe the use of the bombs was unnecessary and more importantly, inhumane. Others maintain that the bombs were dropped to test the capabilities of these new weapons, and as a show of force to the Soviet Union, who were rapidly becoming the U.S.’s next enemy.
But at the time, Truman and his advisors were convinced that although the bombs would cause huge casualties, this would still be less than if the Allies began a full-scale invasion of Japan. The numbers back this up too, as just the Battle of Okinawa alone claimed around 200,000 lives, both military and civilian. Truman had to make this decision and live with the consequences, which were world-changing.
At the museum, there is an exhibit that runs through this dilemma with quotes that support both sides.
“We’re asking people to not just take what we’re presenting at face value but take that next step and evaluate it,” Cassie Pikarsky said, the director of strategic initiatives at the Truman Library Institute.
Truman had to fill the large boots of Roosevelt, who had guided the nation through most of the war. He left the office in 1953 with one of the lowest ever approval ratings, but today some see him in a more approving light.
Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel said “[t]he significance of my grandfather’s presidential legacy is more evident than ever.”
“Renovating his library and museum is a fitting way to honor the leading architect of our modern democratic institutions.”