Call#: Van Pelt Library E813 .H87 1973
This book examines the life and political career of the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman. Born in Missouri, he went off to serve as a captain of artillery in World War I. Upon his return, he began his career in politics and quickly rose to great local and state popularity due to his "reputation of honest and efficiency as well as for party regularity." His political shrewdness caught the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, searching for a new vice presidential candidate to replace Henry Wallace in the 1944 election. After Roosevelt died in April of 1945, Truman assumed the presidency and was initially preoccupied with foreign policy: the Allied conference in Potsdam and the conclusion of the war in Europe. But perhaps the issue that took precedence at the time, and remained a major point of political debate the year after (1946, when The Best Years of Our Lives was made), was the decision in August to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Though Truman maintained till his death that he made the decision solely on the basis of ending the war, preventing an invasion of Japan and saving American lives, the book explores alternative beliefs that Truman had alterior motives, such as preventing participation of the Russiancs in the Japanese defeat, as they had pledged to do at the Yalta conference.
The decision to drop the bomb was initially greeted with great acceptance by most Americans, who were relieved to see the surrender of Japan, the end of the war, and the return of the troops. Soonafter, however, people began to question the morality of leveling an entire city and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians with a single bomb. People began to question if dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a good decision, if perhaps the US should have warned Japan of the awesome power their new weapon was capable of, if it should have been dropped on a military base rather than a city. This debate was very much alive and well during 1946, the year of The Best Years of Our Lives, and this social commentary is very much interjected into the film. For example, upon Army Sergeant Al Stephenson's (Fredric March) return home, his son promptly asks him if when in Hiroshima he saw the damaging of effects of radioactivity on survivors of the bomb. The film is not a sterotypical, patriotic postwar film for many reasons, and its ability to recognize domestic debate over foreign policy is one reason for that; its discussion of complex issues lends it a layer of intellectualism. At that point in American History, and still to this day, the American conscience has not been able to completley accept the decision to use the atomic bomb.