Cites Truman as Inspiration for Nation Today
Missouri — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited
the Truman Presidential Museum and Library to
Harry S. Truman’s leadership during the early days of the Cold War and the
lessons it offers today for the global war on terror.
toured the library and paid tribute at Truman’s gravesite in the library’s
courtyard before telling about 200 veterans group members, community leaders
and library supporters he’s inspired by Truman’s decisive leadership in an
age of uncertainty.
Truman took "truly historic steps that have had a lasting
effect" on the nation and the world, Rumsfeld said. And
even when those measures weren’t popular, "he had the wisdom
and the courage" to carry them out," he said.
The secretary noted striking similarities between the Cold War
and today’s terror war, and said Truman’s strategy for victory
holds important lessons for today.
Like today’s U.S. leaders, the 33rd president guided the United
States through perilous times, Rumsfeld said. Truman’s eight
years in office coincided with the end of World War II, the first
use of the atomic bomb, formation of the United Nations, NATO
and the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean conflict
and the start of the Cold War.
time of tremendous change for the United States, Truman had
the gumption "to make tough, sometimes unpopular
decisions because they were in the national interest," even
as his popularity ratings plummeted, explained Michael Devine,
Truman library director. Devine called the former president a "visionary
who was ahead of his time." While acknowledging dramatic
differences between the challenges Truman faced and those U.S.
leaders are confronting today, Rumsfeld said many strategies
that worked then are being put into practice today.
The Cold War, like the war on terror, required the country to
gird itself for a long, sustained struggle punctuated by combat
operations, to apply all elements of national power to succeed
and to persevere to achieve victory, the secretary said.
It also ushered in revolutionary new concepts and ways of operating,
Rumsfeld, the driver behind the current DoD transformation effort,
praised Truman’s vision in instituting new conventions, from
establishing DoD, to proposing NATO, to enacting the Marshall
Plan, to integrating the federal government and the armed forces.
Similar thinking is leading today’s Defense Department to reassess
the U.S. global posture, re-examine its military base infrastructure
at home and come up with new and innovative ways to defeat the
threats it faces, he said.
In addition, both conflicts demonstrated the importance of international
partnerships in addressing global problems. Rumsfeld cited the
revolutionary and then-controversial Marshall Plan — which cost
more than $100 billion in today’s dollars — with saving Western
Europe from Soviet tyranny during the Cold War so democracies
Similarly, the Truman administration’s support for Japan following
World War II — and for Greece, Turkey and the Republic of Korea
in the face of Soviet ambitions — helped democracies there succeed,
Few of these
foreign policy initiatives won universal acclaim at the time,
either at home or abroad, Rumsfeld said.
a former diplomat who declared in the closing days of World War
II that democracy would never work in Japan. Similarly, Life
magazine ran an article in 1946 with a headline that read, "Americans
Are Losing the Victory in Europe."
and his successors in both parties "had the
courage to hold firm, understanding the necessity of helping
other nations become democratic allies for the long struggle
ahead," Rumsfeld said.
The same principle drives U.S. efforts today to bolster its
allies, including Iraq and Afghanistan, so they can be partners
in the global war on terror, he said.
Like the Cold War, terror war represents a conflict of ideologies,
with extremists challenging free systems of government, he said.
And just as freedom and democracy overcame communist oppression,
Rumsfeld said, it ultimately will also overcome terrorist extremism.
"We knew (during the Cold War) that our free system of
government was vastly preferable to their dictatorship (and that)
given a real choice, the natural desire of man is to be free," Rumsfeld
for free people then – and now – was to "hold
firm, defend ourselves over many long decades and trust that
the truth would win out," he said.
Institutions such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe,
launched during the Truman era, helped bring that truth to millions
trapped behind the Iron Curtain, Rumsfeld said.
hope that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s proposal to
expand broadcasting into the Middle East,
Iran, will have a similar impact today. "I believe there
are reformers in the Middle East who have been silenced and intimidated
and who want their countries to be free," Rumsfeld said. "We
must reach out to them. We are still only beginning to embrace
this profound challenge."
Some of the most critical battles of the war on terror will
be fought, not on the battlefield, but in newsrooms and editorial
boardrooms, he said.
noted that unlike during the Cold War, this age of 24/7 news,
blogs, chat rooms and satellite radio
bigger challenges. "Lies can travel around the world in
an instant," he said, then quoting Mark Twain, he added, "while
truth is just putting its boots on."
The challenges confronting the United States in the war on terror,
like those it faced during the Cold War, are significant but
not insurmountable, the secretary said.
He compared the early days of both conflicts, when the future
seemed unclear, the tasks seemed daunting and leaders had to
operate without the perspective history offers.
"But let there be no doubt: We did not win the Cold War
by luck, (and) our victory was not inevitable," Rumsfeld
said. It took vision, perseverance and a commitment to "stay
resolved and follow the course," he said.
While praising Truman’s leadership during the early days of
the Cold War, Rumsfeld called him a man of peace who pointed
the direction ahead when that peace was threatened.
displayed Truman quote at his presidential library reflects
his commitment to peace. "There can be no greater
service to mankind, and no nobler mission, than devotion to world
peace," it reads.
continue to carry out this commitment every day as they serve
the United States and
its interests around
the world, Rumsfeld told the group. In carrying out what he called
their "noble mission," these troops are helping "secure
the peace for our generation and for generations to come," he
Army Maj. Brett Sylvia, a student in the Advanced Military Studies
Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., who will serve in Iraq after
completing the course, said he believes the parallels Rumsfeld
drew during his address are relevant today.
"Truman was president at a time in our history when major
decisions were being made" – not just political decisions,
but also cultural ones, including the integration of the U.S.
armed forces, Sylvia noted. Today’s leaders stand at another
crossroads in the country’s future, he said.
Army Maj. Ross Coffey, who’s also enrolled in the Fort Leavenworth
program, said that like those of Truman’s era, today’s leaders
who chart that course must do so in the face of uncertainty.
Ray Nichols, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran who’s a member
of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Liberty,
Missouri., said he was inspired by Rumsfeld’s message about the
war on terror.
"These people aren’t going to go away. They came after
us on 9/11 and they are not going to quit," Nichols said
of terrorists. "So we have to fight them there so we don’t
have to do it here."