Our Leaders Who Made a Difference
By Tom Morrow
There are a handful of Presidents of the 20th century students of history and civics should get to know in understanding what made America the dominant global nation it is today.
For the most part, today’s young people (those under 40) pay little attention to our history and take for granted America’s position in the world. It was no accident how we got here and understanding how our republic works (civics) is central.
While today’s President Donald Trump is an easy target for his bombastic style, his isn’t that much different than was Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, an early 20th century president who found himself in the Oval Office due to the assassination of President William McKinley.
Roosevelt, a Republican, believed in a strong Navy. He had the U.S. Navy’s pre-World War I battleships of the “Great White Fleet” circle the globe showing off our growing power. “T.R.” believed in a “Big Stick” policy … as in … “walk softly but carry a big stick.”
Teddy oversaw the momentous building of the Panama Canal, opening the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, cutting in half the time needed to go from ocean to ocean without traveling around South American horn.
In 1900, the Republicans ran “T.R.” for vice president to get rid of him. As governor of New York, he had been an irritating maverick to old-guard politicians. Their plan backfired when McKinley was assassinated. As president, “T.R.” created havoc in both government and business with a vast variety of needed reforms.
Herbert Hoover was a popular post-World War I humanitarian, but he’s best remembered for being an ineffective president. Hoover was a complicated character, yet an important historical figure. After WWII, he was asked by then-President Harry Truman to organize the feeding of millions of Europeans left homeless and starving after World War II. While he failed as a president, Hoover’s greatest accomplishment was being that of humanitarian. After WWI, he had organized the feeding of Europe, and again after WWII, still, Hoover gets the brunt of the blame for the Great Depression, the worst economic disaster in world history. During his presidency Truman pondered that “Mr. Hoover didn’t cause the Depression, it was created for him.”
Arguably, Franklin D. Roosevelt has been called America’s greatest president. He served more than 12 years, guiding the nation through the dark years of the 1930s Depression and into the last five years of World War II. Dozens of books have been written on “FDR,” making his presidency a pivotal time in the century.
However, probably one of our best presidents was Truman. Known among detractors as “His Accidency.” hee became president when Roosevelt died a few weeks into his fourth term. Truman moved into the White House and became the only high school graduate of the century to become president.
Ironically, “FDR” never had confided in Truman about the atomic bomb. He was told about the highly-secret $2 billion World War II project after assuming office. Truman had to make the decision to drop the two devastating bombs on Japan. It was his most momentous, (and one of the century’s most important) decisions any head-of-state ever made. An estimated half-million U.S. troops and as many as 1.5 million Japanese were saved from death that, if the war continued, surely would have occurred in assaulting the mainland of Japan.
Some five years after WWII, the so-called “Cold War” began and lasted for more than 40 years until Ronald Reagan built up American armed forces to the point it caused the Soviet Union to go broke trying to keep up. The accomplishments of presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy led us through the turbulent 50s and into the 60s. It was “Ike” who was the architect of our Interstate highway system, and Kennedy who launched us to the moon with our space program. Kennedy and his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, changed America with their quest for meaningful civil rights.
Reagan was one of the nation’s most charismatic chief executives. He Staunchly was anti-Communist and dedicated himself to defeating the Soviet Union in order to end the Cold War. His building up our military resulted in out-spending the Soviets which caused their collapse. The world took a deep breath as the two super powers backed away from a nuclear war.
For those of the younger generations who are bored with or lacking in history and a basic understanding of American civics, may I suggest they study these U.S. presidents. It might help whet your appetite for the necessary ingredients to being a knowledgeable and informed American.