Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

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Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby toucana on September 3rd, 2020, 6:14 am 

It is now just 60 days until the 2020 US presidential elections, so I set myself the challenge of looking back at all thirteen US presidents who have held office since the end of WW2, and of summarising their terms in a trifecta of three bullet points apiece :

Harry Truman (1945-1953)
i. On 12 April 1945 Harry Truman was woken and told that he had just become the 33rd president of the USA following the death of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the night. Truman had only been vice-president for 82 days, and he now inherited the task of leading the allies to victory in WW2, in both Europe and in the Pacific.

ii. In early August 1945 president Truman made the fateful decision to authorise the first ever use of the newly perfected atomic bomb against Japan after they refused to accept a surrender ultimatum issued to them in the Potsdam Declaration.

iii. In April 1951 president Truman made the hugely controversial decison to dismiss General MacArthur, the US and UN military commander-in-chief during both the Pacific and the Korean wars. General MacArthur had wanted command authority to escalate the Korean conflict by attacking China with nuclear weapons.

General Eisenhower (1953-1961)
i. General Eisenhower had been the supreme Allied commander on D-Day, but his personal politics remained unknown to the point where the Democrats actually invited him to run on their ticket in 1952. General Eisenhower then announced that would run as a Republican candidate. He did so primarily to support NATO, and to defeat the isolationist policies of the Republican Senator Taft.

ii. In the spring of 1953 president Eisenhower brought about an armistice to end the Korean war by threatening to withdraw all US troops from the peninsula. This was done to force the South Korean leader Syngman Rhee back to the negotiating table. Eisenhower had previously threatened to use nuclear weapons against China if the war continued.

iii. In July 1956 president Eisenhower used America’s enormous economic power to terminate the Suez crisis after France and Great Britain had invaded the Suez canal zone. This led to the collapse of the British government of PM Anthony Eden. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack during his second term and subsequently delegated many responsibilities to his younger VP Richard Nixon.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
i. When the polls closed in the 1960 presidential election between contenders Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, the margin was so narrow that no one knew who had won until a day later. Kennedy who became the first Roman Catholic president in US history inherited a CIA devised plan conceived by former VP Richard Nixon to use a force of Cuban exiles to overthrow the communist president Castro of Cuba. The landings in the Bay of Pigs went badly wrong, and president Kennedy was handed an early foreign relations disaster in April 1961 when he refused to allow US naval forces to intervene in the botched operation.

ii. In mid October 1962 president Kennedy was shown aerial surveillance photos indicating that Soviet forces were secretly installing intermediate range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on launching pads in Cuba. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended a major military operation to destroy the missile launching sites. President Kennedy elected to use a naval blockade of Cuba instead. For the next 12 days the world hovered on the brink of thermonuclear war between the USA and USSR, until president Khruschev announced a withdrawal of the soviet missiles from Cuba on 26 October 1962.

iii. In November 1963 president Kennedy planned to make a campaign visit to the state of Texas USA. He was approached by Adlai Stevenson the US ambassador to the UN who had just been attacked by a violent neo-facist mob while fulfilling a public speaking engagement in the city of Dallas Texas. “It’s an incredibly dangerous place, don’t go there !” Stevenson warned him. President Kennedy took the view that a US president should be unafraid to travel to any state of the Union and ignored the advice. Kennedy was shot dead by a sniper shortly after arriving in Dallas in a motorcade on 22 November 1963.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
i. Vice-president Johnson who was in a car behind that of JFK when he was shot learned that he had just become the 36th president of the USA while being guarded by the secret service in an ante-room at the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. His first major decision was to push forward with the major program of civil rights and social reform legislation initiated by JFK that would become known as the ‘Great Society’.

ii. In August 1964 president Johnson received reports that US naval forces had been attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the so called ‘Gulf of Tonkin Incident’. This proved to be the tipping point in America’s progressive escalation of its military involvement in South Vietnam, which accelerated rapidly under his leadership after Johnson won a second term in November 1964.

iii. In March 1968, president Johnson announced that he would not seek nor accept a further term as president - even though he was entitled to do so under the terms of the 22nd Amendment. Johnson who was emotionally exhausted by the strain of the Vietnam war had always privately believed that he would die aged 64 which turned out to be true. He died on 22 January 1973 from coronary failure.

Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
i. Richard Nixon had been the incumbent vice-president to General Eisenhower but he was unexpectedly defeated by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election. He spent the next eight years in a political wilderness that included a failed bid to become Governor of California before winning a narrow three-way race against VP Hubert Humphrey, and the racist governor of Alabama George Wallace. A key plank of Nixon’s campaign was a pledge to seek ‘Peace With Honour’ in Vietnam.

ii. With the help of NSA Henry Kissinger, Nixon achieved a diplomatic triumph in his first term by re-opening diplomatic relations with communist China, and then becoming the first US president to visit the country. The first manned landing on the moon also took place during his presidency, and he won a second term by a landslide in the 1972 presidential election.

iii. In early 1973 it emerged that members of Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign had financed a burglary of their rival DNC’s offices in Washington DC and were under criminal investigation. The affair exploded into both a national scandal and a constitutional crisis when secret tape recordings emerged that incriminated the president in a conspiracy which became known as the ‘Watergate Affair’. President Nixon’s attempts to obstruct the criminal investigation led to his resignation in August 1974 when it became clear he was about to be impeached. He is the only US president ever to have resigned the office.

Gerald Ford (1974 -1977)
i. Gerald Ford became the 38th president on the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974. He had previously become the 40th vice-president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew after Agnew pleaded nolo contendere to corruption charges in December 1973. This meant that Gerald Ford is the only person to have served both as vice-president and president, without being elected to either office by the electoral college.

ii. Just a month later, president Ford issued a full and unconditional pardon to former president Richard Nixon for any crimes he might have committed during his presidency. He also announced an amnesty program for draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam war which ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

iii. Ford narrowly survived two assassination attempts before his single term presidency ended in defeat in the 1976 presidential election.

Jimmy Carter (1977-81)
i. Democratic contender Jimmy Carter was elected 39th president of the USA in November 1976. He was a southerner who was popularly known as the ‘Peanut Farmer’. In reality he had trained in the US Navy as a nuclear power specialist, and had served as the governor of Georgia too.

ii. In March 1979 president Carter made a significant public appearance when he was seen wading through radioactive water while inspecting the stricken Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. The president had previously trained in the navy under Admiral Rickover as a nuclear engineer, and had led the naval maintenance crews sent to deal with the 1952 core melt-down accident at the NRX Chalk River reactor in Canada.

iii. On 4 November 1979, 52 American diplomats and civilians were seized and taken hostage by revolutionary Iranian National Guards who stormed the US embassy in Tehran. President Carter’s inability to resolve the protracted crisis that ensued effectively doomed his presidency and limited it to a single term. He was defeated in the 1980 presidential election, but later became the longest surviving US president, and a well respected international statesman.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
i. Ronald Reagan served two consecutive terms as the 40th president of the USA. He had been a Hollywood actor who was once considered for the lead role in the film Casblanca (1942) before entering the world of politics as the president of the Screen Actors Guild. He then served as Governor of California from 1967-75. He won the presidency, and became the oldest ever incumbent being almost 70 years old at his inauguration in January 1981.

ii. On 30th March 1981 president Reagan was gunned down outside the Washington Hilton hotel in an assassination attempt that seriously injured three other people. He recovered and was released from hospital on April 11, becoming the first serving president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt. He was also the first president in living memory who didn’t die in office after having been elected in a year ending in a zero.

iii. President Reagan’s second term in office was overshadowed both by the Iran-Contra scandal, and by serious concerns over his failing health. At one point doctors and presidential staff apparently considered the invoking the 25th amendment. President Reagan eventually died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2004.

H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
i. H.W. Bush had previously been a director of the CIA and a senator for Texas before becoming the running mate and VP for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. When Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988 to become the 41st US president, he also became the first sitting vice president to win office since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

ii. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and seized its oilfields. President Bush led an international coalition that included the military forces of Britain and France which defeated and ejected the armies of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and restored its sovereignty.

iii. H.W. Bush was initially expected to win the 1992 presidential election, but his campaign was badly damaged by a sharp economic recession, and by a disastrous decision to raise taxes, even though he had previously promised not to do so. He was beaten by the Democratic challenger Bill Clinton in 1992 and thus became a one-term president.

Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
i. Bill Clinton who had been governor of Arkansas served two consecutive terms as the 42nd president after defeating the incumbent H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election. His key campaign slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid!”.

ii. President Clinton was impeached at the very end of his first term on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to evidence he gave to a grand jury in connection with his relationship with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. He became only the second president to be impeached since Andrew Johnson in 1868 A Senate hearing subsequently acquitted president Clinton on both charges.

iii. President Clinton held one of the highest approval ratings of any modern president which stood at 61% when he left office.

George W. Bush (2001-2009)
i. Republican contender George W. Bush defeated the sitting vice president Al Gore in dramatic circumstances in the 2000 US presidential election. Television networks had already called the result in favour of Al Gore on the basis of exit polls before recanting and saying the result was too close to call. A bitter legal battle over the Florida recounts involving ‘hanging chads and butterfly ballots” led to a finding that George W. Bush had become only the fourth minority president in US history, having lost the popular vote but won the electoral college.

ii. On Tuesday 11th September 2001, president Bush was reading a storybook called The Pet Goat to a class of Florida primary school children when he was told that the WTC twin towers in New York had just been struck by hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack. The 9/11 attacks led to a decade long ‘War Against Terror’ which culminated in the second Gulf War when US forces attacked Iraq for the second time, and this time toppled its dictator Saddam Hussein who was later hanged.

iii. President Bush won a second term in the 2004 US presidential election, but the reputation of his administration was irreparably damaged by the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans and killed over a thousand people in August 2005. The devastation of the hurricane was compounded by the abject failure of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) under the leadership of an incompetent political appointee and friend of president G.W. Bush. His party then went into the the 2008 election in the teeth of a severe recession and a near collapse of the international banking system caused by the ’Sub-Prime Mortgage’ lending crisis. The latter had been fuelled by reckless deregulation of the money markets during the Bush presidency.

Barack Obama (2009-2017)
i. Barack Obama the 44th president was born in Hawaii and studied at Columbia and Harvard Law School before becoming a Senator for Illinois. He became the first black president of the USA serving two terms after defeating John McCain and Mick Romney in the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections respectively.

ii. On 2 May 2011, president Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks had been located and killed inside Pakistan by US special forces.

iii. President Obama left office with a 57% approval rating in 2016. He was best remembered for his pioneering work on public health care epitomised by the ACA (Affordable Care Act), and for signing the Paris Climate Accords to combat global warming. President Obama’s administration was widely credited with having saved the american automobile industry, and for laying the groundwork for a lasting economc recovery after the slump of 2008/9.

Donald Trump (2017 - ?)
i. Donald Trump was a surprise Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election who was widely believed to be about to lose to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, until James Comey Director of the FBI made an extraordinary public statement suggesting that the former Secretary of State might be under fresh criminal investigation over her handling of e-mails while in office (She wasn’t). Donald Trump who had never held any publicly elected office actually lost the plebiscite by 3 million votes, but gained an electoral college majority to become America’s 45th and fifth minority president. He subsequently claimed that the election had been ‘rigged’ - making him (as several commentators noted) the only presidential candidate in history to have denounced an election as ‘rigged’ after actually winning it.

ii. In May 2017 president Trump fired James Comey the Director of the FBI in circumstances which led to a demand for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the issue of co-ordination between Russian intelligence and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after AG Jeff Sessions recused himself. Robert Mueller subsequently presented an inconclusive report in July 2019.

iii. In December 2019 Donald Trump became only the third president in US history to be impeached after a whistelblower revealed details of an attempt to extort political favours from the newly elected president of Ukraine. Articles of impeachment were passed by the Democrat controlled house of Representatives, but the Republican controlled Senate dismissed the charges without bothering to examine any evidence, or summon any witnesses. Shortly after this denouement on 3 February 2020, it became clear that USA (like the rest of the world) was now in the grip of a new viral pandemic called COVID-19 which the US authorities were almost wholly unprepared for because president Trump had abolished the White House NSC pandemic response team over a year before, and looted the budgets of both FEMA and CDC in order to pay for his border wall and ICE policies.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby SciameriKen on September 10th, 2020, 10:23 pm 

A great body of work - I imagine it would be difficult to write this without applying any political leanings. Aside from that, very interesting bits - I remain curious as to why certain histories were chosen, but being limited to 3 certainly makes it fun! The only fact I'd fix off hand is the omission of the impacts of Perot in getting Bill Clinton elected.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby charon on September 11th, 2020, 4:32 am 

Well done, toucana, a sterling effort. How you managed to compress the fun-show which is Donald Trump into only three points, god only knows.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby toucana on September 11th, 2020, 1:06 pm 

My original intention was to list moments of destiny in various presidencies since the end of WW2 that I had either read about, or could actually remember.

The trifecta approach was an afterthought. The word is a contraction of tri-[per]fecta or ‘the three perfect ones’, and apparently came from Mexico, where it meant a type of forecast horse-racing bet on the top three winners in a race. Since then, trifecta has acquired the more general meaning of an ideal triplet, a trinity of elements that perfectly embody something else - a sort of three-way fix.

Once I began using this filter, and set about limiting the bullet points for each president to an inception, a mid-point and a finale, I found it offered quite an interesting (albeit dramatically foreshortened) perspective on all these leaders that put them on a common historical footing.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby davidm on September 11th, 2020, 4:23 pm 

This is very good for what it is, but I don’t really like this sort of thing. Reducing history to brief bullet points can’t legitimately be done. History is far more complex than any attempts to summarize it in such a fashion.

To demonstrate the point, let me do my own three bullet points of these presidents. For the most part it will be far different from yours, but that does not mean mine is right and yours is wrong. It only means that history is endlessly complex and elusive, resistant to pigeonholing.


Signed a directive instituting the National Security State and inaugurating the Cold War, in direct contravention of his predecessor FDR’s preferences. FDR wanted accommodation with the Soviets and opposed the recovery of colonies by France and Britain. Truman thought the opposite.

Dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though it was obvious Japan was on the edge of surrender. He could have dropped the bombs on uninhabited territory to demonstrate their power, sparing tens of thousands of lives, but chose to kill a bunch of people instead.

Foolishly failed to respond to a letter from Ho Chi Minh asking for U.S. support in evicting both Japanese and French rule and establishing a united Vietnam based on a Constitution inspired by the U.S. This is because (see above) Truman was fine with France reclaiming Vietnam as a colony. This idiotic and racist decision laid the first paving stone on the road to the debacle of the Vietnam War.


Ended the Korean War, a war that Truman launched in complete contravention of the American tradition that we should not go abroad in search of dragons to slay or engage in entangling alliances.

Stupidly ignored the Geneva Convention’s temporary division of Vietnam into North and South pending an internationally monitored free vote of which faction to unite the country under. Supported the South against the North, laying yet another paving stone on the road to the Vietnam War.

Tepidly supported civil rights, privately mocked black people. Opposed school integration, saying, (paraphrasing here, don’t have the exact quote in front of me) Why should little white kids be expected to sit in school with big buck n****rs?


Slept with an East German spy, compromising national security and an act for which he should have been impeached and removed from office. But the press loved him and was silent on his reckless affairs.

Solved the Cuban missile crisis by promising to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey, a move that had been planned but was speeded up. This fact was kept secret from the public at the time.

His greatest legacy is that his assassination prompted a whole slew of brainless conspiracy theories that affect us to the current day, with anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, 9/11 nutters, Obama birthers, moon-landing denialists, and on and on. JFK was killed by one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, who acted alone, but try telling that to the majority of people.


The Gulf of Tonkin so-called attack was a sham that LBJ used as pretext to lie the United States into the Vietnam War.

Pushed through Civil Rights and the Great Society, the most significant advance in domestic legislation since the New Deal.

Presided over the disastrous Vietnam War that his predecessors paved the way for.


Sensibly opened diplomatic relations with China and effected a detente with the Soviets, vastly easing Cold War tensions.

Presided over the passage of an array of progressive domestic legislation including the founding of the EPA, OSHA, revenue sharing, and presided over the greatest desegregation of public schools before or since. Solid domestic achievements, almost on par with the Great Society, but undermined by the “war on drugs” which he and his aides admitted to one another was an effort to demonize black people for electoral advantage among white people.

Ended the Vietnam War four years too late, after treasonously sabotaging efforts by Johnson to end it in the closing days of the 1968 election.


Pardoned Nixon, dooming his chances for reelection.

Ineffectively and comically fought inflation with his WIN (Whip Inflation Now) effort, including stupid WIN lapel buttons.

Once wore a tie with screws impaled upon the letter U.


Brokered a peace deal between Egypt and Israel.

Presided over no U.S. war deaths.

Was attacked by a bunny rabbit.


Fired the air traffic controllers, paving the way for the decline of American unions and with it the middle-class living standard.

Ignored AIDS and demonized gays.

Iran-Contra scandal. One of the worst presidents in U.S. history.

Bush the First:

Ran a racist campaign against Michael Dukakis while also dishonestly promising never to raise taxes under any circumstances.

Deftly presided over the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Lost in 1992 during a recession after he also raised taxes in contravention of his dishonest promise never to raise them.


Tried to create a national health care program and failed.

Got a blow job from a female intern.

Bombed a bunch of people in the Balkans.

Bush the Second:

Lied America into a disastrous war with Iraq.

Pursued a failed right-wing domestic agenda, including efforts to privatize Social Security.

Pursued policies that led to the collapse of the economy in 2008 and the Great Recession. Along with his hero Reagan, one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.


First black man elected president.

Got a Nobel Peace Prize for no reason.

Did nothing to punish the instigators of Bush’s Great Recession or to institute needed reforms to prevent such a thing from happening again,


Sorry, three bullet points aren’t enough.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby toucana on September 11th, 2020, 7:16 pm 

I wasn’t really trying to ‘write history” in bullet points. What I actually set out to do was to summarise my own memories and impressions of these presidential terms, and the events that happened within them, which I lived through for the most part. Truman is the only president whose term ended before my birth. I remember all the others.

You could write an entire encyclopaedia about each president without exhausting the subject matter, and academic historians will debate and disagree very strongly indeed over many of the points you raised in rebuttal.

To take one particular example:
Dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though it was obvious Japan was on the edge of surrender. He could have dropped the bombs on uninhabited territory to demonstrate their power, sparing tens of thousands of lives, but chose to kill a bunch of people instead.

This is simply untrue on every level.
i. The Japanese government had just rejected a surrender ultimatum contained in the Potsdam Declaration, and Premier Suzuki did so using the Japanese phrase mokusatsu 黙殺 which means “with silent contempt”. They had no intention of surrendering to the allies on any terms.

ii. The Japanese knew perfectly well that the allies would need to carry out a two stage occupation of the Japanese archipelago, starting with the capture of the island of Kyushu. The defensive plan Ketsu-Go developed by the Japanese army aimed to break the morale of the invading forces by inflicting massive casualties on the only two suitable landing beaches available on Kyushu as they came ashore. The American generals themselves predicted over 1 million casualties in this phase of the operation, and they had recently witnessed casualties of over 40,000 suffered when capturing the tiny garrison island of Okinawa in May 1945.

iii. When the Japanese did surrender, and turned over the details of their battle plans, American strategists found that Japan’s Ketsu-Go planners had anticipated almost every single detail of the Allied invasion plan. One of the few details in the US order of battle that had eluded Japanese military intelligence was the real purpose of the 509th Composite Bombing group, which was the unit that actually dropped the atomic bombs.

iii. As of August 1945, America only had two working atom bombs available, the ones that were eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US strategists always believed that it would take a minimum of two bombs to break Japan’s resistance, and they simply had none to waste by dropping them on empty spaces. They calculated that it was better to actually run out of atom bombs, than to *appear* as though they were running out of bombs (as they actually were).

iv. Even after the Emperor had instructed his forces to surrender, and recorded a proclamation to be played on the radio the following day, there was still a determined effort to subvert his surrender decision by a violent military coup during the night which very nearly succeeded in capturing the Emperor and destroying the the surrender recording.

v. President Truman did not simply “decide to kill a bunch of people” just for the fun of it. It was a decision that had to be weighed with infinite care. President Truman later disclosed a personal belief that he would have been impeached for dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief if he had failed to use the atomic bomb, and had accepted up to 2 million casualties by authorising an amphibious operation instead. Why he would have sacked General MacArthur in 1951 over much the same issues if he had no qualms about using the atom bomb ?

You will find a good readable account of this history in The Fall Of Japan by William Craig (1968).
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby charon on September 12th, 2020, 7:04 am 

My other post was a joke, trying to squash Trump into three bits :-)

Your thing was only a bit of fun (at least that's what I assumed), no need for others to get serious about it!

Unless we really, really want to, of course...
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby toucana on September 12th, 2020, 7:41 am 

It was indeed a sort of political caricature - a thumbnail sketch of history, not far removed from the humorous level of 1066 And All That by Sellar, Yeatman & Reynolds:

Canute began by being a Bad King on the advice of his Courtiers, who informed him (owing to a misunderstanding of the Rule Britannia) that the King of England was entitled to sit on the sea without getting wet."

What I did find interesting was the extent to which applying a uniform filter, a trifecta of just three chronological bullet points, effectively throttled many attempts to write partisan talking points into the narrative, and actually forced you into making favourable points about presidents like Nixon and Ford. That was unexpected.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby davidm on September 12th, 2020, 9:50 am 

The Was Was Won Before Hiroshima — And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It

Truman dropped the bombs to intimidate the Soviets in the Cold War that he, unlike FDR, wanted to start with them.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby TheVat on September 12th, 2020, 11:13 am 

I can easily envision this thread spinning off other topics, given the breadth of the OP. I think the subject of dropping the atom bomb on Japan might be one such. If further chat is desired on Truman's decision, I will transfer relevant posts there.
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Re: Thirteen Presidents - In Bullets

Postby charon on September 12th, 2020, 2:04 pm 

I wouldn't like to be Truman.
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