From the Letters to the Editor column in the September 2013 issue of Perspectives on History

On "Emancipation, the Cold War, and Hidden Themes of History"

Otto H. Olsen, September 2013

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On "Emancipation, the Cold War, and Hidden Themes of History"

To the Editor:

I would like to challenge Michael Dobbs's claim, cited in Perspectives on History (March 2013), that President Truman attempted to follow the policies of FDR until his experience with Stalin led him to a harder line.


While rejecting communist ideology, FDR had accepted the legitimacy of the Soviet Union and envisioned a cooperative postwar world with economic assistance to the devastated Soviet Union and an end to colonialism. In contrast, Truman had a long history of intense hostility to the Soviet Union that he never abandoned. He began his presidency expressing a determination to "stand up to" and "get tough with the Russians" and adopted a variety of policies FDR had opposed, including an alliance with Britain and France against the Soviets and an endorsement of colonialism, including the restoration of Indo-China to France, which, inadvertently, set the stage for the tragedy of Vietnam.Truman pursued his openly anti-Soviet policies until he realized the crucial importance of the Soviet pledge to enter the war against Japan. A period of cooperation then ensued on into the Potsdam Conference, where it lasted until news of the successful test of the A-bomb encouraged Truman and Churchill to totally exclude Stalin as they pursued their own program, culminating at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is little, if anything, in FDR's history to suggest he would have approved such a course.

-Otto H. Olsen, 
Northern Illinois University (emeritus), 
University of Florida