HST meets the press

Saturday, December 14, 2002

KENNETT, Mo. -- I confess to God and my Republican relatives that I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, formerly of Independence -- and proud of it.

This attachment to both a political friend and foe of my father started on a hot summer afternoon in July 1934, when HST arrived at our home for a pre-election strategy meeting with a handful of politicians gathered to give advice on how a county judge could win a first term in the U.S. Senate.

When the meeting was over, our guest asked if he might take a brief nap, and so he was assigned the guest bedroom, which, of course, had no air conditioning. Relief from the heat depended on whatever breeze might be stirring. The candidate, stripped down his skivvies, promptly went to sleep.

Not allowed within hearing distance of the earlier conference, a few of my sub-teen friends stood outside to peek at the next U.S. senator from Missouri while he was lying asleep.

Since the blinds were up, we had no difficulty seeing the guest-candidate while trying to stifle our giggles. Several years later, I confessed our juvenile crime and was surprised when the senator replied, "Yes, I had a little trouble getting to sleep from all the giggling outside."

Over the years I have saved as many of HST's speeches and public writings as I could find. The other evening, feeling a quiet panic about state, national and world problems, I dug out clip after clip of our former president's words. If you're ready for a make-believe press conference, you're invited to sit in.

Q: Mr. President, what can be done to overcome the malaise that seems to stalk America today, when we have so many problems that seem irresolvable?

HST: Our enemies cannot deprive us of our liberties -- fear can. Our enemies cannot stamp out our faith in human dignity -- fear can. Fear is an enemy within ourselves, and if we do not root it out, it may destroy the very way of life we are so anxious to protect. To beat back fear, we must hold fast to our heritage as free men. We must renew our confidence in one another, our tolerance, our sense of being neighbors, fellow citizens. We must take our stand on the Bill of Rights. The inquisition, the star chamber, have no place in a free society. Our ultimate strength lies not alone in arms but in the sense of moral values and moral truths that give meaning and vitality to the purposes of free people. These values are our faith, our inspiration, the source of our strength and our indomitable determination.

Q: All manner of events here at home, in the country at large and around the world seem to be closing in on us. Can you offer some perspective?

HST: We face hard tasks, great dangers. But we are Americans and we have faced hardships and uncertainty before; we have adjusted before to changing circumstances. Our whole history has been a steady training for the work it is now ours to do. No one can lose heart for the task, none can lose faith in our free ways who stops to remember where we began, what we have sought and what we have accomplished, all together as Americans. I have lived a long time and have seen much happen in our country, and I know, out of my own experience, that we can do what must be done. When I think back to the country I grew up in a rural state and then look at what our country has become, I am quite certain that having done so much, we can do more.

Q: Have some recent actions taken against citizens, curbing basic freedoms, proved troubling to you?

HST: In a dictatorship everybody lives in fear and terror of being denounced and slandered. Nobody dares to stand up for his rights. The keystone of our form of government is the liberty of the individual. The keystone of our form of government is the liberty of the individual. The Bill of Rights, which protects our individual liberties, is the most fundamental part of our Constitution. Real Americanism means also that liberty is not license. There is no freedom to injure others by denying full, due process.

Q: It has become increasingly obvious over the past months that some of our enemies will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life. How should these enemies be viewed and dealt with and can they be restrained by overt military action, even a unilateral declaration of war involving American troops?

HST: We can no longer permit any nation, or group of nations, to attempt to settle their arguments with bombs and bayonets. If we continue to abide by such decisions, we will be forced to accept the fundamental philosophy of our enemies, namely that "Might Makes Right." To deny this premise, we are obliged to provide the necessary means to refute it. Words are not enough. We must, once and for all, reverse the order, and prove by our acts conclusively that "Right Has Might." If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace. To meet the crisis which now hangs over the world, we need many different kinds of strength: Military, economic, political and moral. It is the courage and the character of our nation -- and of each one of us as individuals -- that will really decide how well we meet this challenge. The lesson we have learned and should never forget is this: a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.

Q: Mr. President, what is the greatest domestic problem now facing our country?

HST: Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure to achieve and enjoy good health. The time has arrived to help them attain this opportunity and protection.

Q: Thank you, sir. You make us proud to be Missourians and Americans.

Jack Stapleton is the editor of Missouri News & Editorial Service.

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