Under Fire - By W.E.B. Griffin


In 1944, Vice President Henry A. Wallace was perceived by many—perhaps most—highly placed Democrats to be a genuine threat to the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He was cordially detested by the Republicans—and many conservative Southern Democrats—both for his liberal domestic policies and his unabashed admiration of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps equally important, the poor—and declining— health of President Roosevelt, while carefully concealed from the American public, was no secret to many Republicans, including their probable candidate for the presidency, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York.

There was a real threat that Dewey might make it an issue in the campaign: “Roosevelt, if reelected, probably won’t live through his term. Do you want Henry Wallace in the Oval Office? Or me?”

Wallace, it was decided, had to go.

For his running mate, Roosevelt picked Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri, who, while an important senator, was not part of the President’s inner circle.

It was a brilliant political choice. Truman had earned nationwide recognition for his chairmanship of a Senate committee investigating fraud and waste by suppliers of war materials. “The Truman Committee” was a near-weekly feature on the newsreels at the nation’s movie palaces, showing a nice-looking man visibly furious at contractors caught cheating the government and the military officers who’d let them get away with it.

And he couldn’t be accused of being antimilitary, either, for he had served with distinction as a captain of artillery in France in World War I, and he had retired as a colonel from the Missouri National Guard.

The Roosevelt-Truman ticket won the election in a landslide. Vice President Truman appeared with Roosevelt at the inauguration, and then was more or less politely told to go away and not make a nuisance of himself while Roosevelt and his far-better-qualified cronies ran the country.

During the first eighty-one days of his fourth term, President Roosevelt met with Vice President Truman twice, and they were not alone on either occasion.

On the eighty-second day of his fourth term—April 12, 1945—while vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia, with a lady not his wife, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly.

That made it urgently necessary to bring President Harry S. Truman up to speed on a number of matters it had been decided he really didn’t have to know about, including a new weapon called the Atomic Bomb.

And to tell him of some disturbing theories advanced by the intelligence community—most significantly the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—that Josef Stalin had no intention of going back to Mother Russia to lick his war wounds, but rather saw the inevitable postwar chaos as an opportunity to bring the joys of communism to the rest of the world.

There had already been proof:

The U.S.S.R—which was to say Stalin—had forced the King of Romania to appoint a Communist-dominated government; Tito’s Communists had assumed control of Yugoslavia; Communists were dominant in Hungary and Bulgaria (where a reported 20,000 people had been liquidated) . In Poland, when Polish underground leaders accepted an invitation to “consult” with Red Army officers, they had been arrested and most of them had then “vanished. ”

And Stalin had made no secret of his intentions. Shortly before the end of the war, the OSS reported, he had told Yugoslav Communist Milovan Djilas, “In this war each side imposes its system as far as its armies can reach. It cannot be otherwise.”

President Harry S. Truman had been in office less than a month when—at 2:41 A.M. on May 8, 1945, at General Dwight Eisenhower’s Reims, France, headquarters—Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Three days later, on May 11, 1945, Truman abruptly ordered the termination of Lend-Lease aid to the U.S.S.R. But then, on the advice of left-leaning Harry Hopkins, Truman made what he later acknowledged was a major mistake. To assure Stalin of American postwar goodwill, he kept silent about the “vanished” and imprisoned Polish leaders, and then recognized the “new” Polish government in Warsaw as legitimate, although he knew that it consisted almost entirely of Soviet surrogates.

In July, Truman met with Stalin at Potsdam, Germany, outside Berlin. Truman came away convinced that Roosevelt was wrong: “Uncle Joe” could not be treated like a difficult senator and bribed with a couple of highways and a new post office in his hometown; he had every intention of taking over the world.

Truman returned from Potsdam, thought it over, and ordered that the atomic bomb be used against Japan. Use of the bomb would, he reasoned, primarily save the lives of the 500,000 American servicemen whom the military experts expected to die in a “conventional” invasion of