Now, before anyone panics, I don’t mean to close or destroy this great institution of ours, but it is time for a total rebranding of Truman State University. Many of us are aware the school’s namesake is former President Harry S. Truman — the first, and so far only, president from Missouri. However, what some might not be aware of is the legacy of horrors and atrocities carried in Truman’s name.
There is a recent precedent of students rising up and disavowing the names of certain institutions. For instance, a push at Princeton University saw the university’s Black Justice League demand Princeton disavow alumnus former President Woodrow Wilson and take steps to remove his name from their foreign policy school and a residential building. The Black Justice League cited former President Wilson’s segregationist views and his suspension of Civil liberties as reasons for their demands.
So, what kind of person have we dedicated our institution of higher learning to? At best, a morally ambiguous one. At worst, a war criminal.
One of Truman’s most infamous decisions was to use the atomic bomb on Japan. Twice. In two blinks of an eye, the military, acting on Truman’s orders, dropped two atomic bombs and murdered over 200,000 people. How would an international student from Japan feel about attending a university that immortalizes the man who killed the most people in the least amount of time in history, according to Lapham’s Quarterly in Fall 2013.
Also, consider that Truman was responsible for launching the Cold War. His aggressive foreign policy undid much of the careful planning of former President Franklin Roosevelt. Truman’s confrontational style with the Soviet Union — without whom Europe would have been lost to Nazi clutches — led to almost 50 years of proxy fighting and near nuclear annihilation. He stood by while the Red Scare swept the nation, allowing a wave of paranoia and fear to strip away the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens. If you are searching for a president who tolerated the trampling of American’s constitutional rights to freedom of association and speech, look no further.
Additionally, Truman sparked and then oversaw the Korean War, embroiling the United States in yet another international conflict. Worse yet, his reckless military policies saw the U.S. engage China in a ground war, a bombing campaign of Chinese villages, and close nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union and China as well. How can we claim to foster a diverse population when we glorify such a divisive leader? It is a blaring warning sign when we can say his known bigotry and racism was the least of what makes him a controversial president.
Despite his faults, Harry S. Truman does have some merits. Truman State became such in 1996. The University cited that the name change was primarily to differentiate Truman from simply a “regional school”. It also cited Truman’s support for federal funding for higher education. To quote the University’s website, “Truman was the first 20th-century president to actively advocate public funding that would expand access to higher education opportunities for all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, gender or economic status. In 1946, he established the first support for federally funded education, which would help ensure this access.” Harry S. Truman also played a key role in establishing the UN, for passing the Marshal Plan to help rebuild a devastated Europe, and even issued the executive order to desegregate the military — a key piece of legislation in the Civil Rights movement.
Whether or not his accomplishments outweigh his sins is up to you, but will we set aside the sins of Truman and lend his name to what is supposed to be an institution of inclusivity and openness? Will we forever honor his name and memory, despite all his crimes against humanity, simply because he is a Missourian? Our great school does not deserve such a namesake. What we need to do is to find a title we would all be glad to have, one that promotes open-mindedness, humanity, diversity and tolerance. I leave it to you to discover a name more worthy of our diverse student body here, and hopefully we can leave Truman’s legacy behind and move forward to a more welcoming future.