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Today in History: May 8, 1945 – VE DAY

“General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe. For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity. Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors — neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”

The war that had lasted for five years and eight months had finally drawn to a close and people celebrated in the streets. President Harry S. Truman announced the victory and appointed Sunday, May 13—Mother’s Day—as day of prayer and thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Churchill gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling the crowds, ‘This is your victory!’ However, their day of victory was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the war with Japan was still going strong.


Listen: Truman’s VE-Day Address

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Today in History: October 24, 1951 – Truman Officially Ends War with Germany

Six years after VE-Day (Victory over Europe) on May 8, 1945, President Truman signed  Proclamation 2950, declaring that war with Germany was officially over.

“Most Americans assumed that the war with Germany had ended with the cessation of hostilities six years earlier” (Source). Same is true today. However, it is interesting to note that at the end of the war, a treaty hadn’t even been signed! Complications prevented it, namely the territory that Germany had been taking over since 1938 (although, it is a bit surprising that he waited a whole 5 years before invading).

Although, in this case it had more to do with how Germany was divided, split between the British, Americans, French, and Soviets. Essentially, this meant that it was actually divided between the democratic Allies and the communist Soviets. What resulted was a bit of tension. Each side claimed the other had violated post-war treaties. Tensions rose.

Finally, in 1948, Stalin ordered a blockade of Berlin, despite the fact that the other Allies still controlled the Western half.

As a result, Truman was forced to order an airlift to fly much-needed supplies into Berlin, such as food and fuel. While tensions were being worked out, the treaty was put on hold. Tensions only grew worse on October 3, 1951, when Stalin began an atomic weapons test.

But, on October 24, 1951, almost 10 years after the declaration of war with Germany, Truman announced that war was over.

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Today in History: October 5, 1947 – First Televised Presidential Speech

Last week we discussed the first ever televised Presidential debate. Today marks the 71st anniversary of the very first televised presidential speech.

The president?

Harry S. Truman. That “accidental” president who only ever reached the White House because President Roosevelt died a mere 2 months into his 4th term.

In 1947, just over two years into his accidental term, President Truman addressed the American People via camera.

At the time, America was also only two years out of WWII and they were still struggling to recover from the long, well, struggle. So, Truman addressed the American People on food conservation.

See, in order for his Marshall Plan to work, Americans had to conserve food, themselves. How else could they have helped feed all those starving Europeans? If America was still struggling to recover, well, that was nothing compared to Europe . . . especially those living under Stalin’s oppression.

So, Truman asked “farmers and distillers to reduce grain use and requested that the public voluntarily forgo meat on Tuesdays, eggs and poultry on Thursdays, and save a slice of bread each day” (Source). Essentially, he was asking Americans to continue their rationing.

But here’s the thing: The program worked, thus it was short lived. And here’s another thing: Let’s remember that this was Post-WWII/Cold War Era America. We had just defeated Fascism (Nazism) and were still working to destroy both Communism and Socialism. In short, we weren’t the greedy, the-government-owes-me America that we are today. Sure, some of Roosevelt’s Depression Era plans were still in place. But Americans were still willing to sacrifice to help those starving and oppressed in other countries.

Things have changed a lot in the last 70-some odd years.

But, back to Truman’s speech. See, this last week, many Americans tuned in to a open-door Senate hearing. Today that seems common place. But that just wasn’t the case in 1947. TV was in its infancy. Not every American owned a television set yet – that number would climb drastically in the 1950’s during Eisenhower’s Back to God campaign and the prosperity that Americans received in return. But, in 1947, most Americans tuned in to the President via the Radio (remember that Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats were mega popular because Americans felt like they were inviting the President into their homes).

Sadly, this meant that most Americans missed Truman’s TV debut. However, every single speech that he would give thereafter were also televised. Just like the Nixon-Kennedy televised debates, Truman’s speeches would change American television (and American politics) forever. [It’s also interesting to note that Truman’s voice is way lower here than you here in recorded speeches.]

So, next time you watch the President give a televised speech, remember Truman’s ground-breaking speech in 1947. And remember his call to sacrifice for the sake of others.

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Listen: Truman’s 1st Televised Speech

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Today in History: September 4, 1951 – Truman Makes the 1st Transcontinental TV Broadcast

From San Francisco, Truman’s opening conference speech was broadcast across the nation, “marking the first time a television program was broadcast from coast to coast” (Source).The speech was picked up by 87 different stations in 47 different cities.

The speech concerned the official treaty that put an end to America’s post-WWII occupation of Japan. In his address, Truman promised that this was not a treaty of revenge, but instead a treaty that “reflects the spirit in which we carried out the war” (Source). He promised that this was the first essential step towards the long-awaited peace — “a world where there is justice and freedom for all men and all nations” (Source). Truman explained that in a world faced by the imminent threat of Communism, especially throughout the Pacific Rim, that it was all that much more important for the Allies to have a strong ally in the democratic Japan.

“Since the end of World War II in 1945, Japan had been occupied and closely monitored by the American military under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur,” and later by his replacement, General Matthew Ridgway (Source). And during this time, Japan cooperated fully with the terms of their occupation. With great help from General MacArthur, Japan had gone through “a remarkable and unprecedented period of progress” (Source). It was time, Truman surmised, to make Japan a sovereign state.

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