Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Conversation with a New Friend

In getting to know a new friend, John, we established a common interest in history. Funny, given his Economics B.S. and my current teaching gig, I would've thought common interest in bond yields would be more our thing. Whew, we dodged that bullet and instead swapped interests in history.

He said that a colleague once posed him a question: What was the most significant day of the 20th century. His answer: June 6, 1944.

Good answer.

I'm glad he asked me for mine. It took me a few moments, but then it came to me: the day President Truman rejected General MacArthur's recommendation to turn Korea into a global war.

It's not a glamorous answer. In fact, it's so obscure I needed to look up the date (Truman dismissed MacArthur on April 11, 1951). But I find it so significant because it was the day Truman decided that victory in Asia wasn't worth a Communist Western Europe. It was also the day in which a global power decided that there was a limit to what a nation would, or should, or could do to win a war. Korea wasn't worth an atomic war, nor was a shot at "winning back" China worth sacrificing allies in Europe. The decision crystallized a Cold War stalemate. In the long run, it was a great call despite the unpopularity greeting it at the time. Less than four decades later the Cold War was over, and South Korea was a prosperous, growing power.

Two other days in Truman's presidency rival April 11, 1951 for their importance: his decision to respond to the Berlin Crisis with the Berlin Airlift and his decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His decisions on both of these fronts were made in the shadow of, and with an eye towards, Joseph Stalin, one of the 20th century's most cunning and evil figures.

How ironic that such weighty decisions were made by one of the more unlikely figures to ever become president.

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