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REMEMBERING PRESIDENT HARRY S. TRUMAN – THE 33rd PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & AFRICA’S KOFI ANNAN AS UN HOLDS 74th SESSION OF ITS GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

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  • A President cannot always be popular.
  • It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences.
  • The President is always abused. If he isn’t, he isn’t doing anything.
  • It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. (Harry S. Truman Quotes)

President Harry S.Truman’s tenure as president of the United States marked a turning point in foreign affairs, as the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy and promoted international cooperation. Aside from the dark spot of Truman’s  approval of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that facilitated the end of World War 11, he is highly regarded as the main figure who helped to establish the United Nations  and other post-war institutions.  Truman’s October 24, 1949 speech, while laying the cornerstone of the permanent United Nations headquarters in New York City was highly emphatic about making the common good a top priority. A humanist, President Truman in 1948 issued Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the US Armed Forces. It set up the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity which successfully oversaw racial integration of the US Armed Forces.

The 33rd President of the United States, Truman assumed office following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945). He previously served as a Senator for ten years and Vice-President for 82 days and stepped into office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was in office from 1945 to 1953. After leaving office, Truman spent his remaining two decades in Independence, Missouri, where he established his presidential library.  Harry Truman earned a reputation for efficiency and integrity, and instituted an ambitious social reform agenda known as the Fair Deal, which included national medical insurance, federal housing programs, a higher minimum wage, assistance for farmers, repeal of the Taft-Hartley labor act, increases in Social Security and civil rights reforms.

FROM THE PRISM OF KOFI ANNAN: Truman had no prior experience in foreign policy. But Truman’s name will forever be remembered. Speaking at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri, the second African to serve as United Nations Secretary-General, Iate Kofi Annan noted that ‘’If Franklin Roosevelt was the architect of the United Nations, President Truman was the master-builder, and the faithful champion of the Organization in its first years, when it had to face quite different problems from the ones FDR had expected. Truman’s name will forever be associated with the memory of far-sighted American leadership in a great global endeavor. And you will see that every one of my five lessons brings me to the conclusion that such leadership is no less sorely needed now than it was sixty years ago.

TRIBUTE: In his glowing tribute, Annan asserted that: ‘’the security of every one of us is linked to that of everyone else. That was already true in Truman’s time. The man (Truman) who in 1945 gave the order for nuclear weapons to be used – for the first, and let us hope the only, time in history – understood that security for some could never again be achieved at the price of insecurity for others. He was determined, as he had told the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, to “prevent, if human mind, heart, and hope can prevent it, the repetition of the disaster [meaning the world war] from which the entire world will suffer for years to come.” He believed strongly that henceforth security must be collective and indivisible. That was why, for instance, he insisted, when faced with aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950, on bringing the issue to the United Nations and placing US troops under the UN flag, at the head of a multinational force.

Annan continued: ‘’ But, as Truman said, “ If we should pay merely lip service to inspiring ideals, and later do violence to simple justice, we would draw down upon us the bitter wrath of generations yet unborn . ” And when I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond “lip service”. The lesson here is that high-sounding doctrines like the “responsibility to protect” will remain pure rhetoric unless and until those with the power to intervene effectively – by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle – are prepared to take the lead. And I believe we have a responsibility not only to our contemporaries but also to future generations – a responsibility to preserve resources that belong to them as well as to us, and without which none of us can survive. That means we must do much more, and urgently, to prevent or slow down climate change. Every day that we do nothing, or too little, imposes higher costs on our children and our children’s children.

TRUMAN AS THE ARCHITECT OF OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE: According to Kofi Annan, Harry Truman proved himself a pioneer, proposing in his 1949 inaugural address a program of what came to be known as development assistance. And our success in mobilizing donor countries to support the Millennium Development Goals, through debt relief and increased foreign aid, convinces me that global solidarity is not only necessary but possible. The US has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level. As Harry Truman said, “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

KOFI ANNAN ON GLOBAL COOPERATION:  While remembering the salient contributions of Harry Truman to global concerns, it is important too to remember that great African and brilliant mind, Kofi Annan as the United Nations holds its 74th Session of the General Assembly. Annan in the speech under reference asserts that: ‘’ The fact is that states can no longer – if they ever could – confront global challenges alone. Increasingly, we need to enlist the help of these other actors, both in working out global strategies and in putting those strategies into action once agreed. It has been one of my guiding principles as Secretary-General to get them to help achieve UN aims – for instance through the Global Compact with international business, which I initiated in 1999, or in the worldwide fight against polio, which I hope is now in its final chapter, thanks to a wonderful partnership between the UN family, the US Centers for Disease Control and – crucially – Rotary International. So that is four lessons. Let me briefly remind you of them:

  • First, we are all responsible for each other’s security.
  • Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity.
  • Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law.
  • Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct.
  • My fifth and final lesson derives inescapably from those other four. We can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations.

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES MUST HAVE STRONGER VOICES IN WORLD BANK/IMF/MULTILATERAL INSTITUTIONS: In fact, it is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account. And that makes it very important to organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong. That applies particularly to the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Developing countries should have a stronger voice in these bodies, whose decisions can have almost a life-or-death impact on their fate. And it also applies to the UN Security Council, whose membership still reflects the reality of 1945, not of today’s world.

SECURITY COUNCIL REFORMS: That’s why I (Kofi Annan) have continued to press for Security Council reforms. But reform involves two separate issues. One is that new members should be added, on a permanent or long-term basis, to give greater representation to parts of the world which have limited voice today. The other, perhaps even more important, is that all Council members, and especially the major powers who are permanent members, must accept the special responsibility that comes with their privilege. The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.

As President Truman said, “the responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world.” He showed what can be achieved when the US assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky’s the limit. These five lessons can be summed up as five principles, which I believe are essential for the future conduct of international relations : collective responsibility, global solidarity, the rule of law, mutual accountability, and multilateralism . Let me leave them with you, in solemn trust, as I hand over to a new Secretary-General in three weeks’ time.

My friends, we have achieved much since 1945, when the United Nations was established. But much remains to be done to put those five principles into practice. Standing here, I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s last visit to the White House, just before Truman left office in 1953. Churchill recalled their only previous meeting, at the Potsdam conference in 1945. “I must confess, sir,” he said boldly, “I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt.” Then he paused for a moment, and continued: “I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilization.”

My friends, our challenge today is not to save Western civilization – or Eastern, for that matter. All civilization is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task. You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago?

Surely not. More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world’s peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition. I hope and pray that the American leaders of today, and tomorrow, will provide it.

Thank you very much. (UN remains best tool to achieve key goals of international relations – A Truman Library speech, by Kofi Annan delivered December 11, 1996)

 

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