Soldier

Chapter 4 is all about WWI. One of my personal weaknesses as a reader of history is a total inability to concentrate on detailed accounts of battles.

The one bit that I earmarked in this chapter was the following, just after the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which ended up with 117,000 American dead in 47 days:

“Harry had lost 20 pounds. He could hardly believe what he had been through. Terrible as it had been, it was also “the most terrific experience of my life.” He couldn’t help feeling proud.” (132)

Next up: Harry gets into local politics, complete with The Machine!

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Lag time!

I’m still plugging. I made it through WWI, but I’m still trying to collect my thoughts. Will post more by this weekend, honest.

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First hundred pages: Truman’s extended adolescence

Okay, that title is a bit misleading. In some ways, by the end of the third chapter, Harry is absolutely an adult. He is 30 years old, has been more or less running his father’s farm for ten years, has had various financial involvements and at least half a dozen different jobs. Farming is hard work, and he has developed lifelong habits of waking early and working hard. He’s also (secretly) engaged to his dearest Bess.

But he still pines for the big bucks, he has made some really bad investments, taking on unnecessary debts, and is totally devoted to his mum. (He really, really, really digs his car, too.) The bits we get from his letters to Bess reflect a small scale discontent, an abiding expectation that there really must be more out there. McCullough writes that “He had reached a point, in fact, where he might have gone off in any of several directions with his life, given the opportunity.” (p. 97)

This sounds like me. And all my friends. We are kind of adults, paying our own bills, working whatever jobs we can find or find ourselves thrust into, but still longing to find something meaningful, something to define ourselves. We aren’t working dawn to dusk on the farm (though some of my friends have tried that out, too), but we’re all struggling along.

Of course, I’m pretty sure we’re about to see how The War shaped Truman into the man-who-would-be-president. But maybe I am just trying to find a way where I could still be president, if I wanted to.

(As an aside, I have been thinking a lot about the Myths of the Olde Midwest McCullough includes in the description of Truman’s family history and early years. There’s a big bad villain in the family history, who was killed in a shootout with the town lawman; there are allusions to the trails headed further west; there are hard winters on the cold prairie. There are pies and picnics and piano lessons. There are dens of iniquity in the big city. Is this just like, the most appealing way possible to look at this era of history, or was it really like that? I know, that’s a totally naive question, but still. It does make an interesting contrast to the early life story of someone like Barack Obama — like, Truman’s upbringing was all of the things that we pretend America is made of. Maybe all the things that America used to be made of?)

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Truman Presidential Library

Higgs, as you pointed out, the absence of Bess Truman’s letters leaves their courtship seeming really lopsided. I looked up her personal papers via the Truman Presidential library, and it looks like they don’t have much: the finding aid shows just over a linear foot of records, dated 1923-1961. It’s possible that her actual personal papers landed somewhere else, but seems unlikely.

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First Three Chapters…

Hmm, not really sure where to start, never having done a book club before…. but here goes!

I must say I’m really disappointed we don’t have Bess’ letters – it makes Harry seem a little crazy and makes the whole romance bizarre and one sided, which it obviously wasn’t. I wonder what happened to them? He also seems incredibly young and naive still at the end of this section, despite the fact that he is thirty years old. It seems like he is still the sheltered kid with glasses and piano lessons somehow. It will be interesting to see if the military changes his personality at all, or if that is just how he is.

Also, McCullough – way to pointedly include references to minorities and Truman family prejudices and not dancing around it. It doesn’t even seem awkwardly shunted in there, which I really appreciate that. I’m quite surprised and impressed that he made such an effort on that front!

What do you think, Kells?

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It’s a behemoth, and we’re reading it.

And we’ll be talking about it here.

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