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The failed haberdasher who changed the world

Truman in 1947: made the “foundational decisions of our world”. Getty

The fact that Robert Oppenheimer agonised over creating the atomic bomb, as dramatised in Christopher Nolan’s new film, is really “not interesting”, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. “Was he meant to whistle to work?” The more important figure is Harry Truman, to whom it fell to actually use the “gadget”. Nolan’s movie gives the US president a solitary scene, in which he “shambles around as a provincial buffoon” and can’t say “Nagasaki” right. This is a gross injustice. Liberals constantly bang on about the importance of the “rules-based international order”. Really, they should call it “the Truman Show”.

It was Truman, after all, who made the “foundational decisions of our world”. He was the “father of Nato”. He kept the US in Europe after 1945, garrisoned places farther afield and cut international tariffs. It was easy for his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt to end American isolation – there was a war on. Truman’s task was much harder: “to maintain a forward US posture during peacetime”. The resulting “empire in all but name” has had its costs, but the past 18 months have been a “sublime education” in its uses. Just imagine where Ukraine would be without a committed US. And yet, how many Europeans today can even picture Truman? Part of this is that few enjoy being reminded of what he embodies – that “liberalism isn’t tenable without hard power”. And partly it’s snobbery. Many liberals prefer to dwell on the glamour of the tortured genius Oppenheimer, rather than the fact that we owe our world to a “failed haberdasher from Missouri”.