Wednesday, January 09, 2013

As the Twig is Bent (Leader of the Free World Div.)

Doug Henwood points out that today is the centennial of the birth of Richard M. Nixon.  Meanwhile it happens that I am spending my off hours with David McCullough's doorstop biography of Harry S. Truman and the news prompts me to meditate on the early live of great men.

Do some comparisons: Nixon, Truman--also Eisenhower and Johnson, for what it was worth--grew up not quite dirt poor but on the raw downside edge of respectability, never more than one wrong guess away from squalor (the unknown young Truman evidently met the unknown Ike's brother while both were youngsters at work in Kansas City banks).  They all had their breaks: alive in the right country and the right century.  Each is in his own way showed a kind of determination, but not all the  same kind.   Nixon and Johnson lusted after power; it's not clear that  either Ike or Truman had the same goal--observe how easily at the end Truman and Ike said goodbye to power, in contrast with the other two.  

For present purposes, what catches my fancy is the matter of chemistry.  It's a commonplace how Nixon, rising from his hardscrabble youth, ever nourished a sense of grievance and unmollified hurt.  It might be worth noticing how Truman, with much the same background, appears to have grown to maturity the happiest of men.    He seems to be one of those babies who knew he was loved. He enjoyed pleasing people; he was a willing worker in all ways, a world to whom the world made sense.  Superficial observers may question appraisal; they may remember the 1948 give 'em hell campaign, or the man who wrote a rude letter to a critic of his daughter's music.    But even in conflict, he seems to be a man who is enjoying himself.  Contrast Nixon who never seems really to enjoy himself at all.  Afterthought: this may be the temperament that is equipped to order, not once but twice, the destruction of a Japanese city--and then go home to an untroubled night's sleep.

For extra credit: note that both Truman and Ike, seeking a ticket out of their constrained youth, sought an appointment to West Point.  We know what became of Ike; McCullough says it was his poor eyesight that caused the Academy to turn down Truman.  So, which one saw more combat service in World War I?

Afterthought:  H/T to David for pointing out that this is also the 150th anniversary of the London Underground.

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