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What Harry Knew and When He Knew It

January 28, 2015

Senator Harry Truman was chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program.  Between 1941 and 1944 this committee uncovered $15 billion in waste.  They were bound to notice something unusual was happening in Tennessee and in the state of Washington.  Then the Secretary of War intervened.  He contacted Truman and asked him to call off the investigation.

“Senator, I can’t tell you what it is, but it is the greatest project in the history of the world.  It is most top secret.  Many of the people who are actually engaged in the work have no idea what it is, and we who do would appreciate your not going into those plants.”

Prior to his appointment in 1940 the Secretary of War had served in the cabinets of two former Presidents.  He had arbitrated an election in Nicaragua, been governor general of the Philippines, and had his name attached to an important foreign policy doctrine.  He had been a colonel in the artillery during World War I.  Perhaps that is why former artillery captain Truman trusted him.  In his memoirs Truman wrote that he had long known the Secretary of War to be “a great American patriot and statesman.”  Truman called off the investigation.

In 1944 Senator Truman was elected Vice President, and a few months later he was suddenly elevated to the Presidency.  After ensuring proper care was accorded to the late President’s widow, Truman held his first cabinet meeting.  He asked everyone to remain in office for the time being.  He wanted their advice.  He expected them to freely state their opinions and to support his decisions.

After the cabinet adjourned, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson lingered.  It was time for the new President to learn about “the greatest project in the history of the world.”

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