In the year 2000, a C-SPAN Poll ranking all U.S. Presidents was conducted by 58 presidential historians and scholars. Harry S. Truman ranked fifth behind Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. I think that Truman and Winston Churchill were the two most influential people of the 20th century. Truman helped to prevent a third world war and to preserve the free world from communist oppression. As the 33rd president of the United States, serving from 1945 to 1953:
• He implemented the Marshall Plan that led to U.S. financial dominance. After World War II, U.S. dollars were used to pay for the reconstruction of Western Europe. This established the U.S. dollar as the basis of international trade and economic prosperity.
• He helped to contain communism by establishing the Truman Doctrine and NATO. He presided over the Berlin Airlift and helped South Korea repel the invasion by North Korea.
• In 1947, he was the first President to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1948, he proposed that Congress pass comprehensive civil rights legislation. After Congress refused, he issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 that desegregated the armed forces and federal agencies.
• His 21-point program proposed the expansion of Social Security, a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, and public housing and slum clearance. He supported housing for the poor, federal assistance for education, national health insurance, a higher minimum wage, and price controls. He vetoed tax bills favoring the rich and vetoed the Taft-Hartley Bill that suppressed labor unions.
Ending World War II in the Pacific
Truman probably saved more than half a million lives by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki three days later. Just before the bombings, the Japanese government refused surrender demands outlined in the Potsdam Declaration. The atomic bombings caused the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan on August 9 and they invaded Manchuria. On the next day, Japan agreed to surrender. I took a course in college with Clyde Kluckholm, an anthropologist who, with another anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, helped write the terms for the Japanese surrender. Kluckholm told us that the Japanese were so dedicated to their emperor, Hirohito, that it made sense for him to be allowed to retain his imperial position (and not to be tried as a war criminal), to help with an orderly surrender. Hirohito delivered a radio message of surrender on August 15, 1945, which became V-J Day –Victory over Japan. A formal ceremony was held on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri.
Lifestyle Habits: Some Healthful, Some Unhealthful
Truman’s grandparents lived into their 90s, and most of his family had lived to an advanced age. Truman tried to walk two miles every day, and had a normal blood pressure of 120/80 when he was president. However, he drank bourbon and white wine almost every day. At 5’9″ tall, he weighed 175 pounds while he was president, and more than that in later life.
He must have been warned about diabetes, high cholesterol, overweight and possibly high blood pressure, because he went from eating a typical heart-attack- causing Western diet (high in meat and sugar) to a more healthful diet with less sugar and refined carbohydrates, but still including a lot of meat. In a letter dated January 3, 1952, at age 68, he wrote: “I walk two miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty-eight steps a minute. I eat no bread but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and a half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast; liver and bacon or sweet breads or ham or fish and spinach and another non-fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of non-fattening vegetables and an orange, pineapple or raspberry ice for dinner. So I maintain my waist line and can wear suits bought in 1935!”
Illnesses and Death
On December 4, 1972, at the age of 88, Truman was admitted to Kansas City’s Research Hospital with multiple organ failures, including kidney failure, lung congestion and irregular heartbeats. He went into a coma and died on December 26. The cause of death was given as “pneumonia,” but it was more than that. It looks more likely that he died of heart failure, brought on by diabetes that had not been diagnosed publicly.
• Several times during his presidency and afterwards, he was said to have episodes of “cardiac asthma,” which would mean that he was in heart failure while he was president. However, he was not in heart failure. He walked vigorously every day for many years after that with no problems, so he had fluid in his lungs from asthma, a condition in which a person can wheeze and become short of breath from breathing dry cold air or allergens or irritants in the air.
• In 1954, at age 70, he had a gall bladder attack while watching a play, and had his gall bladder removed. Diabetics are at increased risk for gall bladder disease (J Diabetes Complications, Mar 2016;30(2):368-73).
• In 1967, at age 83, he fell and broke two ribs, cut his forehead, and broke his glasses. The fall may have been caused by dizziness of heart failure where his heart was too weak to keep pumping blood to his brain, which often happens with diabetes.
• In 1970, at age 86, he became very inactive. He missed morning walks and when he did walk, he walked very slowly. He was often complaining of dizziness, common with irregular heartbeats in diabetics.
• In early 1972, he was diagnosed as suffering from heart failure which caused his lungs to fill up with fluid. He also had other late signs of diabetes such as multi-organ failure, including kidney damage. High blood sugar levels damage every cell in your body.
Upon his death, his wife called for a simple private service at the presidential library rather than a state funeral in Washington. A week after the funeral, there was a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral.
Thirty percent of North Americans over age 65 are diagnosed with diabetes, or 15.9 million seniors. Add to that another 100 million North Americans who have prediabetes. Many doctors do not tell their patients that a person who has a normal fasting blood sugar can still have diabetes (Diabetes Care, Oct 2017). Diabetes should be diagnosed in every person who has a blood sugar greater than 155 one hour after eating (Diabetologia, 2021;64(2):275–287). Having a blood sugar level greater than 155 mg/dL one hour after eating:
• puts you at increased risk for forming plaques in your heart arteries (Atherosclerosis, Nov 2009;207(1):245-249)
• increases risk for arterial stiffness and high blood pressure (PLoS ONE, Sept 13, 2012)
• markedly increases risk for heart disease (Diabetes Metabolism, Feb 2019;35(2):e3096).
You can still suffer significant cell damage every time your blood sugar rises over 155. Most cases of diabetes can be cured by lifestyle changes, but not by drugs (Lancet, Feb 10, 2018;391(10120):541-551).
Truman was likely to have been told that he had diabetes because he changed his diet to avoid sugared foods and refined carbohydrates. However, he continued to eat meat two or three times a day. Eating red meat has been associated with increased risk for developing diabetes (American Journal of Epidemiology, May 23, 2017; JAMA Intern Med, Jul 22, 2013;173(14):1328-35; Nutrients, 2014 Feb; 6(2): 897–910; Diabetes Care, 2004 Sep; 27(9):2108-2115; Am J Epidemiol,(2016) 183(8):715-728). A review of 28 studies found that risk for type II diabetes was increased by 36 percent for every 100 grams of meat from mammals or 50 grams of processed meat eaten each day (Diabetes Metab, Oct 2020;46(5):345-352). Vegetarians have a significantly lower incidence of type II diabetes than people who eat meat (Diabetes Spectrum, May 2017;30(2):82-88).
See Meat Increases Risk for Type II Diabetes
Consumption of meat has been associated with high fasting blood sugar and insulin concentrations (Am J Clin Nutr, Nov, 2015;102(5):1266–1278). Most cases of diabetes are linked to insulin resistance (not being able to respond to insulin). In one study, after just four weeks on a high-meat diet the participants were less able to respond to insulin (Metabolism, March 2017;68:173–183). Eating meat probably increases risk for diabetes because it contains choline and lecithin (PLoS One, Jan 15, 2020) that are readily converted in your body to TMAO, which is associated with high fasting blood sugar and insulin levels and signs of an overactive immune system called inflammation (J of Bioscience and Bioengineering, 2014;118(4):476–81; Am J Clin Nutrit, 2017;106(3):888–94). Fatty Liver Disease Can Often Be Cured With Lifestyle Changes, Not With Drugs Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Pre-Diabetes and Diabetes Increase Heart Attack Risk
Diabetes is Often Missed
Harry S. Truman
May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972