In February 1945, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to to meet together after the defeat of Germany. However, by the time Germany surrendered on May 8, Franklin Roosevelt was dead and Harry Truman was president of the United States. He had been the president for just over three months. Many thought he was unprepared.
Truman had only been vice president since January of that year. By the time Roosevelt died, Truman had spent very little time with Roosevelt. Truman had never even wanted to be president. He hadn’t even wanted to be vice president. When he suddenly found himself the president of the United States, he told reporters: “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
The conference that Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin had proposed began in mid-July in Potsdam, Germany. Truman had never even met Churchill or Stalin. Though it seemed to many that Truman was unprepared, the truth was that his preparation had begun sixty years before when he was born in Lamar, Missouri, to the descendants of early pioneers. He had spent happy toddler years on a farm with his devoted parents and devoted grandparents. He had studied hard in school and gone to Sunday School. He had become an avid reader of history and the classics. After high school, he had spent a decade helping his father on the farm. When World War I began, he was already in his 30s, but he volunteered to fight, became an officer, and led his men so well that they continued to love him long after he brought them safely home. He had been an able and hard-working U.S. senator from Missouri.
Four days after the Potsdam Conference began, President Truman presided when a symbolic triumphal American flag was raised over Berlin. On that occasion, Harry Truman’s humility, patriotism, and understanding of who Americans really are shone brightly. These were his words that day:
His Excellency Harry S. Truman
President of the United States of America
At a symbolic raising of the American flag in Berlin, Germany
[Delivered in Berlin, Germany, July 21, 1945]
We have conclusively proved that a free people can successfully look after the affairs of the world.
Doing this, we must remember that in raising this flag we are raising it in the name of the people of the United States, who are looking forward to a better world, a peaceful world, a world in which all the people will have an opportunity to enjoy the good things in life and not just a few at the top.
Let us not forget that we are fighting for peace and for the welfare of mankind. We are not fighting for conquest.
There is not one piece of territory or one thing of a monetary nature that we want out of this war. We want peace and prosperity for the world as a whole.
We want to see the time come when we can do the things in peace that we have been able to do in war. If we can put this tremendous machine of ours which had made this victory possible to work for peace, we could look forward to the greatest age in the history of mankind. This is what we propose to do.
America has done many, many, many things right. Let’s join in prayer for our country.
First of all, then,
I urge that entreaties and prayers,
petitions and thanksgivings,
be made on behalf of all men,
for kings and all who are in authority,
so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life
in all godliness and dignity.
2 Timothy 2:1-2