Hindsight makes it seem like Independence Day, July 4, 1945, was a time of wild celebration for Americans. The war in Europe was won, the war in Asia all but won. The United States was unquestionably the most militarily and economically dominant nation in the world. Yet a frightening future beckoned. No one except a select few knew—yet—that the means for forcing a Japanese surrender without an apocalyptic invasion of the home islands were at hand. The Trinity test of the first atomic weapon in the desert of New Mexico remained 12 days away. And even then, a victorious United States faced a world in ruins, an increasingly hostile former ally—the Soviet Union—and the prospect of millions of American servicemen and women returning home. How would they readjust to families and communities? Would they find work, and homes in which to live and restart their lives?
President Harry Truman spent the day cruising on the Potomac River, on FDR’s former presidential yacht USS Potomac, with members of his cabinet, advisors and friends. A note he wrote to himself afterwards suggested his mood was anything but upbeat. “Down Potomac . . . with [Fred M.] Vinson, [John W.] Snyder, [Samuel I.] Rosenman, Geo. Allen, Steve Early, Charlie Ross, & Matt Connelly,” the president noted. “Discussed Russian & Jap War, Govt. for Germany, Food, fuel & transportation for Europe, Sterling Block, etc. Don’t feel happy over situation.”
His note continued: “I have to decide Japanese strategy—shall we invade Japan proper or shall we bomb and blockade? That is my hardest decision to date. But I’ll make it when I have all the facts.”
“So you see,” he concluded, “we talk about more than ‘Cabbages & Kings and Sealing wax and things.’”
Snyder, Rosenman, and Allen later wrote for the president a memorandum summarizing these and other issues to be discussed at the upcoming Potsdam Conference. After a long list of priorities, they concluded ironically: “In other words, we think that as a well known Missouri horse trader, the American people expect you to bring something home to them.”
No pressure at all!
Challenging as were the tasks facing him, Truman understood that his first duty was to the American people; and on Independence Day, they would expect a message from him. In keeping with his personality, the message—which American men, women, and children at home read in their morning newspaper as they prepared for backyard barbecues; and American servicemen read or heard as they wondered about their futures—was direct and to the point. It read:
“Again this year we celebrate July Fourth as the anniversary of the day one hundred and sixty-nine years ago on which we declared our independence as a sovereign people.
In this year of 1945, we have pride in the combined might of this nation which has contributed signally to the defeat of the enemy in Europe. We have confidence that, under Providence, we soon may crush the enemy in the Pacific. We have humility for the guidance that has been given us of God in serving His will as a leader of freedom for the world.
This year, the men and women of our armed forces, and many civilians as well, are celebrating the anniversary of American Independence in other countries throughout the world. Citizens of these other lands will understand what we celebrate and why, for freedom is dear to the hearts of all men everywhere. In other lands, others will join us in honoring our declaration that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
“Here at home, on this July 4, 1945, let us honor our Nation’s creed of liberty, and the men and women of our armed forces who are carrying this creed with them throughout the world.”
President Harry Truman
This article is part of an ongoing series commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II made possible by Bank of America.