"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 11, Number 9, September 2008

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

                                                            Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org]

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The Holy Spirit an “It”? Unclouding the Issue

 

Recently, your editor became the focus of an article by David Cloud, editor of O Timothy and rigid KJV-Only advocate.  That article, “Is the KJV in Error in Romans 8:16?” was mailed out electronically on August 20, 2008.  In that article, Cloud not only excuses, but actually defends the KJV’s practice of calling the Holy Spirit “it”:

 

 The phrase “the Spirit itself” is translated from the Greek “auto to pneuma.” The pronoun “auto” is correctly translated “it.”

 

Back in the early to mid-1990s, I exchanged numerous letters with Mr. Cloud, and repeatedly pressed him to say whether he thought the KJV was correct in its four-fold identification of the Holy Spirit as “it” (John 1:32; Romans 8:16, 36; I Peter 1:11).  And he never had the courage back then to answer one way or the other.  At least now Cloud has the boldness and certitude (and folly) to declare openly that he believes that indeed the Arians, Socinians, Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses are correct in referring to the Third Person of the Trinity as “it,” as the KJV also does these four times.

 

Cloud begins by attacking me, declaring:  

 

Doug Kutilek is not a Bible translator of renown nor a recognized Greek or Hebrew scholar, whereas the men on the august committee that gave us the King James Bible were all of that and more.  For Kutilek to condemn their work in such a glib manner is like a person who paints by numbers authoritatively criticizing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. . . . It amazes me how that a man with literally no serious credentials in anything rushes in with no compunction to criticize a translation that went through such an extensive purifying process.

 

I find it a bit remarkable that Cloud who knows next to nothing about me can pass such sweeping judgment on me.  I do not make it a practice to parade my education or list my degrees or hang my diplomas on the wall, but will for the record give some accounting of my education and scholarship, so that all may judge whether his charge is accurate.  My earned degrees are B. A. in Bible (Baptist Bible College), M. A. in Hebrew Bible (Hebrew Union College) and Th. M. in Bible exposition (Central Baptist Seminary) with substantial additional course work at Wichita State University, Grace Seminary, Baptist Bible Graduate School of Theology and the University of Cincinnati.  I have completed everything except the dissertation for a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible at Hebrew Union College--a pre-eminent Jewish institution (I can here the criticism now--“Why, Kutilek learned Hebrew from unbelieving Jews!”  Yes, as did Paul).

 

My linguistic studies have included 45 credit hours of Hebrew encompassing Biblical, Rabbinic, and Medieval Hebrew (and have done some private study of modern Israeli Hebrew), 20 hours of Greek (including a year of classical Greek), 13 hours of Aramaic (“Old,” Imperial, and Rabbinic Aramaic), 9 hours of Syriac, 9 hours of Ugaritic, 6 of Akkadian, 6 of comparative Semitics and 3 each of Arabic, Phoenician/ Punic/ Moabite, and linguistics.  I have also made extensive private study of Latin.  Of modern languages, my studies have included English, French, German, Romanian and Spanish (and odds and ends of several other languages).  I am actively seeking to maintain or expand my knowledge in most of these, and hope to add two or three languages to those I have studied before I am through.  Let us see from Mr. Cloud a listing of his linguistic attainments for the sake of comparison.

 

My linguistic teaching experience has included a number of years of Biblical Hebrew (at two colleges and two seminaries, both in the States and in Europe, plus private tutoring), of Biblical Greek (at one college, and two seminaries plus private tutoring), German and English (in a high school) and Romanian (private tutoring).  I am prepared and competent to teach several more languages (Latin, Spanish, Aramaic, Syriac, Phoenician and more), but have had as yet no opportunity.

 

I have published numerous articles requiring (and I believe evincing) detailed and accurate knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and other languages ancient and modern.  Some have been in peer-reviewed journals, and others have appeared in more “popular” Christian publications as well as in the pages of As I See It.  The subscribers to As I See It (which include a long list of seminary and college professors, degreed pastors and missionaries, as well as seminary and Bible college students) bear some silent witness to my apparent capabilities, since if my writings in As I See It were of the inferior sort Mr. Cloud imagines them to be, and if my knowledge were as defective as Mr. Cloud claims, these informed and educated readers would justifiably lose interest in my articles and direct their precious time and attention elsewhere.  Our subscriber list is currently the largest it has ever been, and grows monthly.

 

I hasten to add that Cloud’s diatribe regarding my credentials is largely beside the point, since I don’t have to fall back on my own expertise alone in analyzing and critiquing the KJV translation.  It may come as a surprise to Mr. Cloud, but linguistic research into Hebrew and Greek didn’t cease in 1611.  Indeed, at that date it had scarcely begun.  If we can see further today, and see more clearly, than the KJV translators did in 1611, it is because we have the accumulated research and study of thousands of diligent scholars over the past 4 centuries.  I have on my shelves, and consult with regularity, at least 21 different Hebrew grammars, some of these very extensive and detailed, a dozen Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries, and numerous scholarly articles and books on specialized points of Hebrew grammar, besides many technical commentaries on the Hebrew text of the OT, to say nothing of concordances.  For the illumination of NT Greek, I have by quick count at least 30 Greek grammars, 16 dictionaries and lexicons, supplemented by articles and books, plus technical commentaries and concordances.  All of these date from after 1611.  It is possible than Mr. Cloud might even have some of these on his own shelves, or at least has heard of them.

 

Out of this mass of study and accumulated knowledge, let us consider just one example (among dozens that could be presented) of how the KJV translators’ knowledge of Greek was defective and incomplete.  In Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 (and very many other places inside and outside the NT) there is a grammatical construction involving “Sharp’s rule,” which is named after the scholar (and member of the British Parliament) who first systematically described it in 1799, Mr. Granville Sharp.  This rule, which is proved beyond any honest quibble, requires that Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 be understood--and translated--as identifying Jesus as both “God” and “savior.”  The KJV at best obscures the Deity of Christ by translating Titus 2:13 “the great God, and our saviour”--yes, the comma is in the 1611 edition (their translation errs similarly at 2 Peter 1:1)--, and at worst draws a distinction between “God” and “savior” as though they referred to two separate persons.  The best that can be said of the KJV here is that it obscures what in Greek is perfectly clear; the worst, that it makes a distinction that the Greek does not.  Are the KJV men to be faulted?  Yes, though with some mitigating circumstances.  Some notion of the force of this grammatical construction was known to and published by Theodore de Beza (whose Greek text of 1598 the KJV NT most closely followed), and the “learned men” of the KJV should have been aware of this.  But the full, thorough analysis and defense of this grammatical point was only made in 1799, nearly 2 centuries after the KJV appeared.  The point is: if the KJV men failed to fully and faithfully give the force and meaning of Sharp’s construction at Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1--and they most certainly did so fail--their culpability may be somewhat allayed by recognizing that they were understandably ignorant of something not fully known until 200 years later.  But that they were ignorant, and wrong, cannot be honestly denied.  Mr. Cloud is faced with a dilemma--either he must affirm that the Deity of Christ is properly obscured in these two places as it is in the KJV, in spite of the Greek, or he must admit that the KJV men were in error here because of their understandable but no less real ignorance of Greek grammar at this point.

 

Cloud engages in considerable hyperbole when extolling the scholarship of the KJV translators.  No doubt some among them were accomplished, even distinguished in Hebrew and Greek, but frankly for not a few of them, we simply have no idea of their credentials, and can express no valid opinion.  In Alexander McClure’s The Translators Revived, for example, which purports to give the biographies of the KJV men, about not a few of them next to nothing is reported since next to nothing was known about them (for several, there is similarly no article in the Dictionary of National Biography).  We do know the KJV translation was deprived of the skills of the admittedly best contemporary Hebraist in England, Hugh Broughton, who was expressly excluded from serving as a translator.  It must also be recognized that in the following generation, the scholarship of the KJV men was not viewed with awe by the Divines of the Westminster Assembly, since they initiated a revision of the KJV, which failed of accomplishment because of the restoration of the Stuarts in the person of pro-Catholic Charles II in 1660.  I am persuaded that the men of the Westminster Assembly (about whom a very great deal is known) were collectively greatly superior to the KJV translators for depth and breadth of biblical and linguistic scholarship, and we would have been better served if their proposed version had been carried through to completion.

 

Furthermore, I must ask: if the KJV men were such learned Hebraists and Grecians, as it were the highest mountain peaks--the “Everests”--of Biblical linguistic scholarship (as KJV extremists such as Cloud pretend), why do we have no printed editions of either the Hebrew or Greek text from their labors, or learned commentaries, or authoritative grammars or lexicons and dictionaries?  I am unaware that any such works were issued by these men individually or collectively, and certainly none of their scholarly works (chiefly patristic works, it seems) are in print today; I am aware of one or two devotional titles that are.  Yet we have large numbers of just such scholarly works from others before and after their time which are still in print--the writings of Calvin, Luther and others from the Reformation of the century preceding, and the Westminster and Puritan Divines from the century following.  Were the KJV men such paragons of scholarship, we would expect just such learned works from them that we instead find to be conspicuously absent. 

 

Notably, the pre-eminent Baptist pastor in America in the first half of the 19th century, and the greatest proponent and supporter of foreign missions, Spencer H. Cone (1785-1855), when embroiled in a Bible version controversy strikingly like that of today, investigated the credentials of the KJV translators:

 

When he heard so much said as the “forty-nine” translators (of King James), heard them so lauded to the skies, he asked--“Who knows that they were such very learned men?”  He had looked into the matter and could not discover that they were men of such extraordinary and transcendent talents.  Where were their learned works--their critical and extensive knowledge? . . . . He was not disposed to award King James’s translators the high wrought eulogies he had heard pronounced on that floor.  He could not discover foundation enough for them.

Edward W Cone and Spencer W. Cone

The Life of Spencer H. Cone

New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co., 1857

p. 356

 

In contrast, as one of numerous comparisons that could be made, consider the translation committees of the English Revised Version and American Standard Version of the latter 19th century, a veritable “who’s who” of Biblical scholarship, and of whose written, translated and edited works literally hundreds of volumes are still in print and remain of immense value a century and more after their composition.  I have said that if I had only these writings of the ERV/ASV men (and I do have more than 100 such volumes), my library would be more than adequate (though not quite ideal) for almost all purposes.  I would have a Hebrew text (Ginsburg), several Greek texts--and a Latin one (Tregelles, Alford, Wordsworth, Westcott and Hort, Scrivener), Hebrew and Greek--and Syriac--grammars, lexicons, word studies and concordances (Tregelles, Green, Hadley, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Moulton, Thayer, Trench, Davies, Davidson, Payne Smith), an edition of the Hexapla, learned commentaries on nearly all parts of both Testaments (by Perowne, Driver, Payne Smith, Moulton, Milligan, Schaff, Tregelles, Alford, Eadie, Ellicott, Westcott, Lightfoot, Fairbairn and more), and numerous other scholarly and reference works (William Henry Green, Scrivener, Geden, Strong, Hodge, Hackett, Schaff, etc.).  As far as actual, documentable Biblical scholarship and linguistic learning, the KJV men cannot hold a candle to the translators of the ERV/ASV (and no, I do not here address the question of relative theology, though the Anglican, baby-sprinkling, dissent-persecuting KJV translators would be similarly bested in that over-all comparison as well).

 

The KJV translators get far more credit and far less blame than they deserve.  As we noted in a review of Adam Nicolson’s, Power And Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible (AISI 6:9), most of what is commonly considered striking, elegant, or outstanding in the language of the KJV is overwhelmingly what they took over whole and entire from Tyndale!  In the NT, often as little as 2 or 3% of the wording in a given passage is original with the KJV men, they freely borrowing from the Geneva, Bishops’, and notably Catholic Rheims (and Latin Vulgate) versions most of what they didn’t transfer from Tyndale.  Furthermore, many of their departures from Tyndale were changes for the worse, as in “church” for “congregation,” “charity” (based on the Latin) instead of the good Anglo-Saxon word “love,” etc.

 

And as for the whole issue of correcting the errors of earlier translators, isn’t that what the KJV men were appointed to do, and defended absolutely their right to do?  In the famous “Translators to the Reader” that prefaced the KJV translation in 1611, the translators say, referring to earlier English translators, and their own labors at revision and correction:

 

Therefore, blessed be they, and most honored be their name, that break the ice, and giveth onset upon that which helpeth forward to the saving of souls.  Now what can be more available thereto, than to deliver God’s book unto God’s people in a tongue which they understand? . . . . Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the later thoughts are thought to be the wiser, so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labors, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive would thank us.  [6th unnumbered page]

 

[B]ut let us rather bless God from the ground of our heart, for working this religious care in him [i.e., King James], to have the translation of the Bible maturely considered of and examined.  For by this means it cometh to pass, that whatsoever is sound already . . . the same will shine as gold more brightly, being rubbed and polished; also, if anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected and the truth set in its place. [7th unnumbered page]

 

Yet before we end, we must answer a third cavil and objection of theirs [i.e., the Romanists] against us [i.e., Protestants], for altering and amending our Translations so oft; wherein truly they deal hardly, and strangely with us.  For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise) to go over that which he had done, and amend it where he saw cause. . . .If we will be sons of the Truth, we must consider what it speaketh, and trample upon our own credit, and other men’s too, if either be any way an hindrance to it. [8th unnumbered page]

 

What they said regarding the Greek OT version, the Septuagint, applies with remarkable propriety to the work of the KJV men themselves, as I have no doubt they themselves would readily acknowledge:

 

The Seventy were Interpreters, they were not Prophets; they did many things well, as learned men; but yet as men they stumbled and fell, one while through oversight, another while through ignorance, yea, sometimes they may be noted to add to the Original, and sometimes to take from it; which made the Apostles to leave them many times, when they left the Hebrew, and to deliver the sense thereof according to the truth of the word, as the spirit gave them utterance. [4th unnumbered page]

 

To turn the tables, we could, in the spirit of Cloud, bring accusation against the KJV translators themselves--

 

Could the KJV men not, should they not be castigated for arrogating to themselves presumed superiority over the learned and spiritual Tyndale?  Or over the Geneva translators?  Or even over their own Anglican Bishops?  Who do they think they are?  What learned linguistic works can they show to defend their right to correct these prior translators?

 

In truth, if translation revision--correction--was theoretically a legitimate enterprise in 1611 where there was cause, then how can the same practice today be faulted, except by the most arbitrary decision and the most brazen hypocrisy?

 

Coming to specifics: Cloud’s article offers nothing new to bolster his misguided argument defending the KJV’s “the Spirit itself” that was not already addressed in our two articles “ ‘The Spirit Itself’ “ (AISI 2:9) and “ ‘The Spirit Itself’ Revisited” (AISI 2:10), both available on request or at the web-site www.kjvonly.org, and therefore we need not go into the specifics of his claims, since they are already refuted.  However, there was one remarkable oversight in his treatment: he shows complete ignorance of the important supplemental article by AISI contributing editor Jim May, “ ‘The Spirit Itself’: An Addendum” (AISI 9:6) in which he shows, inter alia, that in three passages--Matthew 17:18-19; Mark 9:25-28; and Luke 4:33-35 (and he could have added Matthew 12:43-45, and possibly other texts)--the KJV translators repeatedly translate so as to refer to demons/ evil spirits (neuter nouns, the latter the same Greek word used in Romans 8:16, etc. of the Holy Spirit!) by the English pronoun “he” and “him.”  This utterly kills the already bogus “grammatical gender” argument of Cloud, Strouse, Waite and Kinney, and makes appear highly credible the assertion by some that the KJV translators were influenced at Romans 8:16 and the other three “it” passages by Socinian doctrine (a denial of the Trinity).  To repeatedly and unhesitatingly refer to a demonic spirit as “he” while yet referring to the Holy Spirit repeatedly as “it” is utterly indefensible, and the effort to defend it reveals to what depths of absurdity Cloud and the others will sink and have sunk merely to prop up their preposterous fabricated doctrine of an infallible English translation.  “O judgement thou are fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason!”

 

Cloud concludes his article:

 

Friends in Christ, beware of pompous men who have been bitten by the debilitating bug that David Otis Fuller identified as “scholarolatry.”

 

Is this not a perfect self-description of those who worship at the shrine of the “impeccable scholarship” of the KJV translators?  And wasn’t the opening premise of his article attacking me that “our scholars are better than your scholars”?  Medice, cura teipsum.

 

We’ve said before that on subjects other than the KJV controversy, Cloud sometimes writes things worth reading.  But on this topic, he is so blinded by presuppositions and a priori emotional commitment to the modern fiction of an infallible KJV that he is completely incapable of rationally considering the evidence and facts.  By continuing to focus and write on the KJV controversy, Cloud does continuing injury to any claim he might have to being an intelligent and rational man.

---Doug Kutilek

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More on the Original Manuscripts of the New Testament

 

In the previous issue, we addressed the subject of the fate of the original manuscripts of the various Biblical books (all are now lost and presumably have long since perished).  We noted that there was some discussion of the subject in the church fathers, but we could not lay our finger on the precise locations or authors.

 

Our friend Dr. Rod Decker of Bible Baptist Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania forwarded to us the patristic references we were lacking, and so we can now pass them along to you.

 

Tertullian, one of the earliest Latin fathers [c. 160- c. 220], in Prescription of Heretics, 36 (A.D. 203), wrote:

 

Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over to the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones [cathedrae] of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read (Latin:apud quas [sc. ecclesias] ipsae authenticae litterae eorum recitantur) uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.  Achaia is very near you, (in which) you find Corinth.  Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; (and there too) you have the Thessalonians.  Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus.  Since, moreover, you are close to Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves).

Quoted from The Ante-Nicene Fathers,

Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson,

Eerdmans, 1978 reprint, vol. III, p. 260.

 

Dr. Decker notes that all the cities mentioned by Tertullian are those where either Paul, Peter, or John ministered and to which NT books were written.

 

There is considerable dispute as to whether this comment by Tertullian in fact refers to the original manuscripts of the NT.  In a footnote (#12) on the same page of the edition quoted, we are informed,

 

“Authenticae.   This much disputed phrase may refer to the autographs or the Greek originals (rather than the Latin translations), or full unmutilated copies as opposed to the garbled ones of the heretics.  The second sense is probably correct.” [Italics in original]

 

Then there is Petrus I Alexandrinus, an early 4th century pastor (d. A.D. 311).  In Chronicon Paschale, a fragment attributed to him (but which some claim to be a 6th century pseudograph), he comments on a variant manuscript reading at John 19:14, favoring “third hour” instead of “sixth hour” as commonly read there, and appeals for support of his conclusion to the original manuscript of John (along with other manuscripts) which he says is still accessible in Ephesus: “ ‘Now it was the preparation day of the Passover; it was about the third hour.’ [John 19:14]  Just as the accurate books contain, and the autographon itself of the Evangelist, which until now is kept by the grace of God in the most holy church of Ephesus, and by the faithful there it is venerated.” (Translation based on the text as given in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 18:517D).  I think it notable that this reported “autograph” copy of John’s Gospel is said to have been “venerated” by Christians at Ephesus.  One man’s “veneration” is another man’s “relic worship,” and as we stated in the last issue, this human propensity to worship relics as idols may be the reason, or one among several reasons, why God allowed the autographs to perish, rather than letting them become spiritual stumbling blocks.

 

It seems to us that such patristic evidence for the continued existence of the NT autographa to 200 or even 300 A. D.--the first a passage in Latin of dubious interpretation, and the second a possibly pseudonymous document (but at the earliest c. 300 A.D.)--are at best very thin and feeble, and do not inspire confidence.  And even if they do give true testimony to the continued existence of NT autographa in those places and at those dates, their subsequent fate remains a complete blank.  We are left with our previous conclusion: we simply don’t know what became of the NT autographa.

 

Dr. Decker adds that additional information regarding the survival of the autographa may be found in Eberhard Nestle, Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament (London: Williams and Norgate, 1901), pp. 29–31 (which we have not seen).  Most of the comments there relate to fraudulent claims of autographa discoveries.

---Doug Kutilek

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BOOK REVIEW

 

Truman by David McCullough.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.  1,117 pp., hardback.

 

Roman orator Cicero stated, “Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child” (De Oratore II; quoted in A New Dictionary of Quotations, selected and edited by H. L. Mencken.  New York: Knopf, 1942; p. 536).  Hence, the pressing and continuing need to study history in general, and for me, this book in particular.  I was born while yet 3 months and 3 days remained in the presidency of Harry S. Truman (he served April 1945-January 1953) but I naturally enough remember not a thing about it personally, and in fact don’t have any recollections of Truman at all until I was 8 or 10.  My father was wont to always refer to him as “Horrible Harry.”

 

Truman (1884-1972), was a grandson of pioneer settlers in Missouri, and of stock with strongly pro-Southern sympathies.  Like most people of that era, he was born and grew up on a farm; he continued to farm into his 30s, when service in World War I took him away from it and, on return, into Jackson County, Missouri (location of Kansas City and Independence) politics.

 

Raised a Baptist, and claiming to have read the Bible through twice by age 11, Truman was, nevertheless, what some would call a cussin’, whiskey-drinking, poker-playing Baptist, with an often enough explosive temper, much in conflict with the Biblical pattern of personal conduct (McCullough gives only scattered indications of Truman’s attending church and reading the Bible as an adult; whether this is because of their comparative rarity in that period of his life, or merely an author’s oversight or omission, we cannot say).  Truman, even as a politician, did have an apparently justified reputation of being a very honest, unbribe-able man. 

 

As a youth, with his poor eyesight and coke-bottle-thick glasses, he was the equivalent of today’s “nerd” and was a very diligent student, especially liking history (he claimed to have read all 2,000 books in the Independence public library) and a well-practiced pianist.  He was the last U. S. President to never attend college (he did attend night law school in the 1920s, though never graduating).  He first met his future wife Bess Wallace in Sunday school when both were in the lowest elementary grades of school.  And though they “got serious” in their 20s--he first proposed to her, by mail(!), in 1911, and was turned down three weeks later.  Though engaged in 1913, due to financial concerns (Truman found himself unable to support a wife by farming), they didn’t marry until 1919, when in their 30s, after his return from World War I.

 

After failing as a haberdasher in post-WW I Kansas City, Truman became involved in Jackson County politics as a Democrat.  The corrupt Pendergast political machine “ran” things in Kansas City, and the “blessing“ of the Pendergasts was all but essential to political success in Jackson County.  Truman became by turns a county “judge” (= commissioner/ alderman) and in 1934, a U.S. Senator, being narrowly re-elected in 1940 (a hoped-for run at the governorship of Missouri in the interim did not work out).  The “taint” of association with the corrupt Kansas City political machine would cling to Truman for years.  During the first years of his second term in the Senate, Truman chaired an important and increasingly famous committee investigating government contracts and expenditures for war materiel, and exposed hundreds of millions of dollars in waste and fraud, and saved the tax payers multiplied millions of dollars.  What national prominence was his was a direct result of his work on this committee.

 

In 1944, Truman emerged as a “compromise” candidate to serve as Franklin Roosevelt’s third vice-president, an office he occupied for just 88 days, when Roosevelt’s death April 12, 1945 elevated him, ready or not, to the presidency (he had met with Roosevelt only twice since the inauguration, and knew absolutely nothing about the atomic bomb project).  FDR and Truman were about as different as two men could be--the former an Eastern, big state, old-money, blue-blooded, Ivy-leaguer with a lengthy resume, the latter a small-town Midwestern impoverished farmer-turned machine politician with no college training. 

 

Truman was immediately faced with a seemingly interminable torrent of events and circumstances that demanded immediate attention.  It would be hard to find a period of similar length as the nearly 8 years of Truman’s presidency that involved so many developments that shaped the course of history.  The “hot” war in Europe ended with the defeat of Germany, but the cold war soon began as Soviet imperialism imposed its control over all of occupied eastern Europe, and sought to topple (unsuccessfully) the governments of Greece and Turkey (and later, South Korea).  The Marshall Plan for the economic rebuilding of shattered Europe was a major triumph of the Truman years, as was the Berlin Airlift, which prevented Russian control of all of Berlin, and set a precedent of standing firm against Soviet expansionism.  The successful NATO alliance which kept the Russian bear at bay--at least in Western Europe--for 5 decades, was created.  The United Nations--a hoped for superior successor to the failed League of Nations was established (its subsequent record being at best a very mixed bag).  A homeland for the Jews was debated, and established--and recognized by Truman and the U. S. eleven minutes after it became a reality in 1948 (we were the first nation to recognize the new Jewish state).  Atomic weapons were used (and justifiably) for the first and only time, but their secrets were stolen via Russian espionage, followed by the development of hydrogen bombs, and the beginning of their proliferation, resulting in the nuclear stand-off between the Soviets and America that continues to this day (lately on a lesser scale than in earlier decades, to be sure).

 

Russian-sponsored communism was on the march world-wide--in China (overthrown by Mao and his hordes in 1949), Korea (1950ff), Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh fighting the French) and also in extensive Russian espionage and subversion within the U.S. government, first exposed in the famous Whitaker Chambers-Alger Hiss case in 1948, followed by the accusations (not entirely unfounded as McCullough suggests) by Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.  America’s victorious military was drastically drawn down and all but completely demobilized after WW II, in spite of continued Soviet expansion of their military, resulting in the virtual complete unpreparedness of the U. S. when war erupted in Korea in 1950.

 

To his credit, Truman was decisive; to his discredit, he decisions were often very wrong.  Domestically, as a committed “New Dealer,” Truman favored the broad expansion of Roosevelt’s socialist agenda, with progressively more government control and interference in the economy and in the lives and decisions of individuals.  This push for more state socialism was largely frustrated by Republicans in Congress.  He blundered badly when he tried to settle a strike against the steel mills by (illegally, as it turned out) seizing control of all the mills in the country.  (Ironically, Truman complained when the $600,000 paid to him by Doubleday for his memoirs was taxed at 67%!!  Expansive government is expensive, and somebody has to pay for it--why not those who create the growth of this leviathan?).

 

Truman survived the end of his presidency by almost 20 years, much beyond the average.  He returned to Independence, Missouri, where he lived out his days, and is buried.

 

This is the longest of the several books by eminent historian David McCullough (and the second longest individual book of whatever sort we’ve ever read), of which but one remains to be read by us.  The others, with one exception, have been reviewed in AISI (The Johnstown Flood, 4:10; The Path Between the Seas, 5:11; Brave Companions, 7:10; 1776, 8:7; Mornings on Horseback, 8:11).   As with the others, it is meticulous in its attention to detail, demonstrates a broad mastery of the relevant literature and source materials, and is readably written.  While McCullough is herein sympathetic toward his subject--perhaps at times, a bit too sympathetic (certainly more so than we are), he does not hesitate to present Truman’s faults and failures, along with his strengths and successes.

 

 While it might seem overwhelming or intimidating for the average reader to “launch out into the deep” of a book with nearly 1,000 pages of narrative, 58 pages of footnotes, and 24 pages of bibliography--we spent a full month getting through it--, there is a great dealt of instruction here about the surpassingly important events in the mid-20th century, especially in the 1940s and early 1950s, that are intertwined with the life of Harry Truman.  May we read and learn and not remain forever mere children in knowledge and understanding.

---Doug Kutilek

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