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Commencement Address at Princeton University | May 23, 2022

Delivered at Princeton University on June 17, 1947, following the conferment of an honorary degree on Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States of America

President Dodds, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

The President of Princeton University spoke of crises a while ago. He should try sitting in my chair for about an hour and a half!

It is with a great deal of pleasure, and much pride, that I am now able to count myself as a member of the Princeton family. Princeton University has conferred an honor upon me for which I am deeply grateful. I consider it a special privilege to have received the degree of Doctor of Laws at the Final Convocation of the Bicentennial Year in the presence of this distinguished company.

On an earlier occasion of equal significance in the history of this University, the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, spoke in 1896 at the Princeton Sesquicentennial Ceremonies. President Cleveland seized that opportunity to charge our colleges and universities with the task of supplying a “constant stream of thoughtful, educated men” to the body politic – men who were eager to perform public service for the benefit of the Nation. He chided our institutions of higher learning for their lack of interest in public affairs, and held them responsible for the disdain with which many of the best educated men of the day viewed politics and public affairs.

Happily for us, that attitude on the part of our universities vanished long ago. I am certain that no observer of the American scene in recent years has detected any reluctance on the part of our educators to enter the political arena when their services have been needed. And our schools have made much progress in supplying the “constant stream of thoughtful, educated men” for public service called for by President Cleveland half a century ago.

That task is more important today than at any previous time in our national history.

In our free society, knowledge and learning are endowed with a public purpose – a noble purpose, close to the heart of democracy. That purpose is to help men and women develop their talents for the benefit of their fellow citizens. Our advance in the natural sciences has led to almost miraculous achievements, but we have less reason to be proud of our progress in developing the capacity among men for cooperative living. In the present critical stage of world history, we need, more than ever before, to enlist all our native integrity and industry in the conduct of our common affairs.

The role of the United States is changing more rapidly than in any previous period of our history. We have had to assume worldwide responsibilities and commitments. Our people have placed their trust in the Government as the guardian of our democratic ideals and the instrument through which we work for enduring peace.

The success of the Government’s efforts in achieving these ends will depend upon the quality of citizenship of our people. It will also depend upon the extent to which our leaders in business, labor, the professions, agriculture, and every other field, appreciate the role of their Government and the greatness of its tasks.

Our schools must train future leaders in all fields to understand and concern themselves with the expanded role of the Government, and – equally important – to see the need for effective administration of the Government’s business in the public interest.

I call your attention particularly to the problem of effective administration within the Government, where matters of unprecedented magnitude and complexity confront the public servant. If our national policies are to succeed, they must be administered by officials with broad experience, mature outlook, and sound judgment. There is, however, a critical shortage of such men – men who possess the capacity to deal with great affairs of state.

The Government has recruited from our academic institutions many members of its professional staffs – geologists, physicists, lawyers, economists, and others with specialized training. These men are essential to the conduct of the Government and to the welfare of the Nation. But we have been much less effective in obtaining persons with broad understanding and an aptitude for management. We need men who can turn a group of specialists into a working team and who can combine imagination and practicability with a sound public program.

All large organizations, public and private, depend on the teamwork of specialists. ordination is achieved by administrators trained to assemble the fruits of specialized knowledge and to build on that foundation a sound final decision. Men trained for this kind of administrative and political leadership are rare indeed.

In the task of finding and training men and women who will add strength to the public service, universities have a particular responsibility. They should develop in their students the capacity for seeing and meeting social problems as a whole and for relating special knowledge to broad issues. They should study the needs of Government, and encourage men and women with exceptional interests and aptitudes along the necessary lines to enter the Government service.

The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs of this university was established with this purpose in mind. It seeks to prepare students for public careers. It is significant that the school bears the name of a statesman whose concept of civic duty contributed so much to the Nation and to the world.

Of course, the Government cannot and does not expect to rely entirely upon our educational institutions for its administrators. It must bring into service from business and labor, and the professions, the best qualified persons to fill the posts at all levels.

The Government must take several steps to make its career service more attractive to the kind of men and women it needs.

Salary limitations prevent the Government, in many instances, from securing the kind of executives required to manage its vital activities. Capable administrators are too frequently drawn away from the Government to private positions with salaries many times what they could earn in the Government service. This situation can be remedied only by laws to bring salaries more nearly in line with the heavy responsibilities that executives carry at the higher levels in the public service.

The complexities of the tasks now facing our top officials force them to spend most of their time in studying matters of policy. These officials should be supported by a career group of administrators skilled in the various aspects of management. If capable men and women can look forward to holding such posts as a reward for able service, they will be more eager to accept Government employment.

Because of the difficult tasks of Government today, we should plan a program for the systematic training of civilian employees once they have entered the public service. It is not generally possible at the present time for the Federal Government to send its employees to universities for special short-term training programs. Nor is it permissible under existing law to spend Federal funds for Government schools to develop the knowledge and techniques required by officials in their work.

This is a problem that can be solved only by the joint efforts of the Government and the universities. Training programs can be formulated, both on the job and on the campus. The Government must make provision for its employees to participate. The universities will need to provide courses well adapted to increasing the effectiveness of the employee in his job. Such a plan is certain to pay substantial dividends.

I have been speaking about the important contribution which educational institutions can make to the service of the Nation through preparing men and women to administer our far-flung public enterprises.

Another contribution which I regard as important at this time is support for a program of universal training. I consider such a program vital to the national welfare. Since universal training necessarily affects young men of college age, I believe that our educational institutions should be particularly aware of the need for such a program and what it can accomplish.

The recent war left in its wake a tremendous task of repair and reconstruction, of building a new and orderly world out of the economic and social chaos of the old. It is a task too great for us, or for any other nation, to undertake alone. Even though we are contributing generously and wholeheartedly, no single nation has the means to set the world aright. It is a job for all nations to do together. Unfortunately, however, generosity of impulse and abundant good will are not enough to insure the political stability essential to social and economic reconstruction. Peace-loving nations can make only slow progress toward the attainment of a stable world – in which all peoples are free to work out their own destinies in their own way – unless their moral leadership is supported by strength.

Weakness on our part would stir fear among the small or weakened nations that we were giving up our world leadership. It would seem to them that we lacked the will to fulfill our pledge to aid free and independent nations to maintain their freedoms, or our commitments to aid in restoring war-torn economies. In such an atmosphere of uncertainty, these nations might not be able to resist the encroachments of totalitarian pressures.

We must not let friendly nations go by default.

A few days ago, I sent to the Congress a report outlining a program designed to provide this country with the military strength required to support our foreign policy until such time as the growing authority of the United Nations will make such strength unnecessary.1 That report was prepared by an advisory commission of distinguished citizens. One of them was President Dodds. The Commission reported its belief that the United States should have small professional armed forces. These should be supported by a reserve of trained citizens, derived from a carefully planned program of universal training for young men. Without such training, in the opinion of the commission, we cannot maintain effective reserves. Hence the commission regards universal training as an essential element in a balanced program for security.

Universal training represents the most democratic, the most economical, and the most effective method of maintaining the military strength we need. It is the only way that such strength can be achieved without imposing a ruinous burden on our economy through the maintenance of a large standing armed force.

The justification for universal training is its military necessity. However, it is a matter of deep concern to me that the training program shall be carried out in a manner that will contribute materially to the health and character of our young men. I am certain that the kind of training recommended in the report of the advisory commission will not only make our youth better equipped to serve their country, but better mentally, morally, and physically. The experience of living together and fulfilling a common responsibility should strengthen the spirit of democracy. It will be an experience in democratic living, out of which should come in increased measure the unity so beneficial to the welfare of the Nation.

We must remember, above all, that these men would not be training in order to win a war, but in order to prevent one.

I am confident that our educational institutions understand the need for universal training and recognize it as a vital responsibility of citizenship in our day.

The obligations of our educational institutions which I have been discussing are great, but in the world today there is a still greater obligation. It is the obligation of service to all nations in the cause of lasting peace.

There can be no greater service to mankind, and no nobler mission, than devotion to world peace.

The course has been charted.

The Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization states the basic truths by which we must be guided. That Constitution reads: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

The construction of the defenses of peace in the minds of men is the supreme task which our educational institutions must set for themselves.

This convocation is a symbol of what our educational institutions can do in the cause of peace. It marks the end of a great series of conferences, attended by scholars from all over the world, who assembled here for free discussion of the most challenging problems facing men today.

The special significance of these meetings is that they restored bonds in many fields of learning between our own and other lands – bonds which had been impaired by the war. The resumption of meetings of scholars, businessmen, religious leaders and Government officials is evidence of our conviction that the peace must “be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual solidarity of mankind.”

Free and inquiring minds, with unlimited access to the sources of knowledge, can be the architects of a peaceful and prosperous world.

As we gain increasing understanding of man, comparable to our increasing understanding of matter, we shall develop, with God’s grace, the ability of nations to work together and live together in lasting peace.

The President spoke at 12:30 p.m. from the steps of Nassau Hall at Princeton University after receiving an honorary degree. His opening words referred to Harold W. Dodds, president of the university.

Listen to the historic sound recording, part of the audio-visual collection at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

Commencement Address at Princeton University

80th Birthday Greetings from President Johnson to Former President Truman | May 5, 2022

On May 6, 1964, Harry S. Truman was in the Grand Ballroom of the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, attending a luncheon in his honor when he was informed that he had a telephone call from The White House. In his greetings, President Lyndon B. Johnson shared these words with the 33rd president, who guided the nation and the world through the perilous years following World War II: “When you blow out those candles, Mr. President, I hope you think of all the lights you have turned on during 80 years. They are still burning in Greece and Turkey and Western Europe and the Far East and in the hearts of your countrymen.” Thanks to the archival work of the presidential libraries, we have the full transcript of their phone conversation, which took place two days before President Truman’s 80th birthday.

May 6, 1964

THE PRESIDENT. I wanted to call collect, but Lady Bird wouldn’t let me. And then I only have change for three minutes. So, I wanted to tell you “Happy Birthday.”

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. I will tell you what I will do. I will accept it as collect.

THE PRESIDENT. On behalf of Lady Bird, Lynda Bird, and Luci and I, we wanted to say “Happy Birthday.” We speak for 190 million other Americans. Last night I read that a politician thinks a nation belongs to him, while a statesman knows he belongs to the nation. That is the way we feel about you.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. You are as kind as you can be, and that is the way I feel about you, too. I don’t think we have had a better President in a hundred years than we have right now, and I am tickled to death with him.

THE PRESIDENT. I hope you know that you belong to all America, and you are one of our greatest national assets, one of our greatest resources, and when you blow out those candles, Mr. President, I hope you think of all the lights you have turned on during 80 years. They are still burning in Greece and Turkey and Western Europe and the Far East and in the hearts of your countrymen.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. I will do my very, very best. I want to thank you for that high hat you sent me, and I am going to wear it-don’t worry about that. It’s my kind.

THE PRESIDENT. Wonderful. The Old Testament tells us there were giants on the earth in those days. We are already saying that about you, Mr. President. Americans will be saying it as long as the name of this country lives in history, so you want to take care of yourself and I want you to come by to see me when you get back here.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. I will make the first call on you when I get to Washington.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, happy birthday again.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. I will do that because I think I ought to report to the President. He might want me to do something.

THE PRESIDENT, Fine. Happy birthday again.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN. Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT. You are welcome. Goodbye.


SOURCE: Lyndon B. Johnson, Greetings Telephoned to President Truman on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project 

80th Birthday Greetings from President Johnson to Former President Truman

2022 Harry S. Truman Legacy of Leadership Award | April 29, 2022


The 2022 Harry S. Truman Legacy of Leadership Award was presented on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at Wild About Harry in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Director Burns’s acceptance remarks at WILD ABOUT HARRY on April 28, 2022 represented only his second public speech as director and came in a week in which the United Kingdom and United States announced further military help for Ukraine.

GOOD EVENING. It is truly an honor to be with all of you, and it is truly humbling to receive this year’s Truman Legacy of Leadership Award.

Thanks so much, Senator Blunt, for that kind introduction. While I hardly recognize the person you were describing so generously, I am deeply grateful for your model of public service. You have made the people of Missouri proud over many years. You have been a voice of decency and civility in Washington – a city where both those qualities are often in short supply. And you have done remarkable work to strengthen the U.S. intelligence community, as an exceptionally effective member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As a career diplomat, serving as an ambassador abroad and as a senior official in administrations of both parties, and now as Director of CIA, it has been a genuine pleasure to serve with you. While you may not miss Washington, you will be sorely missed in Washington.

And I want to offer my profound thanks to the Truman Library Institute for this wonderful honor. Harry Truman’s extraordinary example of American leadership has inspired generations of us struggling to do our duty and do our best in the arena, in the complicated world of national security.

As Jeffrey Frank captures so beautifully in his biography, President Truman was an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary moment – but his common sense, his grasp of history and his willingness to make tough decisions set the standard for all of us. While I am not at all sure that I belong on the list of award recipients who honor his memory, I greatly appreciate the recognition.

My own career in public life has been very fortunate. I never had to look any further than my father, a career Army officer and a very fine man, to see the best possible model of leadership and public service. When I was finishing graduate school four decades ago and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, my dad sent me a letter. “Nothing will make you prouder,” he wrote, “than to serve your country with honor.” I have spent the last forty years learning the truth of that wise advice.

I also learned a lot about leadership from several of your prior honorees. Madeleine Albright, who sadly passed away last month, embodied the American dream, a wartime immigrant from Eastern Europe who rose to become America’s chief diplomat, the first woman to become Secretary of State. She had President Truman’s gift for straightforward and honest expression, and his readiness to lead with candor and plainspoken wisdom.

Bob Gates, one of my predecessors at CIA, knew that intelligence is America’s first line of defense, and that it has to be delivered with integrity – even when the message may be unwelcome or inconvenient to policymakers, and always without a whiff of partisanship or policy agenda. We get ourselves in trouble as a nation, and we make bad policy choices, when we forget those basic truths.

As a young diplomat, I worked for Secretary of State James Baker, the first Truman Leadership honoree. He was an exceptional statesman, the best negotiator I have ever served with, responsible along with President George H.W. Bush for one of the high points in American statecraft – the successful management of the end of the Cold War. It was a moment in history when massive transformations on the international landscape intersected with one of the most talented teams of national security leaders this country has ever known. That intersection of leaders and events was much like the dawn of the Cold War, the historic time in which Truman and Marshall and Acheson shaped the winning strategy and institutional architecture that Bush and Baker and Scowcroft later applied so skillfully.

Those examples are especially important this year, as we mark the 75th anniversary of Truman’s historic National Security Act, and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is another of those transformational moments on the international landscape, one of those plastic moments that come along once or twice in a century. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a brutal reminder of the resurgence of Great Power politics. Xi Jinping’s China poses the biggest geopolitical challenge that we face, as far out into the 21st century as I can see, with more reach in more domains than any adversary we’ve ever encountered. The revolution in technology – the main arena for competition with China – is changing the way we live, work, compete and fight.

The women and men I am so proud to lead at CIA are working hard every day to stay ahead of those challenges and keep Americans safe.

I am particularly proud of the critical role that U.S. intelligence has played in supporting Ukraine against the vicious aggression of Putin’s Russia. Armed with accurate and precise insights and information, the U.S. government shared them energetically with our allies from the start. We have been equally committed to rapid and effective intelligence sharing with our Ukrainian partners, throughout the fighting and for months beforehand. As Allied leaders and counterparts have emphasized directly in my travels in Europe, the credibility of American intelligence has helped cement the solidarity of the Alliance.

At President Biden’s direction, the U.S. government has also taken unprecedented steps to declassify intelligence and use it publicly to preempt the false narratives which Putin has used so often in the past.

The last chapter in Putin’s war has yet to be written, as he grinds away at Ukraine. But the Ukranian will is unbroken, and the courage and resolve of President Zelensky and all Ukranians remain profoundly impressive. Among the mistakes Putin has made is it underestimate that resolve. He has argued for years that Ukraine is not a real country. He is learning the hard way that real countries fight back, with strong support from their friends and partners.

Every day, CIA officers are also doing hard jobs in other hard places around the world. I just returned from my fifteenth overseas trip in a little more than a year as Director, and I’ve seen firsthand their ingenuity and skill and courage. Despite unrelenting pressures and strains, they never cease to amaze me. In outposts across the globe and in windowless vaults at headquarters, our case officers and analysts and technologists and support specialists are quietly and admirably serving our nation.

They do not seek public acclaim, and their profession often keeps them in the shadows, out of sight and out of mind. The risks they take and the sacrifices they make are little understood and often underappreciated. But the role they play is vital to our nation’s security, just as Harry Truman foresaw 75 years ago when he created the CIA.

A month from now, we’ll have our annual memorial ceremony, in front of the most hallowed place at CIA, our Memorial Wall in the Main lobby of our headquarters. Its marble surface is marked today by 137 stars, each one a tribute to the sacrifice of officers who died protecting our country.

It’s a vivid reminder that public service is not an abstraction. It’s about deep commitment, sometimes at great risk. It’s about patriotic Americans from across the richness and diversity of our society who dedicate themselves to defending the interest and values that animate America in the world, and that President Truman did so much to honor and foster.

So in this 75th anniversary year, I accept the Truman Leadership Award on behalf of all the men and women of CIA – people who I’m extraordinarily fortunate to lead, people who rarely get the recognition they deserve, people whose dedication makes possible strong American leadership in the world.

I’m confident that Harry Truman would have wanted to put the spotlight on the people who really deserve it, and I’m honored to help all of you shine that light on the people with whom I’m proud to serve.

Remarks as prepared for delivery at the 23rd Annual Wild About Harry dinner benefitting President Truman’s library and legacy.

Pictured above, left to right: Clifton Truman Daniel, eldest grandson of President Truman; U.S. Senator for Missouri Roy Blunt; CIA Director William J. Burns; Clyde Wendel, Board Chair, Truman Library Institute


Exclusive Book Excerpt | March 11, 2022

Exclusive excerpt from Jeffrey Frank’s newest book

The Trials of Harry S. Truman – sheds light on 75th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine

Jeffrey Frank, author of the bestselling Ike and Dick, returns with the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years, recounting how so ordinary a man met the extraordinary challenge of leading America through the pivotal years of the mid-20th century.

The nearly eight years of Harry Truman’s presidency—among the most turbulent in American history—were marked by victory in the wars against Germany and Japan; the first use of an atomic weapon; the beginning of the Cold War; creation of the NATO alliance; the founding of the United Nations; the Marshall Plan to rebuild the wreckage of postwar Europe; the Red Scare; and the fateful decision to commit troops to fight in Korea.

Historians have tended to portray Truman as stolid and decisive, with a homespun manner, but the man who emerges in The Trials of Harry S. Truman is complex and surprising.

The Trials of Harry S. Truman was released on March 8, 2022 and is available wherever books are sold.  Read More

Exclusive Book Excerpt

This Day In History | February 22, 2022

#OTD February 22, 1946  |  The Long Telegram

76 years ago, George Kennan, an American diplomat living in Moscow, sent an 8,000-word telegram to President Truman’s State Department. Today, “The Long Telegram” is regarded as a foundational U.S. document, right up there with the Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address. As a sign of its enduring significance, the telegram’s 75th anniversary appears on top-ten lists of historic moments to note in 2021. Read More

This Day In History

International Holocaust Remembrance Day | January 27, 2022

TRU History – Truman Signs Directive 225

We recently heard a remarkable story from an unexpected caller, and we wanted to share it today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The caller was a gentleman from Florida. He introduced himself as “Harry” and said that he wanted to make a donation to the STAY TRU Capital Campaign.

“You see, I’m named for Harry Truman,” he told us. “During World War II, my parents were sent to concentrations camps – Auschwitz and Dachau.” Against all odds, they found each other after the camps were liberated, then were moved – along with millions of refugees – into a displaced persons camp. The situation wasn’t hopeful. In Germany alone, there were 7 million refugees with no home to return to. Read More

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Legacy Letter – Civil Rights Committee | January 17, 2022

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

American history is full of improbable coincidences. For instance, on July 4, 1826, America celebrated 50 years of independence and saw two founding fathers draw their final breaths – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Last year, in a letter to you, we shared another. February 12, 2021 was not only the 212th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth but also the 75th anniversary of the blinding of Isaac Woodard, a brutal event that, arguably, helped usher in the greatest civil rights progress in this nation since the Emancipation Proclamation. Read More

Legacy Letter – Civil Rights Committee

The Forgotten War: Korea 1950 | January 7, 2022

Harry S. Truman Library and Museum Unveils a Photo Retrospective of the Korean War

A new exhibition at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum offers a poignant look at the first few months of the Korean War through the lens of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Max Desfor. The Forgotten War: Korea 1950 features 36 stunning photographs of the frantic early months of the war from September to December 1950, when the fate of the Korean peninsula was in question.  Read More

The Forgotten War: Korea 1950