TRU Blog

TRU Blog

Why I’m Wild About Harry | March 6, 2024

Why I’m Wild About Harry

A Q&A With Washington Post Columnist David Von Drehle

KANSAS CITIANS ARE WILD ABOUT HARRY, perhaps none more so than David Von Drehle. A journalist, New York Times best-selling author, and lifelong history enthusiast, Von Drehle initially became involved with the Truman Library and Truman Library Institute more than a decade ago. Now, he is serving as Honorary Chair for the 25th annual Wild About Harry gala, a night celebrating the legacy of Harry Truman while raising vital funds for civics education at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum.

Von Drehle’s journalistic career has covered everything from history to politics, triumphs, and tragedies. He understands the importance of making sense of our present to find hope for our future. He found that hope in Truman’s life and legacy, and at his presidential library, where young people, especially, are inspired and prepared to become involved in public service.

You’ve spent your career writing extensively about history and politics—what about Harry Truman inspires you?

Truman is, I believe, one of the most important and sometimes undervalued presidents in American history. In the post-World War Two era, it was really his job to rebuild Western Europe and Japan and to create a set of institutions on the international stage that would prevent another catastrophe. We still live in the world Truman created 75 years later, with NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and all sorts of systems of stability that we have come to take for granted. It’s more important than ever to help people understand why we have this world and why we would be crazy to destroy it.

As a longtime champion of the Truman Library and now Honorary Chair of the 25th Wild About Harry event, what draws you to its mission?

It’s easy to look at the things that are going wrong and decide that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. But with all the challenges we face, we live in a better world than existed in 1945. Truman’s decisions to advance civil rights by desegregating the US military and the federal workforce have led to a much more equal, free, and open society than existed before.

The Institute is also telling Harry Truman’s personal story. He was a person born into pretty modest means; he was never able to go to college, but he educated himself. He was a tremendous reader who believed in himself, didn’t give up when he failed, and managed to make himself one of the most important Americans in our history. That’s an important story to tell to young people who need to understand their own potential.

David Von Drehle on stage with Doris Kearns Goodwin (Wild About Harry 2023)

There are so many worthy causes to support in Kansas City. Why is supporting Wild About Harry important to you?

The Kansas City community is so incredibly generous. One of the things I love about living here is that people take the idea of philanthropy very seriously and support causes from Harvesters to education, to the arts and our great museums. Supporting the Truman Library is meaningful to me because it connects Kansas City to the nation and, frankly, to the world. I love the story it tells of potential.

We have to figure out more and better ways to help our young people understand what opportunities lay before them and to give them hope. So many messages young people are hearing today are hopeless and depressing. Our mission at Truman, which Wild About Harry supports, is about giving them a different message. It’s not a Pollyanna message, but it’s a hopeful message. America has seen problems before, and we’ve managed to face them being led by ordinary people who are doing their best. That’s what Harry Truman represents to me.

President Truman’s mission for his presidential library was clear. “He didn’t want the Truman Library to be a monument to him as a person,” Von Drehle says. “He wanted it to be an educational institution that would help young people understand American history, American government, and the role of the presidency. We don’t have to go looking for our mission; we just need to carry it out.”

Wild About Harry is on April 18, 2024. Find more information HERE.