Throughout childhood, my dad would tell me stories of growing up during the depression and World War II. Born in 1923, he lived through the presidencies of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
While he had faint memories of Hoover, the first president he really remembered was FDR.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was commander in chief from the time my dad was 10-year-old farm kid until he was a 21-year-old sailor in the Pacific theater. He thought that FDR was the greatest president this country ever had.
But Harry S. Truman was a close second for my dad. “Give ‘em Hell Harry” was a phrase my dad repeated often when talking about Truman.
On April 12, 1945, FDR passed away not quite four months after being sworn in for a fourth term as president, and Harry S. Truman became president of the United States. When President Truman was brought to the White House to be sworn in, he asked Mrs. Roosevelt:
“Is there anything I can do for you?” to which she responded, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."
The weight of the free world was upon President Truman’s shoulders, and he knew it. After he was sworn in, he told reporters, “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
President Truman knew nothing about the atomic bomb. He knew nothing of the escalating problems with the Soviet Union. He was completely unprepared, yet he was up to the challenges that were ahead of him.
In October 1945 he was given a sign for his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here,” meaning he could not pass a decision off to someone else. He was president, and there was no one above him to pass it off to.
For example, in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said:
"You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you -- and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here' -- the decision has to be made."
In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President—whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.”
This brings me to the current occupant of the White House.
In his speech to a joint session of Congress Trump used Carryn Owens, the widow of Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens, who was killed in the failed raid on Yemen, as a political prop.
She is not the first person used as a political prop, nor will she be the last.
Here’s what Trump said while looking at her as she was seated in the gallery: “Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Mr. Trump said, looking toward Ms. Owens.
During the presidential campaign, Trump stated:
"There's nobody bigger or better at the military than I am." — June 2015 Fox News interview"I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me." — November 2015"So a general gets on, sent obviously by Obama, and he said, 'Mr. Trump doesn't understand. He knows nothing about defense.' I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me. Believe me. Than they will ever understand. Than they will ever understand." — July 2016
After the raid, President Trump was no longer a military expert. Now it was President Obama’s fault, and the generals’ fault. He said as much in the statement he made after the raid.
"This was a mission that was started before I got here," Trump said. "This was something they wanted to do. They came to see me, they told me what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected — my generals are most respected we've had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan."
It should be noted that Trump is not referring to his long-ago bankrupt football team, the New Jersey Generals, and that the flag officers he is referring to are they very same ones who served under President Obama.
Trump has deflected criticism of this raid. He has blamed President Obama and he has blamed “the generals,” but he was the one who authorized the mission.
“The generals” may have wanted to do this mission—but Trump is the commander in chief, and the buck stops with him. He could have looked at the intelligence, conferred with the Joint Chiefs, the NSA, and other intelligence organizations. He could have said no.
CPO Owens died that night because Trump did not do his job. Then on Tuesday night CPO Owens’ wife was used as a political prop. Trump did not honor her that night. Instead, he used her to deflect criticism of this raid away from him. He has not and will not accept responsibility for a decision he made and that he is responsible for.
Maybe the Truman library could loan out a certain desk sign as a reminder to the current White House occupant of where the buck stops.