American Portraits

Harry Truman, the Firing of Douglas MacArthur, and Integrity

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of Harry S. Truman and how it was shaped by integrity. They will explore actions throughout his life and how they impacted his identity and purpose. Through his example, they will learn how they can maintain the principle of integrity in their own lives.

Founding Principles

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Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

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Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

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Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Narrative

Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, on a small farm in Lamar. Missouri. While growing up, he developed a passion for politics and eventually made connections with the Kansas City Democratic Machine run by “Boss” Thomas J. Pendergast. Truman wanted to go to West Point, but was rejected because of poor eyesight. He later joined the Missouri National Guard and when the U.S. entered World War I, he earned the rank of Captain of an artillery unit.  While fighting in France, not a single man died under his command….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you maintain your integrity to help advance freedom for yourself and others and help you achieve your purpose?

Virtue Defined

Integrity is personal consistency in moral goodness.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the life of Harry S. Truman and how it was shaped by integrity. They will explore actions throughout his life and how they impacted his identity and purpose. Through his example, they will learn how they can maintain the principle of integrity in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Harry S. Truman’s life and actions.
  • Students will understand how acting with integrity can help them achieve their identity and purpose
  • Students will apply this knowledge to the pursuit of integrity in their own lives.

Background

On June 24, 1950, North Koreans, led by communist dictator Kim Il-sung, invaded South Korea. President Harry S. Truman was resolved to stop communism from spreading. With the support of the American people, he went before the United Nations to ask for support in defending the South Koreans. In all, 20 countries would join the United States in attempting to stop the North Korean attack.

Truman’s commander in Korea was General Douglas MacArthur, who was once the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and, before World War II, was the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.  MacArthur was well-loved as a hero of the Pacific Theater during World War II.  He had won the Medal of Honor for his leadership there, and was responsible for rebuilding Japan after the war.

Just as the situation seemed most dire in the Korean War, MacArthur devised a daring sea landing at Inchon, Korea, which helped turn the tide for the United Nations forces. This surprise offensive pushed the North Koreans almost all the way back to the Chinese border. After many difficult battles, a ceasefire was declared almost three years later, but not before President Truman needed to make a difficult choice concerning MacArthur.

Vocabulary

  • Resolve
  • Chief of Staff of the United States Army
  • Political Machine
  • Facet
  • Flaw
  • Taiwan
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Communism
  • Integrity

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Harry Truman? Who was Douglas MacArthur? What were their roles in the Korean War?
  • What was the big decision Harry Truman had to make in April of 1951?
  • What do Harry Truman’s actions throughout his life say about his personal integrity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • McCullough, David; Truman; Simon and Schuster; 1992
  • “Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/

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