In 1941 Senator Harry Truman made a comment in The New York Times, “if we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
It may have been reasonable to dismiss that comment as a flippant remark at the time, but Truman ended up four years later as the VP to Roosevelt. When Roosevelt died, the reluctant VP became president. One of his first tasks was to negotiate with Churchill and Stalin on how the post war world would be divided and administered. This momentous meeting was held at Potsdam, Germany just outside of Berlin.
The story is this transformative meeting is the subject of Potsdam– The End of WWII and the Remaking of Europe, by noted historian (and my nephew) Michael Neiberg.
In the west our weak understanding of history has understated the outsized roll the Russians played in defeating Germany. According to Neiberg the British suffered 383,800 battle deaths and the Americans lost 416,800. Devastating as these numbers are they paled in comparison to the Russian losses of 8.8 to 10.7 million.
The civilian death rate showed an even wider variance. The British lost 67,100 civilians, the Americans 1,700, and the Soviets lost an estimated 14.6 million civilians. “Stalingrad, which had a prewar population of 850,000, had just nine children with both parents still alive at the end of the war.”
When Truman sat down to negotiate the fate of nations with the Russian foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, Truman’s comment from 1941 was not deemed flippant. Molotov was aware of the comment and this made him less tolerant and trusting of the new president. It made Truman’s demeaning tone difficult to tolerate. That comment stood to affect the state of the world, in some way.
Leaders are a slave to their words, and know to choose them carefully. By this measurement Trump is no leader. Threatening to nuke enemies, and billing Mexico $100,000 per illegal immigrant may seem like flippant, ‘tell-it-like-is’ comments to his populist sycophants, and it may gin a crowd motivated by frustration, but if in our worst nightmare such a man became president these words would have consequences.
A man who is fast and loose with his words is not presidential material. If he constantly has to explain what he really meant, if he is constantly complaining that he was quoted out of context, then he is not ready to play in the arena he is seeking.
Trump is to this campaign like the loose women a man dates in college before he settles down. Have your fun, but sooner rather than later you need to get serious. This is not a hotel chain or a casino he is attempting to run.