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#199: Roosevelt's Death Makes Truman President

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President Harry Truman at the White House, September 1st, 1945, preparing to broadcast a message on the formal surrender of Japan
President Harry Truman at the White House, September 1st, 1945, preparing to broadcast a message on the formal surrender of Japan

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

This week in our series: a sudden change in Washington.

(MUSIC)

The House of Representatives ended the day's business early on the rainy afternoon of April twelfth, nineteen forty-five. The House Democratic leader, Speaker Sam Rayburn, invited a friend to come by his office for a drink. "Be there around five," Rayburn said. "Harry Truman is coming over."

Harry Truman was the vice president at the time. The events are described in a book about his presidency, "Conflict and Crisis" by Robert Donovan.

World War Two was not over yet. But it was a quiet afternoon in Washington. President Franklin Roosevelt was in the southern state of Georgia. He was resting after his recent trip to Yalta to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The president's wife, Eleanor, was at the White House, working on a speech supporting the new United Nations.

Harry Truman was at the Senate. But he was not interested in the debate that was taking place. He spent most of his time writing to his family back in Missouri. When the debate finished, he went to the office of House leader Rayburn to join him for a drink.

It was an afternoon Truman would never forget.

Rayburn and his friend were talking in the office before Truman arrived. The telephone rang. It was a call from the White House asking whether Vice President Truman had arrived yet. No, Rayburn replied. The caller asked to have him telephone the White House as soon as he arrived.

Truman entered a minute later. He immediately called the White House. As he talked, his face became white. He put down the phone and raced out the door to his car.

Truman arrived at the White House within minutes. An assistant took him up to the president's private living area. Eleanor Roosevelt was waiting for him there. "Harry," she said, "the president is dead." Truman was shocked. He asked Mrs. Roosevelt if there was anything he could do to help her. But her reply made clear to him that his own life had suddenly changed. "Is there anything we can do for you?" Mrs. Roosevelt asked the new president. "You are the one in trouble now."

(MUSIC)

Within hours, the world learned the news that Franklin Roosevelt -- the longest serving president in American history -- was dead. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage, bleeding in the brain.

Americans were shocked and scared. It was nineteen forty-five and the United States was still at war. Roosevelt had led the nation since early nineteen thirty-three. He was the only president many young Americans had ever known.

Who would lead them now? All eyes turned to Harry Truman.

HARRY TRUMAN: "Our departed leader never looked backward. He looked forward and moved forward. That is what he would want us to do. That is what America will do."

Harry Truman in his first speech to Congress as president.

HARRY TRUMAN: "With great humility, I call upon all Americans to help me keep our nation united in defense of those ideals which have been so eloquently proclaimed by Franklin Roosevelt. [Applause]

"I want in turn to assure my fellow Americans and all of those who love peace and liberty throughout the world that I will support and defend those ideals with all my strength and all my heart."

(MUSIC)

Truman had been a surprise choice for vice president at the Democratic Party nominating convention in nineteen forty-four. Delegates considered several other candidates before they chose him as Roosevelt's running mate. That was at a time when presidential candidates did not make their own choices for vice president.

Harry Truman lacked the fame, the rich family and the strong speech-making skills of Franklin Roosevelt. He was a much simpler man. He grew up in the Midwestern state of Missouri. Truman only studied through high school but took some nighttime law school classes. He worked for many years as a farmer and a small businessman, but without much success.

Truman had long been interested in politics. When he was almost forty, he finally won several low-level positions in his home state. By nineteen thirty-four, he was popular enough in Missouri to be nominated and elected to the United States Senate. And he won re-election six years later.

Most Americans, however, knew little about Harry Truman when he became president. They knew he had close ties to the Democratic Party political machine in his home state. But they had also heard that he was a very honest man. They could see that Truman had strongly supported President Roosevelt's New Deal programs. But they could not be sure what kind of president Truman would become.

(MUSIC)

History gave Truman little time to learn about his new job. The most important power he now possessed was the power of atomic weapons. And soon after he became president, he faced the decision of whether or not to use that power for the first time in history.

The Hiroshima explosion, recorded at 8:15am, August 6, 1945, is seen on the remains of a wristwatch found in the ruins
The Hiroshima explosion, recorded at 8:15am, August 6, 1945, is seen on the remains of a wristwatch found in the ruins

Truman firmly believed that using the atomic bomb was the only way to force Japan to surrender. So in August of nineteen forty-five, he gave the orders to drop the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

HARRY TRUMAN: "Having found the atomic bomb we have used it. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us. It is an awful responsibility which has come to us. We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies. And we pray that he may guide us to use it in his ways, and for his purposes."

Days earlier, Truman had met in Potsdam, Germany, near Berlin, with the British and Soviet leaders, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, to plan the peace. The war in Europe had ended several months before.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: "Good evening, from the White House in Washington. Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States."

HARRY TRUMAN: "My fellow Americans, I have just returned from Berlin, the city from which the Germans intended to rule the world. It is a ghost city. The buildings are in ruins, its economy and its people are in ruins.

"Our party also visited what is left of Frankfurt and Darmstadt. We flew over the remains of Kassel, Magdeburg and other devastated cities. German women and children and old men were wandering over the highways, returning to bombed-out homes or leaving bombed out cities, searching for food and shelter.

"War has indeed come home to Germany and to the German people. It has come home in all the frightfulness with which the German leaders started and waged it."

The three leaders agreed that their nations and France would jointly occupy Germany. They also agreed to end the Nazi party in Germany, to hold trials for Nazi war criminals and to break up some German businesses.

President Harry Truman, center, talks with Soviet leader Josef Stalin, left, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the Potsdam Conference near Berlin, on July 17,1945
President Harry Truman, center, talks with Soviet leader Josef Stalin, left, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the Potsdam Conference near Berlin, on July 17,1945

Foreign ministers of the Allied nations later negotiated peace treaties with Germany and other countries including Italy, Hungary and Romania.

Eastern European nations agreed to protect the political and economic freedom of their citizens. However, western political experts were increasingly worried that the Soviet Union would block any effort for real democracy in eastern Europe.

Truman did not trust the Soviets. And as he made plans for Asia, he promised himself that he would not allow Moscow any part in controlling Japan.

The leader of the American occupation in Japan was Army General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur acted quickly to hold a series of trials for Japanese war crimes. He also launched a series of reforms to move Japan toward becoming more like a Western democracy.

Women were given the right to vote. Land was divided among farmers. The idea of a national religion was ended. And the educational system was reorganized.

Japan began to recover, becoming stronger than ever as an economic power.

Truman and other world leaders were dealing with the problems of making peace. But at the same time they also were trying to establish a new system for keeping the peace.

(MUSIC)

The United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and the other Allies had formed the United Nations during wartime. But soon after Truman took office, they met in San Francisco to discuss ways to make the United Nations a permanent organization for peace.

In July of nineteen forty-four, many of the world's top economic experts met to organize a new system for the world economy. They gathered at a hotel in Bretton Woods in the American state of New Hampshire. They created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help nations rebuild their economies.

(MUSIC)

At the center of all the action was Harry Truman. It was not long before he showed Americans and the world that he had the ability to be a good president. He was honest, strong and willing to make decisions.

"I was sworn-in one night and the next morning I had to get right to the job at hand," Truman remembered years later. In an oral history recorded with the writer Merle Miller, Truman said: "I was afraid. But, of course, I didn't let anybody know that. And I knew that I would not be called on to do anything that I was not able to do. That's something I learned from reading history.

Truman spoke of how people in the past had much bigger problems. Somehow, he said, the best of them just went ahead and did what they had to do. And they usually did all right.

(MUSIC: "I'm Just Wild about Harry")

In the coming weeks, we'll discuss how America's thirty-third president moved toward rebuilding a Europe devastated by war.

This program was adapted from a script written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #199. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

1945年4月12号下午,阴雨连绵,国会众议院结束一天的工作后,众议院议长萨姆.雷伯恩邀请一个朋友到他办公室来喝一杯。雷伯恩说,"五点左右到,杜鲁门也来"。

哈里.杜鲁门当时还是美国副总统,罗伯特.多诺万讲述杜鲁门总统生涯一书"冲突和危机"里记载了当时的情形。

那时候,二战还没有结束。4月12号下午,华盛顿显得十分平静。富兰克林.罗斯福总统从雅尔塔跟英国首相丘吉尔和苏联领导人斯大林见面回来,到南部的乔治亚州休息去了,第一夫人埃莉诺.罗斯福正在白宫准备一份支持成立联合国的发言稿。

杜鲁门当时在国会参议院,但是他对正在进行的辩论不感兴趣,埋头给密苏里的家人写信。参议院辩论结束后,他起身前往议长雷伯恩的办公室,准备喝上一杯。这个下午让杜鲁门终身难忘。

杜鲁门到之前,雷伯恩和他的朋友在办公室聊天儿。就在这时候,电话响了,是白宫打来的,问副总统杜鲁门到没到。雷伯恩回答说,杜鲁门还没到。电话那边的人说,让杜鲁门一到马上打电话给白宫。

一分钟后,杜鲁门走了进来,他听到消息后,马上打电话给白宫。讲话时,杜鲁门脸色开始变得苍白,放下电话,二话不说,就冲出门去,上了汽车。

杜鲁门几分钟后到了白宫。一名助手直接把他带到总统起居的地方。埃莉诺.罗斯福正在等他。埃莉诺说,"哈里,总统去世了。"杜鲁门大吃一惊,问埃莉诺他能帮忙做些什么。埃莉诺反问道,"我们能帮你做些什么呢?现在有麻烦的是你了。"杜鲁门这才意识到,自己的身份发生了变化,他已经变成美国总统了。

短短几小时内,美国在任时间最长的总统,富兰克林.罗斯福因脑溢血不幸去世的消息就传开了。美国人感到震惊和恐慌,因为当时还是1945年四月,美国还在打仗。

罗斯福从1933年年初开始担任美国总统,是很多美国人了解的唯一一位总统。如今他走了,谁来领导美国?大家的目光全都投向了哈里.杜鲁门。

杜鲁门做为总统首次向国会发表讲话时说:"我怀着极大的谦卑,呼吁所有美国人,帮助我保持国家的团结一致,捍卫富兰克林.罗斯福明确提出的理想"。

杜鲁门还说:"我也要向美国同胞和世界上所有热爱和平和自由人的保证,我一定会全身心地去支持和捍卫这些理想"。

1944年民主党提名代表大会上,杜鲁门并不在最先考虑的副总统人选之中。当时,副总统候选人是由与会代表,而不是总统候选人自己选择的。杜鲁门缺乏富兰克林.罗斯福显赫的声名,家世,也不像罗斯福那么擅于发表讲话。他这个人简单得多。

杜鲁门在美国中西部的密苏里州长大,只读到高中毕业,后来又利用晚上的时间,念了一些法学院的课程。他当了很多年的小农场主和生意人,但是都不太成功。

杜鲁门一直对政治很感兴趣,将近40岁时,才终于在家乡密苏里州担任过几个级别不高的职务。1934年,他已经变得小有名气,被密苏里推选担任联邦参议员,他六年后又当选连任。

杜鲁门担任总统前,大多数美国人对他并不太了解。大家知道他跟密苏里州的民主党政治板块有密切的联系,但同时也听说他是一个很实在的人。人们清楚地看到,杜鲁门极力支持罗斯福新政,但是大家还是不敢确定,杜鲁门到底会是怎样一位总统。

历史没有给杜鲁门实习的时间。杜鲁门成为总统后掌握的最重要的一件东西是原子弹。他继任总统后马上就要决定,是否要动用原子弹这种新型武器。

杜鲁门坚信,动用原子弹是迫使日本投降的唯一途径。他1945年8月下令,向日本广岛和长崎投掷原子弹。杜鲁门说:"我们研制出了原子弹,而且已经开始使用,我们会一直用下去,直到彻底摧毁日本的战斗能力为止,只有日本投降,我们才会停下来。对我们来说,这是一个可怕的责任,我们感谢上帝,让这个责任由我们来承担,而不是我们的敌人,我们也祈求上帝,指引我们,依照他的方式,为了他的目的,去履行这一义务。"

就在几天前,杜鲁门在德国柏林附近的波茨坦会见了英国首相丘吉尔和苏联领导人斯大林,共同设计和平,当时,欧洲的战事已经结束好几个月了。杜鲁门向全国发表讲话时说:"同胞们,我刚从柏林回来。德国本想在柏林统治世界,但如今,那里却成了一座鬼城,城里建筑倒塌,经济崩溃,居民潦倒。我们还参观了法兰克福和达姆施塔特,从卡塞尔、马格德堡等被摧毁的城市上空飞过。德国的妇女、儿童和老人沿着高速公路游荡,要么是为了返回被炸平了的家,要么是为了离开被炸平了的城镇,外出寻找食物和住所。德国领导人发动的这场可怕的战争,最终也让德国和德国人民深受害。"

杜鲁门、丘吉尔和斯大林这三位领导人一致同意,美国、英国和苏联要跟法国一起共同占领德国,解散德国纳粹政党,让纳粹战犯接受审判,并解散一些德国公司。

几个盟国的外长后来跟德国、意大利、匈牙利和罗马尼亚等国家谈判签署了和平协定。东欧国家同意保护本国公民的政治和经济自由。然而,西方政治专家们越来越担心,苏联会从中作梗,让民主无法在东欧生根发芽。

杜鲁门根本不信任苏联,他在策划亚洲未来的时候,暗下决心,不能让莫斯科插手对日本的控制。美国在日本驻军的总指挥官是麦克阿瑟。麦克阿瑟将军迅速采取行动,审判日本战犯,并采取一系列改革措施,帮助日本向西方民主体制过渡。

在日本,女性享有了投票权,土地分给农民,取消国教,重建教育系统。日本经济开始复苏,逐渐成为比二战前更强大的经济强国。杜鲁门等领导人不仅要解决实现和平的问题,同时也要建立一个新的系统,保证和平的持久。

美国、苏联、英国等盟国在战争期间就建立了联合国。杜鲁门就任后,他们又在美国的旧金山开会,讨论如果让联合国成为一个保持世界和平的永久性机构。

1944年7月,世界上很多最优秀的经济学专家开会,讨论为世界经济建立一个新的体系,他们在美国新罕布什尔州布雷顿森林的一个旅馆开会,在那里建立了世界银行和国际货币基金组织,帮助各国重建经济。

所有这些行动的中心都是美国总统杜鲁门,他用了很短的时间就向美国和世界人民证明,他有能力成为一位伟大的总统,他为人诚实,意志坚定,做事果断。

杜鲁门很多年后回忆说:"我头天晚上宣誓就职,第二天早上就要开始处理事务,我心里其实很害怕,但我又不能让其他人知道,而且我也知道,别人不会要求我去做我做不到的事情,这是我读历史学到的。杜鲁门还提到以前的人曾经遇到过比他更大的困难,但是最优秀的领袖总是能完成必须完成的事情,而且结果也都不错。"

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