Sample text for Letters of a nation : a collection of extraordinary American letters / edited by Andrew Carroll.

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Counter Harry S Truman to Irv Kupcinet

In August 1945, after more than six years of fighting and with tens of millions of people killed worldwide, World War II was over. Although the world celebrated the end of the war, there was also intense debate about the use of the atomic bomb to bring it to a conclusion. "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb," President Harry Truman said in a radio address before the Japanese finally surrendered, "[but we] have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans."  Eighteen years later Truman felt just as strongly. He was still being criticized for his judgment, and he was grateful to those who supported him. In July of 1963, Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Sun Times wrote a favorable column on Truman and his decision, and Truman wrote the following letter in response.

August 5, 1963

Dear Kup:

I appreciated most highly your column of July 30th, a copy of which you sent me.

I have been rather careful not to comment on the articles that have been written on the dropping of the bomb for the simple reason that the dropping of the bomb was completely and thoroughly explained in my Memoirs, and it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.

You must always remember that people forget, as you said in your column, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was done while we were at peace with Japan and trying our best to negotiate a treaty with them.

All you have to do is to go out and stand on the keel of the Battleship in Pearl Harbor with the 3,000 youngsters underneath it who had no chance whatever of saving their lives. That is true of two or three other battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Altogether, there were between 3,000 and 6,000 youngsters killed at that time without any declaration of war. It was plain murder.

I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war that would have killed a half million youngsters on both sides if those bombs had not been dropped. I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again--and this letter is not confidential.

Sincerely yours,

Harry S Truman

Despite writing that the letter was not confidential, Truman told his secretary to hold it.  The letter was never sent.

Elvis Presley to President Richard M. Nixon

A famous photograph of President Richard Nixon warmly shaking hands with a dazed Elvis Presley was the result of an impromptu meeting after Presley sent the president a letter while visiting Washington, D.C.  Written by Presley on five pages of American Airlines notepaper in a barely legible scrawl, the letter expresses deep admiration for the president and a willingness to serve as a "Federal Agent at Large to help stem America's growing drug problem."  Inconceivable as the whole scenario may seem, the letter, reprinted here, is real.

Dear Mr. President,

First, I would like to introduce myself.  I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have Great Respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it, The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out.  I have no concerns or Motives other than helping the country out.  So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials. I am on this plane with Senator George Murphy and we have been discussing the problems that our country is faced with.

Sir, I am staying at the Washington Hotel, Room 505-506-507. I have two men who work with me by the name of Jerry Schilling and Sonny West. I am registered under the name of Jon Burrows. I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.

I am Glad to help just so long as it is kept very Private. You can have your staff or whomever call me anytime today, tonight, or tomorrow. I was nominated this coming year one of America's Ten Most Outstanding Young Men. That will be in January 18 in my home town of Memphis, Tennessee. I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this approach. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you're not too busy.


Elvis Presley

P.S. I believe that you, Sir, were one of the Top Ten Outstanding Men of America also.

I have a personal gift for you which I would like to present to you and you can accept it or I will keep it for you until you can take it.

President Nixon invited Presley to the White House, and an aide took notes of the December 21, 1970, meeting; "[Presley] mentioned that he has been studying the drug culture for over ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. The President indicated again his concern that Presley retain his credibility. At the conclusion of the meeting, Presley again told the President how much he supported him, and then, in a surprising, spontaneous gesture, put his left arm around the President and hugged him."  President Nixon later sent Presley a note thanking him for the personal gift--a commemorative World War II pistol--and provided Presley with an honorary badge. Presley was not, however, given "Federal Agent credentials."

John Steinbeck to His Son Thom

John Steinbeck, the best-selling author and Nobel laureate, enjoyed the duties of fatherhood and dispensed advice to his two sons when it was requested--and sometimes when it was not. When Steinbeck's son Thom was fourteen he attended boarding school in Connecticut and met a young girl named Susan with whom he thought he might be in love. His father, then living in New York with his second wife, Elaine, offered his views on the matter.

November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First--if you are in love--that's a good thing--that's about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don't let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second--There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you--of kindness, and consideration and respect--not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply--of course it isn't puppy love.

But I don't think you were asking me what you feel. You know that better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it--and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone--there is no possible harm in saying so--only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another--but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I am glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens--The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: American letters, United States Civilization Sources