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Opened April, 1989
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Oral History Interview with
August 9, 1988
by Benedict K. Zobrist
ZOBRIST: It's a real pleasure to have you here with us today, on a rather unexpected visit. You've been telling me so many interesting things about Harry Truman, and Moral Re-Armament and that whole dimension. I'm putting you on the spot. I'd like to have you tell us a little bit about it, but why don't you tell us something about yourself first?
HUNTER: I'd like to. I certainly am privileged to be here at the Harry S. Truman Library. I've been here before. What you people are doing to preserve the values that Harry Truman stood for, for our country, I think is terribly important. We're all very grateful.
I came originally from Minnesota. My father was a professor of English at Carleton College for 33
years; I grew up in Northfield. Incidentally, Northfield is where Jesse James got stopped. I think he comes from Clay County here.
ZOBRIST: He does. In fact, you know in Missouri we say the three most famous people of Missouri are Harry Truman, Mark Twain, and Jesse James.
HUNTER: Well, Harry sort of took the line that a lot of people in Missouri take, that Jesse James was kind of a Robin Hood, a sort of good old boy, who took care of the widows and others. We don't think that up where we come from. We don't see any evidence that he ever did much of anything for anybody. But be that as it may, I don't want to argue with Harry Truman on this august occasion, especially in this Library!
I decided that I wanted to get into politics. When I was graduated from Carleton in 1936, I went to the Harvard Law School, which has sometimes been known as a "stepping stone to greatness." Michael Dukakis is one of those that followed a similar trail.
Before too long I decided that law and politics and diplomacy weren't really going to do that much. Besides, I had always from the beginning felt that I was called
to get into something that dealt with people and changing people. Unless you deal with human nature, you're still always going to have the same problems, I think, because most problems stem from human nature.
While I was still a student, the program of Moral Re-Armament came by. It had been initiated by Frank Buchman back in the twenties. It was known as the Oxford Group for a while, and out of it came Alcoholics Anonymous. He was so good at life-changing that a number of alcoholics were changed. Some of them wanted to apply the Oxford Group idea only to the one problem. So they separated off. The twelve steps of AA were Frank Buchman's life-changing principles. There are over a million living recoveries and it is growing around the world.
I kept on with the Moral Re-Armament program for 18 years fulltime and a good deal of that was in Washington, D.C. I was one of the movement's Washington operatives, you might say.
One of the people that I worked with there was John Roots. He was the son of a man, Logan H. Roots, who was the Episcopal Bishop of Hankow for 38 years. John was a brilliant man, and had been a foreign correspondent with the New York Times and other papers.
He also was giving all of his time to this program with Frank Buchman for Moral Re-Armament -- "World changing through life changing." One of the things that we were out for, particularly in Washington, was if you're going to change the world; you need to change the people who run it. So we were out, among other things, to "make Christians out of Congressmen." We made quite a dent in a number of lives there, quite a few situations which I think, looking back on it, were really quite impressive.
In 1938 Buchman said that what the world needed in the midst of the physical arms race was moral and spiritual rearmament to undergird civilization. So the name of the program changed in 1938 from Oxford Group, which had been named that because students from Oxford had taken the program all over the world, to Moral Re-Armament.
To introduce Moral Re-Armament in the United States the following year, 1939, there were three big meetings. One was at the Madison Square Garden, May 14, 1939 -- packed house. The second meeting was June 4, 1939, in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., also packed with the top people in the town -- I mean Congress, Cabinet,
Judiciary, Armed Services. Then the third one was the Hollywood Bowl meeting on July 19, 1939. It was six weeks before the war began. That was the peak of the MRA public visibility.
Leading up to the Constitution Hall meeting June 4, Endicott Peabody, who was the headmaster of Groton School, where Franklin Roosevelt had attended, persuaded Roosevelt that he should get in on this, that it was an important thing for him to back. Roosevelt, in this area of things, rather trusted Peabody's judgment. He developed a statement which was very good, about the undergirding of the moral forces of the world. Then the question was who should present the President's message at the Constitution Hall meeting. Roosevelt went down the list of Senators, and he picked Harry Truman because he had such an excellent New Deal voting record . He could speak for the President as well as anyone.
Truman was happy to do this, and he came. I remember Frank Buchman, who initiated the Moral Re-Armament program, was in the chair for the evening. He was introducing the different speakers, and when it came time for the President's message, he introduced Harry, and they shook hands. I was sitting right on
the platform; I remember seeing these two men, Truman and Buchman up there. Truman read the President's statement. I don't think he made any further comments. At that point he didn't know a whole lot about it, but he did read that message with great vigor.
ZOBRIST: This was a message written by, would you assume, Roosevelt or his speechwriters?
HUNTER: Yes, right. I think he got a couple of suggestions from Endicott Peabody, and there may have been from John Roots, I don't know. I think it was Bunny Austin, the British tennis star, that really actually obtained the message from Roosevelt. Bunny told me that there was a whole sentence that Roosevelt himself added, stating that "to be most highly effective" the program "must receive support on a world-wide basis." He wanted it in there, and it strengthened the message.
At that point, Harry Truman was obviously quite intrigued with the possibility. Of course, he had a basic Midwest ethic; I mean moral standards were important to him. I remember him speaking once; he said, "All you really need is the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments." He believed that. So he
responded to this type of approach; he knew that something needed to be happening beyond all the physical, material things. You had to have this kind of thing going on. So increasingly he got interested in it.
As I say, John Roots became quite a close friend of his. John Roots was a very persuasive fellow, and a brilliant fellow; Harry kept moving along and he would do a lot of the things that John would suggest. He'd say, "No, I'm not going to do that," or "Yes, I'll do that." I was impressed with the way he went about his business.
I was in his office once, I think with John, and "Cece" Broadhurst, a big, tall singing cowboy who had a birthday on the same day as the Senator. He always wrote a special song for Harry. He said, "Since Mr. Truman hasn't been able to write a song for me, I'm going to write a song for him." Truman said on that occasion, "That fellow has really got it."
Once, when I was in his office, we were talking about one of these meetings that was coming up: I was impressed by the speed with which that man Truman made decisions. He never would say, "Well, I don't know about that," or he wouldn't say, "I'll think about
that and let you know tomorrow." Right now, it was either "yes" or "no" and there was no question. Everybody in the room knew that that was the way it was going to be. I was interested to read that, later on in the White House, that's the way he made decisions, about the atomic bomb and almost anything else he did. He just decided that messing around wasn't going to improve the quality of the decision.
Truman then, of course, became the chairman of the watchdog committee of the Senate, investigating the war industries -- what was happening in war production.
ZOBRIST: Yes, the Truman Committee.
HUNTER: The Truman Committee; whether we were getting enough "bang for the buck" and all that. And he began to notice the work of Moral Re-Armament in the war industries. Of course, we helped him; John or some of us would help him when he was going around to Los Angeles for example, and we'd say, "Now, you want to see so and so," and he did. Dale Reed, who was the head of the machinists at Lockheed Aircraft in Los Angeles, said, "There are planes over the fighting fronts today that would not be there but for the work of Moral Re-Armament at Lockheed." He
was referring to the increased teamwork between labor and management, getting new trust going between them -- reducing absenteeism, providing new motivation and trying to help these people, not only with what they were fighting against, but also what they were fighting for. All of this heightened efficiency and increased production. Wherever Truman went he found that this spirit was working out, that there was an improvement . So he got more and more interested and more and more solidified in his conviction that this was a good thing to keep moving.
Near the end of the war, in late 1943, he worked with Jim Wadsworth, who had formerly been a Senator from New York, and now was a Congressman from Genesee, New York -- well respected. They said of Representative Wadsworth that he was one of the few members of either the House or the Senate who could change