If alive today, Harry Truman might not be a heavy Facebook user.
The 33rd president placed too much faith in face-to-face dialogue, said Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who on Monday received the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award.
“Diplomacy before military action,” Richardson said, repeating one of Truman’s many maxims. “He was a statesman who played by the rules.”
About 375 people saluted Richardson during the annual luncheon at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown’s Muehlebach Tower.
Richardson, a former U.S. energy secretary as well as a former governor of New Mexico, praised Truman’s humility. He referenced the former president’s remark about how much could be achieved “if no one cares who gets the credit.” Truman named his program for the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe, Richardson said, for U.S. Army general and Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
Richardson also praised Truman’s 1948 executive order to integrate the American armed forces.
“If you look at our military, it’s the most integrated part of our society,” Richardson said. “It was Truman who did that.”
Richardson said he conceded the power of social media after he saw the reaction on Facebook and Twitter to the announcement that he would receive the Truman award. He was startled, he said, to receive congratulations from so many former New Mexico constituents, at least one of whom thought him dead.
But Richardson, who also has worked to win the release of hostages and American service members in North Korea, Cuba and Iraq, reminded his listeners of the role personal connections still can play in international relations. He described how, when once negotiating with Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president responded with enthusiasm when Richardson — a former pitcher at Tufts University — started talking baseball.
“I’m a big believer in dialogue,” Richardson said. “I talked to the North Koreans before (former NBA star) Dennis Rodman replaced me.”
Since 1973, the Truman Good Neighbor Award been given on or near the May 8 anniversary of Truman’s birth in 1884. Previous honorees have included former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, actor Gary Sinise, news anchor Walter Cronkite and former presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.
Richardson described on Monday how he lost his job as United Nations ambassador when then-President Clinton decided he wanted Richardson to lead the U.S. Department of Energy.
“He said, ‘I need a Hispanic in the cabinet,’” Richardson said. “So I went to Energy. Please don’t repeat that.”