Taken from Good Reads:

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, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.

I've tried searching on Google Books but couldn't find a first-hand source for this statement. Did Harry S. Truman actually say this during World War II?

  • 5
    Wikipedia claims he said it in 1941, in response to the German invasion of Russia (June 1941), and cites David McCullogh's 1992 biography Truman. The New York Times also printed the quote, likewise dated to 1941, in their 1972 obituary of Truman (subscription required). Jul 28, 2021 at 4:51
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    The US had a similar strategy for the Iran-Iraq war, as described here. It's always favourable to see your enemies weaken each other. Jul 28, 2021 at 12:02
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    The strategy is pretty much reasonable and predates the USA by at least 20 centuries.
    – fraxinus
    Jul 28, 2021 at 12:17
  • This is basically nothing compared to some his private blurts. Like (1946) "Adjourn Congress and run the country. Get plenty of Atomic bombs on hand. Drop one on Stalin; put the United States to work and eventually set up a free world." Now that's a plan... Truman also had a somewhat wry sense of humor; he told a foreign leader (whom he didn't want to talk to) that he [Truman] spoke no French an "very little English."
    – Fizz
    Aug 5, 2021 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


Yes, in so far as he allegedly told these lines a reporter from the New York Times and was then quoted in that way in the New York Times.

An image slightly manipulated to show the date and source:

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In its surrounding context:

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In text form:

Senator Harry Truman, Democrat, of Missouri, suggested that the United States helps whichever side seemed to be losing.

“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, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them think anything of their pledged word.”

— Turner Catledge, “Our Policy Stated”, New York Times, June 24, 1941, p 1, 7 (NYT archive subscription required)

Note: this is then subsequently always quoted to show “his firmness” towards “totalitarian adversaries”. Although at the time it was perhaps not always understood as really all that cynically “serious”, but even somewhat flexible, if not meaning that the above quote is to be read rather differently. Note the word “then” giving this a different spin:

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There was another disturbing consequence of the war, and this happened at the Capitol. Several Senators and Representatives took the short view which Hitler and his advisers doubtless hoped they would take. Senator Truman proposed, though not too seriously, that the United States should help Russia to crush Germany and then, if that was succeeding, turn around and help Germany to offset the advantage. This suggestion is based on the familiar and comprehensible sentiment of “a plague o’ both your houses,” and flows from the cordial wish that both of the totalitarian States will be crushed in the combat.

— Arthur Krock: “The Government Is for Any One Who Fights Hitler”, New York Times, June 24, 1941, p18 (NYT archive)

This saying was never disputed, but also not repeated anywhere else apart from this quoted source. And the one time source is usually characterized as:

Truman’s philosophy of foreign affairs was, at best, nebulous. Just after Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union, Senator Truman had casually commented to a New York Times reporter:

“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.”

— Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas: “The Wise Men. Six Friends and the World they made. Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy”, Simon and Schuster: New York, 1986. p256.

Compare this with how David McCullough describes this as “when asked what he thought he spoke his mind” ( — David McCullough: “Truman”, Simon and Schuster: New York, 2003. p308 gBooks)

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    Is it noted where he said it? To the journalist as part of an interview? Congressional record doesn't quote him saying it, though it was used to attack President Truman in 1948. Jul 28, 2021 at 8:31
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    @JonathanReez: No, the article doesn't say. It's just in a section together with similar quotes from other members of Congress, described as "Congressional reaction". Jul 28, 2021 at 15:30
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    We see a lot of this kind of remark from Boris Johnson: casual off the cuff thoughts, instant reaction to a question, sometimes being deliberately provocative, without real awareness that the quote might find its way into print and be presented (usually by opponents) as if it were official government policy. Jul 29, 2021 at 9:18
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    @MichaelKay Boris Johnson is nobody's fool. If anyone thinks he is a fool, then more fool them in the long term.
    – alephzero
    Jul 30, 2021 at 0:22
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    @alephzero Off-topic for the answer, but anyway... It's a different category of foolishness. One version of foolishness is not knowing that it will happen. Another version of foolishness is not caring about the long-term implications. He certainly suffers from the latter. However the fact that the major newspapers are owned by his friends, as well as a major TV network, prevents a great deal of public scrutiny of this; and the result of the BBC trying to apply public scrutiny to his actions was drastic government intervention in BBC operations.
    – Graham
    Jul 30, 2021 at 9:53

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