Blogs > Cliopatria > Just for Fun--Harry Truman and the Vulcans

Feb 21, 2005 4:06 pm

Just for Fun--Harry Truman and the Vulcans

In his memoir PRESENT AT THE CREATION (p. 237), Dean Acheson—perhaps incautiously--reproduces the text of President Harry Truman’s personal letter of farewell to him, dated June 30, 1947, upon Acheson’s resignation as Undersecretary of State. The last paragraph reads:
“May you live long and prosper and may I always deserve your good will and friendship—you always have mine.”
We are required to consider the implications of Truman’s use of the phrase “live long and prosper,” which became popularly known through its use by Mr. Spock in the TV and movie series STAR TREK as the standard Vulcan expression of farewell--at least in English translation. (Unfortunately, given the current debates about Presidential recordings and transcripts, we do not have recordings from the Truman years, so it is impossible to know whether the letter was based on oral dictation, and whether it was meant to read “may you LIVE long and prosper” or “may YOU live long and prosper,” or had some other stress that could vitally affect its meaning.)

One is tempted to say that there is no connection between the two uses of the phrase. However, in the current era of popular US History books based on fantasy and of Presidential conspiracy theories, we may face serious criticism if we dismiss the connection as purely coincidental. If my tenured position was ever on the line for something I said, and my scholarly record was being subjected to a 30 day investigation, I would not want to be faced with the accusation that I did not pursue a fair and objective inquiry—especially where, as here, the question of plagiarism is involved. Therefore, let me discuss the different alternatives:

The first possibility is that Gene Roddenberry and his team had access to the correspondence when writing the orignal STAR TREK series. Since Acheson’s book was not published until late 1969 and the phrase does not appear in Truman’s Presidential memoirs, they would have had to have access to Dean Acheson or President Harry Truman or their records. I have not seen any record of STAR TREK staffers visiting the Truman Library, nor any correspondence with Truman, nor with Acheson in his papers as Yale University. I may be forced to file a Freedom of Information Act request. In any case, since we would have to assume that any such meetings were secret affairs, it seems unlikely that Acheson would have then made public such a clear clue as to his involvement with STAR TREK.

The second possibility is that both Truman’s and the Vulcans’ use of the expression came from a common source. This is unlikely. Truman was widely read in history, especially ancient history, but his knowledge of literature, whether Earthly or otherwise, was not reputed large or methodical. (If it had been Eisenhower who had used the term, we would trace his known reading habits and search for the expression in the corpus of Zane Grey, whose works seem to be popular with a galaxy of different groups).

Once these possibilities are discounted, we are left with the conclusion that Harry Truman was in contact with Vulcans and was using his letter to Acheson as code. It is undeniable that the letter to Acheson was dated THE DAY BEFORE the crash landing of an object in Roswell, New Mexico that was reported to be a Flying Saucer. Preumably then Truman was intent on telling Acheson, following his resignation, to enter in contact with the aliens and open diplomatic channels. Much can be explained this way—Acheson’s concentration, during his time out of office in 1947-1948, on fighting anti-Alien legislation. Although he had not previously been close to Japanese Americans, he argued pro bono the Supreme Court cases Oyama v. California and Takahashi v. California Fish and Game Commission, which successfully challenged California’s Alien land Act and anti-alien fishing license statues. It also explains his return to office as U.S. Secretary of State after those cases were done. However, one mystery remaining is why Acheson, early in his term as Secretary of State, urged President Truman to make Philippine General Carlos Romulo president of the United Nations General Assembly. Acheson’s high esteem for Romulo, and his interest in putting a military man at the head of a peace organization, have never before been examined in detail. With this new information about Truman and Acheson’s ties with the Vulcans, the reasons for their great respect for Romulan abilities become much clearer.

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More Comments:

Michael M. Smith - 2/25/2005

-True scholars have ignored extraterrestial meetings with senior US leaders. Fortunately some are brave enough to maintain archives that others wish deleted.
-See: for accounts of President Eisenhower's meetings with the "grays." Were these prearranged by President Truman?
-If tapes or ture records exist, we may be able to find out. After all, "the truth is out there..."
-I must go. They are knocking at my door...

Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2005

I don't ordinarily make judgments about "best posts" -- since, after all, I have an ego and vested interests -- but I've just nominated both Caleb's "An Elvis Movie for All of Us" and Greg Robinson's "Just for Fun -- Harry Truman and the Vulcans" for the 3rd History Carnival. I figure Van Hayhow has pretty good judgment about these things.

Van L. Hayhow - 2/21/2005

The best one was just a few days ago called, if I recall correctly, an Elvis movie for all of us. That one was very funny, but yours was, I think, harder to write as it sounds like a serious analysis. How you kept a straight face is beyond me, but congratulations again. I laugh every time I look at it.

Greg James Robinson - 2/21/2005

Thank you. I presume this getting second prize means every other one is tied for first prize!
Actually, as a sometime watcher of the original series but not the later ones, it seems to me that the tag "peace and long life" was not always the complement to "live long and prosper"--neither in the episodes
"Amok Time" nor "The Savage Curtain" do I recall its being used.

Van L. Hayhow - 2/21/2005

This may be the second best post on HNN.

Sharon Howard - 2/21/2005

I think you should be giving far more careful consideration to the likelihood that Roddenberry had a time travel machine and went back and planted the phrase in Truman's brain, for some nefarious purpose that has yet to come to light.

No, no. You just made my day!

Lisa Roy Vox - 2/21/2005

But what about the other part of the Vulcan greeting? Don't you remember in the original Star Trek episode, "Journey to Babel," when we met Spock's parents that the other part of the Vulcan greeting is "Peace and Long Life." And the reply is, "Live long and prosper." Although, ahem, in my Trekker days (around 10 years ago when the fabulous Next Gen was on), it never seemed consistent in the Trek world as to which was used as the reply and which was used as the greeting.

I would argue that the absence of the reciprocal greeting "peace and long life" in Truman's correspondence and his esteem for Romulo is suggestive that Truman and friends had a preference for the more militant Romulans over the peace-loving, logical Vulcans (for those who are less familiar with the Trekverse, Romulans and Vulcans have a common ancestry but split to the part of inhabiting separate worlds, in part, over the whole denying of emotions to oneself issue).

Jonathan Dresner - 2/21/2005

...the cadre of neo-conservatives known as "the Vulcans" in the current administration? Aren't they more likely to be Romulan allies?

In all seriousness, this is one of the funniest things ever written on Cliopatria. Thanks!