West Wing Simulation
Kansas City Alumni Chapter members experience The White House Decision Center.
Read a formerly classified document from the Truman library archives containing three eyewitness accounts of the very first atomic bomb test, code-named “Trinity,” July 16, 1945. The test was conducted in an isolated patch of New Mexico’s desert called the Jornada del Muerto Valley, which translates to “Day of the Dead.”
When Pat Shelley was in high school, he had an assignment to interview someone famous. Growing up in Oak Grove, Mo., 20 miles from Independence, Mo., the most famous person around was Harry S Truman. So he and two friends made an appointment and went to see the former U.S. president at his office in the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.
Nearly 50 years later, Shelley, BS ME ’70, came with his grandson, Derek Rios, a 16-year-old high school student, to experience The White House Decision Center at the Truman library. They came with a group of nearly 30 others from the Mizzou Alumni Association’s Kansas City Alumni Chapter to sample wine, crackers and cheese, and to solve the problems of the world of the late 1940s and early ’50s.
Mary McMurray, BA ’02, director of the center since December 2012, invited the group and organized the event.
The Decision Center casts participants in the role of Truman or one of his advisers. Looking through formerly classified documents from the library’s archives, the group must decide what to do in one of four scenarios that Truman faced as president: whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, whether to desegregate the military following World War II, how to respond to the Soviet Union’s Cold War blockade of Berlin and whether to send troops to fight North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.
The center is housed in the bottom level of the library building. Participants are assigned their simulation and their identities in a large meeting room. They are then divided into teams, each team composed of a Truman and one of each of his advisers.
The experience is immersive. With badges in tow touting their new names and top-secret clearances, chapter members were dispersed to one of eight “cabinet rooms” down a long hallway, all designed to replicate the West Wing of the White House. Sitting on leather-upholstered wooden chairs at solid wooden tables in front of wooden name placards, participants pored over dozens of pages of classified material — eyewitness accounts of the first-ever atomic bomb test in New Mexico, internal polling about the American people’s impatience to see the war end and classified communiqués about secret Japanese entreaties to the Soviet Union.
The teams then met to discuss what they had learned and make recommendations — in character — to their respective presidents. John Hunt, DVM ’72, was one of the people cast as Truman and at the end of the evening was chosen to announce the group’s decision: to end the war now by dropping the bomb, but after a final effort to get Japan to unconditionally surrender. McMurray says that is the decision most often reached.
“It was really fun for me because I’m in the middle of reading the [David McCullough] biography of Truman,” says Hunt, who came with his wife, Joyce, BS Ed ’71. “We had a good discussion — people took their roles seriously.”