Don't Believe Everything They Tell You
Hoover memoir exposes what others tried to hide.
Courtesy The Bettmann Archive
Imagine spending 20 years writing and rewriting a monumental tome dissecting 20th-century global conflicts, only to have it sit in storage for nearly five more decades. Such was the fate of the book Herbert Hoover called his Magnum Opus: a heavily documented effort to expose hidden—or at least brushed aside—aspects of U.S. foreign policy before, during and after World War II.
At last Freedom Betrayed, the manuscript that the 31st president completed in 1963, is in print (Hoover Institution Press, 2011). Edited and introduced by historian George H. Nash, the 900-page memoir-cum-jeremiad offers an encyclopedia of uncomfortable truths that dull the gloss of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, among others. As the book's title suggests, and historian Douglas Brinkley notes on its cover, "Here is Hoover unplugged."
By Hoover's account, Roosevelt's first sin was to engineer the U.S. entry into World War II despite public and congressional antiwar sentiment. This, in the face of his 1940 campaign promise: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."
In the author's view, the wise course would have been to let "those two bastards"—Russia's Stalin and Germany's Hitler—"destroy each other." American territory was never threatened by the Nazis, he argues, and even Western Europe would have remained relatively unscathed had it not attempted to stop Germany's eastward push. Instead, by partnering with Stalin to defeat Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill gave communism legitimacy. Worse, by acceding to the Russian dictator's territorial demands, they betrayed the very principles of universal self-determination they had proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941 and affirmed regularly thereafter.
By November 1943, Hoover writes, secret commitments by the Allies at their Tehran Conference constituted "the greatest blows to human freedom in this century." The Soviet Union would be allowed to annex Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Bukovina and parts of Finland and Poland and to secure a periphery of "friendly border states." Thus, "fifteen nations were engulfed by Communism and the independent life and freedom they had enjoyed were snuffed out."
Hoover documents Roosevelt's repeated assurances to Stalin that he would do nothing to thwart Soviet ambitions. Roosevelt also was on record as having told both Stalin and a desperate Polish prime minister that he could take no position on the Polish-Soviet conflict because the United States was heading into the 1944 election year—and the electorate included Poles and other relevant Eastern Europeans.
Freedom Betrayed indicts Roosevelt for instigating the Pacific war as well: His economic sanctions against Japan and shunning of Japanese peace overtures sparked the Pearl Harbor attack and ultimately the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—"the act of unparalleled brutality in all American history." Hoover cites other markers along the slippery slope of the Stalin alliance: the Yalta Conference agreement ceding the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island to Russia (in exchange for promised help, of dubious value, against Japan); the broken agreement with Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to consult him on matters pertaining to Asia; the loss of China and North Korea to communism.
One of the author's provocative questions: What part did Communist informants in U.S. government positions (duly enumerated in chart form) play in Roosevelt's policies?
Certainly, Hoover had a personal axe to grind. Having led relief efforts in Europe after World War I, he planned to again organize food drops for starving Europeans. But Churchill, influenced by Roosevelt, Hoover charges, would not open Britain's naval blockades. Hoover had also hoped to run against his successor in 1940. Still, Freedom Betrayed is no partisan polemic—indeed, Nash appends earlier, more vitriolic passages that didn't survive Hoover's final edit.
"There is not a word or sentence or date that I dare to put in this book without checking, without knowing I have proof," Hoover told a friend. Nash also reports that the Class of 1895 alumnus almost failed Stanford's English composition requirements and became a relentless perfectionist, writing his own speeches and reworking one State of the Union 22 times.
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Hmm. Sounds very complimentary of HH. Written by the Hoover Institute, perhaps?
Don't forget to read about HH's forward-looking attitudes about granting the vote to women (he opposed that vigorously with some means legal and others more nasty)
We should not look at our benefactors through rose-colored glasses.
Posted by Mr. Mel Malinowski on Apr 6, 2012 7:21 PM
Arguably HH fails to get due credit for many of his more progressive achievements. I won't go into detail but would refer anyone to the Pulitzer Prize winning book Freedom From Fear by Stanford's own David M. Kennedy which presents a strong case. Many of HH's iinitiatives were later incorporated into the New Deal, although he didn't receive his due. History tends to associate him with the stock market crash, the Depression, the Smoot Hawley tariff and the shantys of Hoovertown. He deserves a more comprehesive, balanced assessment. Perhaps the opinions unearthed in this forgotten journal will help spark a renewed debate and evaluation of his life and legacy.
Posted by Mr. John T. Driscoll, Jr. on Apr 11, 2012 10:41 PM
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