Herbert Hoover’s long buried assessment of Franklin Roosevelt and “The Good War.”
Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World
War and Its Aftermath
Edited by George H. Nash
(Hoover Institution Press, 920 pages, $49.95)
Within the past two weeks, an astonishing new book has been published. Freedom Betrayed, written by President Herbert Hoover in his retirement, is a wide-ranging attack on the decisions made by his White House successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hoover worked on it for 20 years and regarded it as his magnum opus. The manuscript was edited by Hoover’s principal biographer, George H. Nash, who also wrote a lengthy introduction. I can do no better than to quote from the book’s dust jacket:
Following Hoover’s death in 1964, his heirs decided to place his manuscript in storage, where for nearly half a century it has remained unread — until now.
In this book, perhaps the most ambitious and systematic work of World War II revisionism ever attempted, Hoover offers his frank evaluation of President Roosevelt’s foreign policies before Pearl Harbor and during the war, as well as an examination of the war’s consequences, including the expansion of the Soviet empire at war’s end and the eruption of the Cold War against the Communists.
John Earl Haynes, the author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, writes that even readers who are “comfortable with the established account will find themselves thinking that on some points the accepted history should be reconsidered and perhaps revised.”
Just 60 years ago, in November 1951, Herbert Hoover told an acquaintance, John W. Hill: “When Roosevelt put America in to help Russia as Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, we should have let those two bastards annihilate themselves.”
Hill replied: “That would be a great book. Why don’t you write it, Mr. Hoover?”
Hoover said he didn’t have the time. In fact, he had been working on such a book since 1944.
Now it has been published, by the Hoover Institution Press.
As new books about World War II and its aftermath appeared in print, including those by Winston Churchill, Hoover would revise what he had written, sometimes softening his earlier opinions. One of the merits of the published book is that George Nash includes as appendices memoranda from Hoover showing his thinking at earlier stages.
As his book stood in 1953, for example — when it was titled “Lost Statesmanship” — Hoover listed 19 “gigantic blunders” by U.S. and British policymakers. These began in 1933 with FDR’s diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union and continued with the British and French guarantee to Poland in 1939. George Nash told me in an email that Hoover considered the Polish guarantee to have been “the greatest blunder in the history of British statesmanship.”
Even Churchill saw (later) that it had been a mistake. But he supported it at the time. But in The Gathering Storm (1948), Churchill demonstrated the futility of Chamberlain’s declaration of war. (Chamberlain was stung by the charges of appeasement after Munich and with Hitler’s Poland invasion he tried to recover.)
Hoover was quite critical of Churchill. He had a “surpassing power of oratory and word pictures,” Hoover wrote, but “intellectual integrity was not his strong point.” The Gathering Storm was “a mass of bitter attacks upon [Stanley] Baldwin and [Neville] Chamberlain who had kept him out of office for years.”
Another “major blunder,” Hoover thought, was FDR’s decision in 1941 to throw the U.S. into an “undeclared war with Germany and Japan, in total violation of promises upon which he had been elected a few weeks before.” Roosevelt’s “total economic sanctions” against Japan in the summer of 1941, and his “contemptuous refusal” of the Japanese prime minister’s peace proposals in September, Hoover saw as the crucial precursors to Pearl Harbor. The day after the attack, Hoover told a friend that FDR’s “continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bitten.”
In the weeks before Lend-Lease (enacted in March 1941 and allowing the president to place war equipment at the disposal of foreign powers), Hoover charged that Roosevelt “knew definitely of Hitler’s determination to attack Russia,” and did so by early 1941. Hoover repeatedly said that if Hitler couldn’t get the German army across the 22-mile wide British channel, he had no chance whatever with the Atlantic Ocean. Germany didn’t threaten the United States.
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