Saturday, February 6, 2016

Freedom Betrayed by Herbert Hoover and George H. Nash

In order to convey what I thought of this book, it may be helpful to begin at the end.

I do not need [to] end these volumes with more than a few sentences. I was opposed to the war and every step of policies in it. I have no apologies, no regrets.

I had warned the American people time and again against becoming involved. I stated repeatedly its only end would be to promote Communism over the earth; that we would impoverish the United States and the whole world. The situation of the world today is my vindication.

Despite these physical losses and these moral political disasters, and these international follies, Americans can have faith that we will grow strong again; that the march of progress will sometime be renewed. Despite the drift to collectivism, despite degeneration in government, despite the demagogic intellectuals, despite the corruption in our government and the moral corruption of our people, we still hold to Christianity, we still have the old ingenuity in our scientific and industrial progress. We have 35 million children marching through our schools and 2,500,000 in our institutions of higher learning. Sometime these forces will triumph over the ills in American life. The promise of a greater America abides in the millions of cottages throughout the land, where men and women are still resolute in freedom. In their hearts the spirit of America still lives. The boys and girls from those homes will some day throw off these disasters and frustrations and will re-create their America again.

The election of a Republican Administration in 1952 is the sign of this turning.

These words were written by former American president Herbert Hoover. They are the closing words, in fact, of something that has come to be called his Magnum Opus, a lengthy dissection and criticism of American foreign policy under the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman adminstrations. It is a tome Hoover tentatively called Lost Statesmanship while he worked on it in the waning years of his life, but which was never published, and which now has been released as Freedom Betrayed by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University with an extensive foreword written by and supplementary materials edited by Hoover historian George H. Nash.

And when I read these words, penned as they were on the eve of first Eisenhower adminstration, I can’t help but wonder what Hoover would think if he somehow magically returned and visited America in 2016. Would he think that his faith in an “American renewal” had been fulfilled, or further betrayed by the eleven presidential administrations--Republican and Democratic--that have passed since 1952?

Having read more than 900 pages of his thoughts and beliefs--most of it clearly stated and unadulterated--it seems like a foregone conclusion that “freedom,” as Hoover defined it, has only been more and more betrayed with each passing year.

Freedom Isn’t Free--Or Easy to Understand

Understanding Hoover’s definition of freedom, and his perspective on the Roosevelt and Truman presidencies, is greatly aided, I believe, by Nash’s 50+ page introduction. “To understand the history of Hoover’s Magnum Opus project,” Nash says, “we need to know its prehistory: the context out of which the text eventually emerged.”

When Herbert Hoover left the White House on March 4, 1933, he did not, like most ex-presidents before him, fade away. After a period of self-imposed quiescence at his home in California, he burst back into the political arena in the autumn of 1934 with a best-selling book entitled The Challenge to Liberty. It was a forceful, philosophical critique of the ascendant statist ideologies of the 1930s: Nazism, fascism, communism, socialism, and “regimentation”--his term for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. To Hoover, FDR’s policies were no mere grab bag of moderate measures designed to reform and “save capitalism” but rather a dangerous, collectivist assault on the traditional American system of ordered liberty. “The impending battle in this country,” Hoover told a friend in 1933, would be between “a properly regulated individualism” and “sheer socialism.” For the rest of his life, he resisted without stint the lurch to the Left initiated by his successor.

This is absolutely key to understanding Hoover’s motivation and the times in which he lived. Liberty and government action, in Hoover’s way of thinking, are opposites. The latter does not protect the former. In fact, it dissolves it. And the amount of government action that had taken place before, during, and after World War II under Roosevelt and Truman had left Hoover in near despair.

“There is no island of safety in the world,” he lamented. “The whole world is rapidly moving toward Collectivism in some form.”

Now, let me be honest. There were times when I really struggled with this perspective. The way Hoover speaks of liberty and individualism seems almost childish to these modern ears. When measured on a continuum with absolute individual liberty at one end and absolute statist collectivism on the other, the America of 2016 is a vastly different place than the America of 1944. And although it may have been possible in 1944 to pull America back to the place on the continuum that Hoover preferred, I don’t see how it is possible--or perhaps even advisable--to attempt to do so in 2016. As much as I tried to keep my thoughts confined to Hoover’s historical context, I kept asking myself, page after page, what Hoover would think of America today. If he was convinced that Collectivists were about to take over in 1953, then he would clearly think that they had won if he came back to us in 2016.

But that’s not really true, is it? The “Collectivists” haven’t won, at least not in the way Hoover would have defined “winning.” Is America further along towards the absolute statist collectivism end of the continuum? Sure it is. Indeed, America’s move in that direction is something even I bemoan from time to time.

But doomsayers like Hoover are always saying that the end is near (today, it sometimes seems so more than ever) even while the clockwork regularity of history quietly proves them wrong time and again. America is more “collectivist” today than it was yesterday, but it still has individual liberty, too. The extremists from both ends of the continuum want us to believe that things are all bad or all good, when in fact the history of America has shown that the nation has an almost unique ability to blend the two poles together.

Here’s an example. As a doomsayer, I couldn’t help but notice how frequently Hoover equated the battle against the ideal of Communism as a battle against the nation of the Soviet Union. This is the determined focus of his opening chapters, where he cites long lists of quotes from Communist ideologues and politicians, and even longer lists of Federal employees who have self-professed ties to the Communist Party, to help demonstrate how targeted and successful the Soviet attack against America has been. Here’s a portion of Hoover preamble paragraph before his list of known Communists in the American government:

In order that there can be no doubt in the reader’s mind as to the scope of the Kremlin’s subterranean war against our official institutions, I give the following sample list of 37 Federal employees, together with dates and official positions. I have selected only those persons who at one time or another confessed their Communist Party membership. This list is but a minor fragment of the total roll, but is given here as an indication of the widespread Communist activity in our government.

Well and good. Except, is it really fair to equate “the Kremlin’s subterranean war against our official institutions” with “widespread Communist activity in our government”? Every American who joined the Communist Party is an avowed agent of the Soviet Kremlin, working to destroy the freedoms on which America was built? Or is it possible for an American to be a “Communist” without being a “Russian spy.”

I ask because even within the history lesson that Hoover’s own book provides, the world situation seemed a lot more complicated than the logic Hoover is using. The fight against Communism--whatever one thinks of Communism itself--was fundamentally a struggle of ideologies, not necessarily nations. Communists within the American government could have been (and, sometimes, evidently were) moles and provocateurs placed there by the hostile government of the Soviet Union, but they also could have been (and, more frequently, evidently were) patriotic Americans who believed that the Communist ideal or certain Communist practices were rational actions against real or perceived social problems. One man’s Communism, after all, can sometimes be another man’s government work program.

But remember, to Hoover, liberty and government action are antagonists, not bedfellows. Any collectivist government action is by definition Communism, and therefore antithetical to liberty.

Although it appears that there were others who saw the distinction I see, even in Hoover’s era. Germany, Japan, and eventually Italy--the governments of which in the late 1930s were certainly no lovers of liberty--also recognized the threat that Communism represented to their power structures, and entered with each other into something called the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Pact pledged the signed nations against an enemy it called the Communist International, or Comintern for short. That’s not Russia, nor the Soviet Union, nor any other traditional nation, but a quasi-governmental entity bounded by ideology instead of geographic borders.

There is another perspective. A march to a progressive future is not the same thing as a march to Communism, as difficult as it may be for the Herbert Hoovers of the world--past and present--to see the difference.

Who Lost Our Statesmanship?

Needless to say, Hoover is very critical of Franklin Roosevelt throughout Freedom Betrayed, or Lost Statesmanship, as I mentioned he originally intended to title his book. Both titles reflect the crime Hoover seeks to convict FDR of with his analysis, well summarized in one of his many summing-up chapters.

As I said at the beginning, we can look at these actions by Roosevelt from two points of view. We can deify him as a great statesman, dragging and pushing an unwilling, obstinate people into the duty of another world crusade for freedom; or we can construe his actions as blundering statesmanship, an attempt to cover the failure of the New Deal, an effort to reelect himself to satisfy his consuming desire for power and as one overcome by war madness of egotism. In either construction it is certain that his steps were intellectually dishonest, his statements untruthful and his actions unconstitutional. The hideous consequences will unfold as the narrative proceeds.

Funny how there is no middle ground in Hoover’s analysis. FDR was either an angel or a devil, with Hoover, of course, leaning towards the latter. But such a simplistic dichotomy made this reader think that there had to be some excluded middle that Hoover was either unwilling or unable to see.

Personal Opinion and Invective

Now, if you choose to read Freedom Betrayed, remember that it is an unpublished manuscript, a Magnum Opus that Hoover never could quite finish editing or expanding. One of his goals late in the writing process was to purge the manuscript of all personal opinion and invective, wanting the document to be received unequivocally on the truths it conveyed. But, honestly, I found the most interesting and engaging sections to be the ones loaded with Hoover's personal opinions and invective that managed to escape his editor’s pen.

As an example, here’s his take on the global situation on the eve of the Second World War, captured in a short chapter he titled “A Tragedy to All Mankind without End.”

Within all the urgent dispatches by heads of state, prime ministers, the running about of ambassadors, and all the hurried high-level conferences, there was being enacted on the world stage in the month of August one of history’s most terrible tragedies. Hell itself could not have conceived a more frightful drama. Its title could have been Doom.

The audience was all the nations of the world--two billion terrified human beings. The leading parts were acted by Hitler, a consummate egoist, the incarnation of the hates of a defeated nation, cunning, intent on conquest, without conscience or compassion; and Stalin, intent on spreading Communism over the world, a ruffian, cold, calculating, an Ivan the Terrible and Genghis Khan reborn. Boiling with hatred of each other, and despising the free nations, they were united only in a determination to destroy the free men--and then each other.

All about them were the malevolent spirits of imperialism, of wicked ideologies, of lust for personal power.

Wandering about the stage were the figures of Chamberlain--aristocratic, uncertain, swayed hither and yon by the cries of his critical countrymen, but a man of more moral stature; and Daladier--a politician, well-intentioned, but vain and terrified.

There were other actors in the wings: Mussolini, crying “Me too”; Polish Foreign Minister Beck, trying to play both sides; Roosevelt, now and again appearing on stage, alternately urging Chamberlain and Daladier to “Stand up to them!” and crying “Peace, peace!”, then vanishing from the stage again; Churchill, prodding the British leaders to unmoral agreements.

In the audience, frozen with fear, helplessly awaiting execution, were the little peoples--the Poles, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Bessarabians, Bukovinians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Rumanians, Czechs, Greeks, Belgians, Dutch, and Norwegians.

The last act was Stalin’s sale of his alliance. If Chamberlain signed it, there would be handed to the Communists the free peoples of eastern Europe. But his British integrity and conscience would not permit him to sign. If Hitler signed with Stalin, these small nations were destined to be ravaged, and then Communism would gain such power that it would spread over the world.

Had there been a Greek chorus to this tragedy, its chant would have been “Doom, doom--scores of free nations will perish. Hundreds of millions will become slaves.”

I had been too close an observer of the action on the world stage over twenty-five years not to watch these scenes with dread.

Out of it all would again march forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--War, Death, Famine and Pestilence--with a fifth Horseman bearing propaganda loaded with lies and hate, and a sixth Horseman bringing airplanes and submarines to kill men and innocent women and children. A seventh Horseman, even more sinister, would be Revolution, in which men betrayed and killed their own blood and kin.

The foul treachery dealt to civilization by Stalin and Hitler spread fear and panic everywhere. Telephone and telegraph messages, ambassadors and messengers sped over the earth. Millions of anxious human beings, with the horrors of the First World War still fresh in their minds, hung upon the press and radio. In despair they awaited the Second World War.

The guns began to bark on September 1, 1939.

More of this kind of analysis, full of invective and benefitting greatly from hindsight as it is, would have made for a more interesting read, than the long lists of “facts” and quotes out of context that Hoover seemed determined to hang the core of his argument on.

Lessons for Today

And still, some of Hoover’s analysis seems eerily prescient. Here’s something that Nash calls out in his introduction.

Perhaps “the most important of all these lessons,” Hoover added, was that “democratic government now, and for many years to come, probably could not stand the shock of another great war and survive as a democracy.” Before long he would assert that any war fought by America against fascism would require fascistic methods. At the beginning of 1938, he put it only slightly less starkly: “Those who would have us again go to war to save democracy might give a little thought to the likelihood that we would come out of any such struggle a despotism ourselves.”

Makes me wonder what Hoover would think of the Patriot Act and the ever-expanding Authorization to Use Military Force.

And how about this?

There are those who think to re-educate the German, Japanese and Italian youth by forcing United Nations teachers into control of their schools. There are obvious difficulties--ideologies cannot be imposed either by foreign teachers or machine guns. Change must come from within the hearts of the people themselves.

...Wrong ideas cannot be cured by war or by treaty. They are matters of mind and spirit. The lasting acceptance of any governing idea lies deep in the mores of races and in their intellectual processes. Liberty does not come like manna from heaven; it must be cultivated from rocky soil with infinite patience and great human toil…

A perspective that may explain why some of the nations in the Middle East haven’t embraced Western-style democracy as reverently as some of America’s recent leaders predicted or would have liked.

A History Lesson

And much of Hoover’s text is a great history lesson. I learned more than I ever had before of China’s role in the World War II; both Chinas that is--the recognized “democratic” China led by Chiang Kai-shek and the emerging communist China led by Mao Tse-tung. Hoover is critical of FDR’s weak support of “democratic” China, especially when he details how he believes Russia, an ally with China, the United States, and the United Kingdom in the War, worked to undermine the recognized China so that the communists could take over. FDR was complicit, in Hoover’s view, in that crime as well.

The Great Men of History

And some of the inside peeks at some of the "great men" of history are absolutely fascinating. Here’s a report from Polish Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk, relating an encounter he had with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over the division of Poland at the end of the War.

I reminded him [Churchill] again of the Atlantic Charter and other pacts that directly or indirectly pledged sovereign rights to Poland.

“I shall tell Parliament that I have agreed with Stalin,” Churchill declared flatly. “Our relations with Russia are much better than they have ever been. I mean to keep them that way. … We are not going to wreck the peace of Europe. In your obstinacy you do not see what is at stake. … We shall tell the world how unreasonable you are. …”

“I am not a person whose patriotism is diluted to the point where I would give away half my country,” I answered.

Churchill shook his finger at me. “Unless you accept the frontier, you’re out of business forever!” he cried. “The Russians will sweep through your country, and your people will be liquidated. You’re on the verge of annihilation. We’ll become sick and tired of you if you continue arguing.”

[British Foreign Minister Anthony] Eden smoothed matters for a moment, but Churchill came back strongly.

“If you accept the Curzon line, the United States will take great interest in the rehabilitation of Poland and may grant you a big loan, possibly without interest. We would help, too, but we shall be poor after this war. You are bound to accept the decision of the great Powers.”

I reminded him of his gloriously worded speeches early in the war, speeches that decried the taking of territory by force, and I spoke of the better treatment the Allies were according to such turncoat Axis enemies as Italy and Rumania. He dismissed the argument.

“You’re no government,” Churchill said. “You’re a callous people who want to wreck Europe. I shall leave you to your own troubles. … You have only your miserable, petty, selfish interests in mind. I will now call on the other Poles. This Lublin government may function very well. It will be the government, that is certain. …”

I resented everything he said and told him so. … I was furious at the man and could not conceal it.

“Mr. Churchill,” I said, “I once asked you for permission to parachute into Poland and rejoin the underground, which is at this very hour fighting the Germans. You refused to grant me that permission. Now I ask it again.”

“Why?” he said, surprised.

“Because I prefer to die, fighting for the independence of my country, than to be hanged later by the Russians in full view of your British ambassador!”

Now, if true, and there is a lot here that reads a little too much like a patriot spinning the most patriotic tale he can in the face of ignoble defeat--but, if it is true, than what a shocking portrait it paints of Winston Churchill. Was he really this domineering and power-mad? Is that the way discussions are typically held between prime ministers?

But as scary as that is, here’s something even scarier. This time it’s Churchill describing an encounter with Russian Marshal Joseph Stalin.

… At ten o’clock that night we held our first important meeting in the Kremlin. There were only Stalin, Molotov, Eden, Harriman, and I, with Major Birse and Pavlov as interpreters. …

The moment was apt for business, so I said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper:

     Russia - 90%
     The others - 10%
     Great Britain (in accord with U.S.A.) - 90%
     Russia - 10%
Yugoslavia - 50/50%
Hungary - 50/50%
     Russia - 75%
     The others - 25%

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it take to set down. …

After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.” “No, you keep it,” said Stalin.

Wow. Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Churchill, egoist and domineering as he was, is given pause by the boldness and terror of the act he had just committed. And Joseph Stalin’s response to the suggestion that they hide the evidence of this crime? No, you keep it.

But let me get back to that part about Churchill once decrying the taking of territory by force, because, I think, it is one of the linchpins on which Hoover’s whole story turns.

Four More Words

In August of 1941, before Pearl Harbor and before the United States had officially entered the War, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met on a warship off the coast of Newfoundland. One result of that meeting was something called the Atlantic Charter--a policy document that defined Allied goals for the post-war world--initially just the United States and Britain, but adopted by others as they joined the war effort. There were eight clauses, here, as summarized by a Wikipedia entry:

1. No territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
2. Territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
3. All people had a right to self-determination;
4. Trade barriers were to be lowered;
5. There was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
6. The participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
7. The participants would work for freedom of the seas; and
8. There was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament.

A grand vision for a new kind of world, generally. But that third clause would come to be a sticking point. Its full text read:

THIRD, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

But it was evidently revised by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at their conference in Yalta in February 1945--revised by tacking four more words on the end of the statement. the aggressor nations.

Hoover argues, correctly, I think, that this changed to whole import of the Charter. Originally a statement of vision for the entire world, with the four added words it was now a rulebook for how the nations abused by the Axis powers would be treated. For the nations or peoples abused by one of the Allied nations--and from Hoover’s point of view, that meant most importantly by the Soviet Union--clause three no longer applied. Their rights to choose the form of government under which they live, and the Charter’s mandate to see their sovereign rights and self-government restored to them, would no longer be observed. Churchill more or less made this explicit in his encounter with the Polish Prime Minister.

Hoover’s book contains the text of many such statements and declarations--documented, I presume, in the official records of the many high-level conferences the Allied powers held during and just after the war. He analyzes them with a real proofreader’s eye, teasing meaning and sometimes perceived conspiracies from certain edits and certain turns of phrase. But this change to the Atlantic Charter is, I believe, the epitome of the lost statesmanship from which Hoover derived his original title for his Magnum Opus. Hoover is passionate about the inalienable rights of everyone on the planet, not just those blessed to be born in the United States, and in siding with what he believed to be the corrupt and evil Soviet Union, his text clearly reveals that he believed the U.S. governments under FDR and Harry Truman abdicated their responsibilities to protect and defend those rights. As he says, before FDR:

Four American Presidents and … [six] Secretaries of State, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, refused to have anything to do with Soviet Russia on the ground of morals and democratic ideals. They … refused diplomatic recognition. They did so because here is one of the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history. It destroyed every semblance of human rights and human liberty; it is a militant destroyer of the worship of God. It brutally executes millions of innocent people without the semblance of justice. It has enslaved the rest. Moreover, it has violated every international covenant, it has carried on a world conspiracy against all democracies, including the United States.

This perspective is hard to dismiss. As far as I know, these are clearly stated facts. And the only defense against them may be that a pact with the Soviet Union was necessary to defeat Germany and win the war. I know from reading Hoover’s Magnum Opus that he believes that proposition is based on a false premise--there would have been no war involving the United States, he claims, had the United States not inserted itself into European affairs.

I wonder whose Magnum Opus I need to read to help decide if he was right about that.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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