George H. Nash on “Freedom Betrayed” by Herbert Hoover


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome
to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum. I’m Tom Schwartz the Director of the Hoover
Library-Museum. And we are fortunate to have with us today the foremost authority of the
31st President, Dr. George H. Nash. For many West Branch residents Dr. Nash is a familiar
face, having resided in the area when he worked on his definitive three volumes of Herbert
Hoover early life and public career. A typical quip among archivists at the Hoover is that
George Nash has forgotten more about Herbert Hoover than any of us will ever remember.
This comment is but a slight exaggeration. George Nash has done more to advance our understanding
of the life and times of Herbert Hoover than any other writer or scholar. Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, George Nash
attended Amherst College, where he graduated Suma Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1967. He
completed his graduate training in history at Harvard University, receiving the Ph.D.
in 1973. Author of numerous books on America conservatism
and the American Revolutionary era, Nash is best known for his many studies of Herbert
Hoover. A prolific writer, Nash’s articles have appeared in the American Spectator, Claremont
Review of Books, Modern Age, National Review, New York Times Book Review, and the Wall Street
Journal to name a few. He served two terms as president of the prestigious Philadelphia
Society; was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the National Commission
on Libraries and Information Science; and was the 2008 recipient of the Richard M. Weaver
Prize for Scholarly Letters. Nash was selected by the Herbert Hoover Presidential
Library Association to write a definitive three-volume biography of the 31st president.
Nash’s systematic and painstaking research resulted in three volumes that took the Hoover
story up through 1918, with Hoover as the United States Food Administrator. Clearly,
Hoover’s complex life and numerous achievements demanded greater coverage, extending the project
to include three more authors and volumes to complete the series. The Hoover Institution
along with the encouragement of the descendants of the Hoover family entrusted Nash with the
editing of one of Herbert Hoover’s final writing efforts, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert
Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and its Aftermath. The book was often
referred to in correspondence by Hoover as his “Magnum Opus,” and has been sequestered
from examination from researchers until now. It reflects Hoover’s critique of FDR and
Truman’s foreign policy decisions and in many respects offers important lessons for
us today on the relationship between power and freedom. Following Dr. Nash’s talk,
he will entertain questions. You’re also invited to come up and have George sign copies
of Freedom Betrayed, which are available for purchase in the Museum store. Everyone attending
today will have an early Christmas gift by receiving a 15% discount on the purchase price
of the book. A bargain, so line up and get several. We are especially pleased that Mary Lou Scanlon,
one of Herbert Hoover’s personal secretaries, is with us today. She worked on the final
draft of the manuscript for the book. She will be available in the lobby if you have
any questions of her, or simply to say hello. This event would not have been possible without
the good efforts of archivist Matt Schaefer, and the underwriting of the Herbert Hoover
Library Association. We’re grateful to Matt and to the Association for making this talk
possible. So now, please silence your cell phones. And without any further ado, please
join me in welcoming Dr. George Nash. [Applause] Thank you very much, Tom, for that gracious
introduction; and good afternoon everyone. One of the blessings of my life in recent
years has been the opportunity from time to time to return here to West Branch, Iowa to
the Herbert Hoover Library and I have the pleasure right now of looking out in this
audience and seeing a number of friends, both old and new. I thank you for coming and participating
on this occasion. And I want to second the thanks that your director of the Library has
just expressed to all here in this community, the Hoover Library, and the Hoover Library
Association who arranged for this event. And I want to add my thanks to the Hoover Institution
Public Affairs Team, which has been sponsoring some events that I’ve done on the road in
recent days, and Julie Riggiero, I believe, has worked with Matt Schaefer. And I want
to, since this is being recorded to show elsewhere, I want to include in my thanks everyone, really,
who has made this occasion possible. We gather today to mark the publication of
a remarkable book by a remarkable man. Freedom Betrayed is the culmination of an extraordinary
literary project launched by Herbert Hoover during World War II: a memoir that evolved
into a comprehensive critique of American foreign policy during that war and during
the ensuing early years of the Cold War. Although Hoover completed his manuscript almost fifty
years ago almost, it has never been published or made available for research. It has just
been made public for the first time. With a touch of humor, Hoover and his staff
came to refer to his enormous manuscript as the Magnum Opus. He wanted it to be an irrefutable
indictment of what he called the “lost statesmanship” of his presidential successor, Franklin Roosevelt.
To Hoover, Roosevelt’s prewar and wartime diplomacy had made the world safe for Joseph
Stalin, triggering a dangerous third world war – the Cold War – against which Hoover
called, “a Communist giant which our own leaders help build.” To understand the history and significance
of Hoover’s Magnum Opus, we need to know something about its prehistory: the context
out of which the text eventually emerged. When Hoover left the White House in 1933,
he did not, like most ex-presidents, fade away. After a period of self-imposed quiescence
at his home in California, he burst back into the political arena in 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
what he called “regimentation” – his term for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
For the rest of his life, Hoover resisted without stint the lurch to the Left initiated
by his successor. Hoover soon became Roosevelt’s most formidable
critic from the political Right. Although he himself would never publically admit it,
he hankered for a rematch against Roosevelt at the polls. Denied this opportunity in 1936,
the former president persisted in firing verbal fusillades at New Deal liberalism and its
perpetrators. Early in 1938 the ex-president’s crusade
against the New Deal began to shift focus. In Europe, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler
and fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini were ominously restless. From afar, Europe had
begun to look like a pressure cooker whose cover might fly off at any time. Hoover had never been a conventional isolationist.
Hailed as the Great Humanitarian for his prodigious relief work during and after World War I – labors
that saved literally tens of millions of people from privation and death – in 1920 he had
favored America’s ratifying the Treaty of Versailles and joining the League of Nations.
But Hoover had spent too much time in Europe before and after the Great War to believe
that the United States could redeem the Old World from its age-old rivalries and hatreds.
As war clouds began to form over Europe in 1938, he deliberately pulled back from that
seething cauldron. Hoover was not then, in the most literal sense,
an isolationist. What he was – and would resolutely remain until December 7, 1941 – was
an anti-interventionist. We Americans, he contended, should go to war solely to defeat
aggression against us in our self proclaimed zone of safety, the Western Hemisphere. Otherwise,
we must refrain from military embroilment in foreign disputes. Early in 1938 Hoover sailed to Europe for
his first visit there since 1919. For the next several weeks, he was showered with honors
for his unparalleled humanitarian achievements during and after the Great War. By the time
he returned home in late March, he had conversed with the governing elites of a dozen nations
and had met Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. Hoover’s nearly seven-week European sojourn
loomed large in his eventual Magnum Opus, in which he described the experience, and
the impressions of the leaders he met, in copious detail. Particularly revealing for
insight into his geopolitical vision was his interview with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
of Great Britain. According to Hoover, he told the British leader bluntly that another
world war would probably destroy the British Empire and that war must be avoided if at
all possible. To accomplish this objective (he advised) the expansionist urges of Germany
must be accommodated to some extent. Hoover did not believe that Germany intended to attack
in the West. Just back from his conversations with Hitler and other European leaders, Hoover
opined that Germany was now looking eastward, toward the Ukraine, and that its pressure
in that direction should not concern the British. According to Hoover, Neville Chamberlain concurred. Hoover also told Chamberlain that an explosion
involving Germany was bound to happen “somewhere.” He had a “hunch” as he put it that, “another
Armageddon was coming, and my hope is that if it comes it will be on the Plains of Russia,
not on the Frontiers of France.” “Western Civilization,” he added, “will be infinitely
better off if the Germans fight in the east instead of the west. It would be a disaster
if the western Democracies were dragged down by a war the end result of which would be
to save the cruel Russian despotism.” According to Hoover, Chamberlain agreed completely. Upon his return home, Hoover admonished his
fellow American to stay away from what he termed the, “maze of forces” now ensnaring
the Old World. Although Hoover was cognizant of what he called, “the dangers to free
men” inherent in the new racialism stirring in Europe, he insisted that America itself
had nothing militarily to fear. What did disturb him was the intellectual and economic turn
toward collectivism in Europe – and signs that this “new philosophy of government
and life” had begun to penetrate the United States. In the autumn of 1938, Hoover, like most other
Americans – including, briefly, Franklin Roosevelt – appeared relieved by the peaceful
outcome of the Munich conference, at which the British and French governments agreed
to Hitler’s seizure of the German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. “Certainly
it is my belief,” said Hoover at the time, “that neither Germany nor the Fascists states
want war with the Western democracies unless these democracies interfere with their spread
eastward.” To Hoover, what had transpired at Munich was not just the transfer of the
Sudetenland to Hitler’s Reich, but in his words the, “removal of impediments to the
eastward movement” of Nazi Germany. The former president was therefore taken aback
when, just a few months later, the government of Neville Chamberlain abruptly reversed itself
and pledged to go to war against Germany if Germany attacked Poland. To Hoover, the Anglo-French
turnabout was in his words, “utterly astonishing” – “a complete reversal” of their previous
policy, “to let Hitler go east if he wants to.” “They cannot in any circumstance
protect Poland from invasion by Hitler,” he told a friend. “It is simply throwing
the body of Western Civilization in front of Hitler’s steam-roller which is on its
way to Russia.” Hoover never overcame his initial feeling
that, by issuing its fateful guarantee to Poland, the British had committed in Hoover’s
words a “gigantic blunder.” They had gotten in the way of what he called, “the inevitable
war between Hitler and Stalin.” The perceived folly of the Polish guarantee was to be one
of the intellectual linchpins of his Magnum Opus. But why had Chamberlain so precipitously reversed
course? In the months and years ahead, Hoover became suspicious that one reason was the
pressure exerted upon Chamberlain by Franklin Roosevelt. In 1939, as Roosevelt moved more
assertively onto the world stage, Hoover perceived a rising specter: that America’s own president,
by imprudent acts or – even worse – by design, might take the nation into the bloody
morass of a European war. He became convinced that Roosevelt and his diplomatic henchmen
were secretly encouraging Great Britain, France, and Poland to stand up to Germany and possibly
promising to come to their rescue if war broke out. It was a theme Hoover later developed,
with supporting evidence, in his Magnum Opus. Writing in Liberty magazine in the summer
of 1939, Hoover charged Roosevelt by name with launching a “radical departure” in
American foreign policy and warned that “[a]ny such change should be frankly submitted to
and confirmed by the American people.” In foreign policy as well as domestic, Hoover
now saw a challenge to liberty arising from the unconstrained executive power of the current
President of the United States. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded
Poland. Two days later Great Britain and France lived up to their Polish guarantee and went
to war against Germany. From the outset, Hoover argued that “America must keep out of this
war.” It would be a long war, he predicted, and probably “the most barbarous war that
we have ever known.” Although repelled by Nazism and sympathetic to the Western democracies,
he insisted that America “cannot solve the problems of Europe.” The United States,
he said, could do more for that continent and for humanity by remaining outside the
fray and preserving America’s “vitality and strength” for “use in the period of
peace which must sometime come.” From September 1939 to December 7, 1941, three
mighty efforts consumed Hoover’s energies. First, he threw himself into keeping the United
States out of the widening European conflict and opposed President Roosevelt’s increasingly
interventionist conduct, which Hoover found not only unwise and dangerous but deceitful
and unconstitutional. Hoover became convinced – as he later put it in the Magnum Opus
– that “Mr. Roosevelt wanted war.” Second, drawing upon his reputation as the
Great Humanitarian of World War I, Hoover launched a drive to organize assistance for
the civilian victims of the war engulfing Europe. He set up agencies that raised substantial
sums for the Poles and the Finns. After the German blitzkrieg overran much of Western
Europe in 1940, he attempted to establish a neutral relief commission, modeled on his
successful experience in Belgium in World War I, to import and distribute food to the
suffering civilian populations of German-occupied Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Although the plan contained what Hoover considered to be adequate safeguards against German interference,
for instance, he said he would immediately stop all imports if the Germans seized any
of them, the governments of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill stymied his effort. Hoover’s third crusade, after the war began,
was more personal, but just as intense: his quest for political vindication by securing
the Republican presidential nomination in 1940. Hoover maneuvered for a deadlocked convention
that he hoped would turn to him as the manifestly superior alternative to the party’s lesser
lights. It was all for naught. At the convention in June, the party turned instead to a charismatic
newcomer named Wendell Willkie. Hoover’s failure to win the 1940 Republican
presidential nomination was a great disappointment to him. With his sixty-sixth birthday only
weeks away, he knew that he would never get another chance to redeem himself at the polls.
As the convention dispersed, he seemed to sense that an era in his life was over. Less
than four weeks later, he started in earnest to write his memoirs. On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler hurled his
legions against communist Russia. To Hoover the stunning turn of events in Eastern Europe
radically transformed the nature of the war, and he now saw an opportunity to change the
course of world history. On June 29th, he spoke to the American people on national radio.
For the rest of his days, he considered this speech the most important one of his life.
It would become another of the underpinnings of the Magnum Opus. He exhorted his fellow
citizens not to make an alliance with the Soviet Union which he termed – “one of
the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history.” Hoover was quite content to let the two evil
dictators, the Satans as he sometimes called them – Hitler and Stalin – fight it out
on their own. Be patient, he urged Americans in mid September. The “fratricidal war”
his term, between Hitler and Stalin was weakening both of them every day. Once again, in terms he later saw as prophetic,
he solemnly warned his countrymen “to take a long look now before we leap.” What will
happen, he asked, “to the millions of enslaved people of Russia and to all Europe and to
our own freedoms if we shall send our sons to win this war for Communism?” In November
he told Alf Landon: “[A]id to Russia may sound practical now but we and the world will
pay dearly for this debauchery of the ideals of freedom.” Meanwhile, Hoover had become alarmed by developments
in the Far East. As early as the summer of 1940 he privately criticized Roosevelt’s
decision to curb American exports of scrap iron and aviation fuel to Japan. It was “only
sticking pins in a rattlesnake,” he charged. “Either we should leave this thing alone
or we will be drawn into real trouble.” In the summer and fall of 1941, after Roosevelt
imposed a sweeping economic embargo on Japan, Hoover’s fears intensified. By November
he was certain that war with Japan was imminent. On December 7th, the bombing of Pearl Harbor
put an end to Hoover’s crusade. Immediately and patriotically, he pledged his support
of the nation’s war against Japan. Among close friends, though, he remained convinced
that Roosevelt had blundered – or worse. “You and I know” (he said to one of them
the day after Pearl Harbor) “that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this
country bitten.” Despite his public support for national unity,
Hoover was certain that the White House would never ask for his services during the war.
He was right. A little later in the war, Hoover signaled his availability for service via
his friend Bernard Baruch. But when the financier touted Hoover’s name at the White House,
Roosevelt refused. “Well, I’m not a Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’m not going to
raise him from the dead.” And so Hoover was condemned to what he later
called “four years of frustration.” Perhaps in retrospect, it might have been better for
Roosevelt if he had given his rival some constructive part to play in the war effort. It might have
kept Hoover occupied and away from his role as FDR’s foremost antagonist. As it happened,
in the four years after Pearl Harbor the former president – for all his other activities
– found abundant time on his hands: time to start work on his memoirs, including the
chunk that became the Magnum Opus. The crusader-prophet against Roosevelt’s
foreign policy was about to become a crusader-historian. In a sense, the Magnum Opus was born on December
7th 1941. Hoover was convinced that the Roosevelt administration, by its “trade restrictions”
against Japan and what he called its other “provocations” had driven the Japanese
government into a corner, from which it had struck back at Pearl Harbor. He told friends
that he intended to write a book on the diplomatic negotiations leading up to Pearl Harbor. He
was positive that he could demonstrate that the war in the Pacific could have been averted. Hoover appears soon to have abandoned his
projected, projected book on U.S.-Japan relations before Pearl Harbor – though not his intense
curiosity about the subject. Roosevelt’s “lost statesmanship” toward Japan, in
fact, became one of the dominant themes of the book Freedom Betrayed. But in 1942, the
ex-president had other fish to fry first: notably his memoirs. In July 1940, as I’ve said earlier, Hoover
began to compose his memoirs in earnest, writing them out entirely by hand. By November 1944
his burgeoning manuscript comprised more than nine hundred printed pages in page proofs,
focused on his life through the year 1932. The material, that material would become the
first three volumes of his memoirs. Hoover’s writing now developed along two
tracks. In the autumn of 1944 he began to compose what was in effect the fourth volume
of his projected memoirs. Its subject was his crusade in the 1930s against “the creeping
collectivism of the New Deal.” That same autumn, he wrote out the first rough chapters
of a parallel volume devoted to World War II and his fight to keep America out of it.
He referred to the manuscript informally as the “War Book.” It was the embryo of what
became the Magnum Opus. Hoover’s “War Book” was to be no ordinary
memoir. In an early chapter completed in December 1944, he offered a précis of his argument.
In the very first paragraph, he made a remarkable vow: “Not until the inner history of the
events leading up to our entry into World War II are brought into the daylight can the
final history of how we got into it be written. And if I live long enough I propose to write
that history.” In the ensuing months – soon to be years
and then decades – Hoover was as good as his word. Early in 1946 he hired a young conservative
economist named Arthur Kemp to be his part-time research assistant – a task Kemp performed
for the next seven years. Hoover already knew what he believed. What he needed – and what
he was sure existed – was the incontrovertible evidence to sustain his revisionist case. Always he was on the lookout for fresh data
and fresh corroboration of his indictment. He took careful note of the rival “magnum
opus” that Winston Churchill was publishing under the title The Second World War. Hoover
admired the literary excellence of Churchill’s work, but severely criticized its substance. As Hoover drafted and redrafted the Magnum
Opus, his manuscript expanded into two volumes: the first devoted to the period before Pearl
Harbor, and the second to the rest of the war and its aftermath. New topics appeared
such as Communist subversion at home and America’s postwar policy toward China. In 1946 President
Harry Truman invited Hoover to conduct a worldwide survey of food and famine conditions on five
continents. The former president visited thirty-eight countries and traveled more than 50,000 miles.
More than a decade later, his experiences were to shape the final portion of the Magnum
Opus. Between 1947 and 1949 Hoover served as chairman
of the so-called Hoover Commission, which studied ways to streamline the federal government.
Despite this heavy responsibility, Hoover somehow found time for his mammoth writing
project. By mid-1950 the accumulated page proofs of his unpublished memoirs, including
the Magnum Opus, probably exceeded 3,000 printed pages. One can imagine the state of mind,
at times, of his secretaries as they typed, retyped, and proofread his multitudinous drafts.
Years later Arthur Kemp observed: “I often think we were trying to write eight, ten,
twelve volumes all at once. This is the way he worked.” In 1952 and 1952 Hoover published the first
three volumes of his memoirs. Earlier, he had confided to a friend that the remaining
parts should not be issued for some years – presumably because of their explosive
character and perhaps for fear of offending living persons. This did not, however, prevent
him from pressing forward with his historical inquest. Sometime in 1950 he gave his “War
Book” a new name – Lost Statesmanship. Not long after the election of 1952 Hoover
completed a fresh updating of Lost Statesmanship. As returned from the printer in early 1953,
the proofs comprised 1,001 printed pages. In a climactic chapter, which I’ve included
as a supplement to this volume Freedom Betrayed, he listed nineteen “gigantic errors,”
his term, that American and British policy makers had committed since 1933, including
Roosevelt’s recognition of Soviet Russia; the Anglo-French guarantee of Poland in 1939;
Roosevelt’s “undeclared war,” Hoover’s term, of 1941 before Pearl Harbor; the “tacit
American alliance” with Russia after Hitler’s invasion in June 1941, which Hoover called,
“the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history;” Roosevelt’s “total
economic sanctions” against Japan in the summer of 1914; his “contemptuous refusal”
of Japanese prime minister Konoye’s peace proposals that September; the appeasing “sacrifice”
of the Baltic states and other parts of Europe of Stalin at the Tehran conference in 1943;
Roosevelt’s quote, “hideous secret agreement as to China at Yalta which gave Mongolia and,
in effect Manchuria to Russia;” end quote. President Truman’s quote “immoral order
to drop the atomic bomb” unquote on Japan when the Japanese had already begun to sue
for peace; and Truman’s sacrifice of “all China” to the Communists, again quoting
Hoover, “by insistence of his (Truman’s) left-wing advisors and his appointment of
General Marshall to execute their will,” end quote. Some years later Arthur Kemp suggested that
if Hoover had published Lost Statesmanship more or less in this form, and at this juncture,
its “emotional impact” would have been “tremendous.” Instead – a perfectionist
always and perhaps concerned about premature release of his sizzling manuscript – Hoover
farmed it out for still more editing and feedback. The cycle of research, revision, fact-checking,
and more revisions resumed. Meanwhile, in 1953, President Eisenhower appointed
Hoover chairman of what quickly became known as the second Hoover Commission. The aging
elder statesman devoted most of the next two years to its work. In 1955, after completing this latest service
to the nation, Hoover refocused on his private affairs, including as increasingly nagging
question: What to do about the remainder of his Memoirs? As it turned out, he soon became
engrossed in a new writing project: a comprehensive history of what he called America’s “enterprises
of compassion” mostly his enterprises that had saved literally millions of lives from
famine and disease during and after World Wars I and II. He gave the series the title
An American Epic. Originally he planned to write two volumes. They soon became three
and then four. By now it was plain that Hoover the historian
rarely proceeded in a straight line. While working on the American Epic, he decided to
write a spin-off book about Woodrow Wilson’s experiences at the Paris Peace Conference
of 1919. Part personal memoir and part historical narrative, The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, appeared
in 1958. It proved to be one of Hoover’s most admired publications. By the mid 1950s, suite 31-A in the Waldorf
Towers in New York City, where Hoover was living, seemed more like a writing factory
than a residence. Hoover’s staff was amazed by his phenomenal memory and remarkable capacity
for work. Now in his eighties, he arose daily around 5:30 a.m. and was at his desk by six.
Except for breakfast, a short lunch, and a mid-afternoon coffee break, he did not stop
working until six or seven at night. Hoover routinely went to bed around 10 p.m.
But not for long. Often, in his last years, he arose around 2 a.m. warmed up a can of
soup, perhaps, in the kitchen, and spent the next hour or more at his desk writing letters
and laboring over his manuscripts. Whereupon he would go back to bed. At some point in the 1950s General Bonner
Fellers visited Hoover at Suite 31-A. The Chief (as his close friends called him) was
scribbling furiously. “What are you doing Mr. President?” the general asked. “I’m
making my book on Roosevelt more pungent.” [Laughter] In fact, as early as 1854 he began to do just
the opposite. In the final decade of his life a slow but discernable change occurred in
the texture of the Magnum Opus. Particularly after 1959, the manuscript became less accusatory
and more understated in tone. Hoover’s determination to call Roosevelt to judgment had by no means
vanished. The book title that he finally settled upon, Freedom Betrayed, hinted at his judgmental
intent. But his strategy, to a considerable degree, had shifted. Instead of driving his
lessons home like a prosecutor to a jury (as he had done in his 1953 draft), he increasingly
tried to guide his readers toward the correct conclusion more unobtrusively, by the sheer
unstoppable weight of his evidence. Sometime in 1959 or 1960 Hoover concluded
that his colossal manuscript must be condensed. This decision touched off still more rounds
of laborious revision, even as his health began to fail. Pencil in hand, he persevered,
revising draft after draft or, as he called them, “edition” after “edition.” Late in 1962, he finally drew the line. After
correcting Edition Number 10 of the Magnum Opus, he renamed it Edition Z – the last
letter of the alphabet. Whereupon he started to revise it a little more and it became known
as Z+HH, for Herbert Hoover I guess – [Laughter] Or Z+H. Thought it hard to give it up. He
also informed his staff at about this time that henceforth the Magnum Opus would consist
of three volumes, not two. For more than a year he had been preparing a series of what
he called, “tragic case histories” of four nations – China, Germany, Korea, and
Poland – that had fallen into chaos or communism in the years immediately after World War II.
Initially he had intended to include these studies in volume II. He now decided that
they would constitute volume III. Well into 1963 he endeavored to put these projected
components into final shape. These components have been located and comprise Volume III
of the three-part book before us, Freedom Betrayed. As much as anything now, a sense of duty was
driving Hoover on: a conviction that he especially – with his extraordinary life experiences
and peerless collections of historical records at the Hoover Institution – was equipped
to lay before the American people the whole truth about what he called the “betrayals
of freedom” in the past thirty years. He regarded his onerous task as a solemn calling
– the one thing he wished to complete before his death. He told a friend in early 1963
that he hoped to leave behind his three-volume opus “as a sort of ‘will and testament’
before I finally vanish.” On September 26th 1963, Hoover informed a
friend that “my major job, the case history of the Second World War and its betrayal of
freedom is now completed except [for] my staff to overhaul and check every sentence for its
accuracy.” As Hoover waited for his staff to complete its fact-checking, he could look
with satisfaction on all the other products that his “factory” had turned out in the
previous five years. Between 1959 and 1964, he published seven books. It was an amazing
feat: seven books, published between the ages of eighty-five and ninety. But not yet the Magnum Opus, the one that
mattered most. On October 20th 1964 Hoover passed away in New York City. Under the terms of his will, ownership of
the manuscript passed to a family foundation which he had created in 1959. It would be
up to the foundation to decide what to do next. In the end the Hoover Foundation did not proceed
to publication. Instead, the Magnum Opus was placed in storage. Since Hoover’s two sons
and their key associates at the time are now deceased, one cannot say for certain what
prompted them to put the manuscript aside. Most likely it boiled down to apprehension
about the controversy that publication might generate, especially so soon after Hoover’s
dignified burial as an elder statesman in 1964. It was a concern Hoover himself had
voiced on occasion, when he had worried that what he called “mud volcanoes” would erupt
on the political left when his book appeared. Whatever the concerns of that time, the passage
of nearly half a century has removed them. Hoover’s Magnum Opus and his files pertaining
to it are now open for scholarly research. Time heals all wounds, it is said, and as
Edwin M. Stanton remarked in 1865 of Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover now “belongs to
the ages.” His published works are part of the patrimony of American civilization.
They now include the “will and testament” to the American people to which he gave the
title Freedom Betrayed. Let me close with a few observations. In its
final form, Freedom Betrayed is part memoir and part diplomatic history, and it deserves
our attention for two reasons. First, Hoover’s opus is one of the best examples of a genre
of scholarship and polemic that flourished for a decade and more after World War II:
revisionist, conservative historiography on American diplomacy during that war. Indeed,
the Magnum Opus is probably the most ambitious and systematic work of World War II revisionism
ever attempted, and its author none other than a former president of the United States. On issue after issue, Hoover raised crucial
questions that continue to be debated to this day. For example: Did Neville Chamberlain
err in his guarantee to Poland in March 1939? Did Franklin Roosevelt deceitfully maneuver
the United States into an undeclared and unconstitutional naval war with Germany in 1941 before Pearl
Harbor? Did the United States government under Roosevelt, ignore or even willfully sabotage
a chance for a modus Vivendi with Japan in the autumn of 1931? Did Roosevelt unnecessarily
appease Joseph Stalin at the pivotal Tehran conference in 1943? Was Tehran the occasion
for a great betrayal of the Atlantic Charter and the ideals for which Americans fought?
Did communist agents and sympathizers in the White House, Department of State, and Department
of the Treasury play a malign role in some of America’s wartime decisions? Did a cabal
of left-wing advisers steer President Truman’s policy toward China in a direction that undermined
Chiang Kai-shek and paved the way for the fall of China to the Communists? On these and other controversies Freedom Betrayed
takes its stand. It is a document with which historians should be acquainted. Second, Freedom
Betrayed merits study because it provides a matchless window into the mind of one of
the twentieth century’s preeminent leaders. For two decades Hoover devoted phenomenal
energy to preparing this tome. He considered it to be the most important of all his writings.
From a biographical perspective one cannot fully understand Hoover’s post-presidential
career without reading the Magnum Opus. Nearly seventy years ago, during World War
II, Hoover began to scribble the first words of this work. He did so in the shadow of three
great disappointments: his inability to win the Republican presidential nomination in
1940; his failed crusade to keep the United States out of World War II; and his frustrated
bid to become the Great Humanitarian in Europe a second time. Yet he fought back, on the
printed page and elsewhere. In 1964 he was buried where he was born, here in West Branch,
Iowa, after a career extraordinarily rich in achievement and honors. Only one accomplishment eluded him in his
lifetime: publication of Freedom Betrayed. But history, someone has said, “is a conversation
without end.” Nearly fifty years after he completed work on his Magnum Opus, it seems
fitting to welcome Mr. Hoover back to the conversation. Thank you. [Applause]

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