George H. Nash on "Freedom Betrayed" by Herbert Hoover

Uploaded by HooverPresLib on 01.02.2012

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
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.
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
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
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.”
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 –
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
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
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.