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Hoover faults Roosevelt for goading the Japanese into an avoidable war. He faults Roosevelt for a lack of preparedness that led more than 2,300 American deaths at Pearl Harbor but just 68 Japanese. He faults Roosevelt for not allowing the two great dictators in Germany and Russia to destroy one another. He quotes Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Curtis LeMay to convey that the dropping of atomic bombs on a Japan that had already sued for peace was unnecessary. He castigates his successor for marketing the war as a fight for democracy only to abandon Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, and points beyond to the Communists in the war’s aftermath “The din of propaganda had led the American people to believe in the [Atlantic] Charter as the emancipation proclamation of mankind,” Hoover notes. “The shock to our people of the long-delayed discovery of their betrayal by the Communists (and others) did much to contribute to the makings of the cold war.”
It is on this last point that the president-author writes most passionately. His is a counter history to even the prevailing counter histories in that it finds the sellout of Eastern Europe at the wartime summit at Tehran rather than at Yalta. “These ‘two great commitments’ were the instrument by which fifteen peoples fell under the control of the Communists,” Hoover writes of Churchill and Roosevelt’s acquiescence at Tehran in Stalin’s annexation of seven peoples who had lived under the Russian Empire and dominion over a handful of puppet buffer states. “The complete confirmation that these commitments were made at Tehran is evidenced by Stalin’s immediate action. He began to move even before the German retreat from eastern Europe. There is no recorded protest from Messrs. Roosevelt or Churchill.” Indeed, Hoover cites government documents and firsthand accounts demonstrating the complicity of both wartime leaders in appeasing Stalin in a manner far more groveling than Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. Neither appeasement guaranteed in peace in our time.
The presidency makes hell of one’s principles. Hoover entered the White House a progressive’s progressive and departed it denounced as a laissez faire capitalist. Given the more than doubling of top marginal tax rates, a proto-New Deal that introduced alphabet soup agencies to America, and the beginnings of massive federal public works projects, the “laissez faire” tag is unfair—when talking about Herbert Hoover the president. But Herbert Hoover the citizen transformed into something akin to what his critics had assailed him as: a conservative. Cognizant that he had become a caricature, Hoover wrote Freedom Betrayed in an awkward style that suggests he understood that by him saying what clearly wished to say the reader would immediately consider the source. So, he quotes, and quotes, and quotes. This insecurity makes the book more like a trip to an archive. Hoover here is less the author than a guide through the words of others.
The reader learns, but about the subject or its author? Freedom Betrayed offers insight into Herbert Hoover as well as Franklin Roosevelt.
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