Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nineteen Lost Opportunities for Statesmanship

Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover

Hoover summarizes “with remarkable candor and intensity”, according to the editor, the revisionist indictment of the Roosevelt-Truman foreign policy record.  Again, in a section not found in the main body of the work, Hoover here summarizes “A Review of Lost Statesmanship – 19 Times in 7 Years.”  Here, in language that does not appear in Hoover’s intended version of his work, in addition to Roosevelt and Churchill, he also lays blame squarely on Truman for his contributions to “lost statesmanship,” not sparing Truman as he does elsewhere.

Any review of American and British lost statesmanship in dealing with them [Hitler and Stalin], however, has no excuse in history [for blaming only Hitler and Stalin].  Without these gigantic errors these calamities could not have come to the Western world.

While spanning more than seven years, Hoover goes on to list and explain these 19 lost opportunities, the first beginning shortly after Roosevelt took office:

First…was [Roosevelt’s] destruction of the 1933 World Economic Conference.  This conference was arranged by British Prime Minister MacDonald and myself to take place in January, 1933.

As Roosevelt won the election, this conference was then postponed until June.

At that time the world was just beginning to recover from the world-wide depression but was engaged in bitter currency wars and multiplying trade barriers.  The preliminary work had been done by experts.  Roosevelt called ten Prime Ministers to Washington with whom he agreed to restore the gold standard in international transactions.  Suddenly during the Conference he repudiated (“the bombshell”) these undertakings and the Conference cracked and died without accomplishment.  His own Secretary of State Hull explicitly denounced this action as the roots of World War II. 

For more background on this conference, and “the bombshell,” the following is from Wikipedia:

When the Conference opened on June 12, 1933, all attention rested on the tripartite currency discussions happening outside the Conference.  The big issue was the exchange rate of the dollar against foreign currencies such as the British pound and French franc.  Many in the U.S. favored devaluation of the dollar to improve the U.S. trade position; France and Britain wanted to stabilize the dollar rate; i.e. fix it at a relatively high value.

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull led the American delegation to the Conference.  The President ordered Hull not to enter into any discussions regarding currency stabilization.  However by time the Conference gathered, President Roosevelt had changed his mind, supporting currency manipulation to raise prices, and had American banking experts Oliver Sprague and James Paul Warburg conduct currency stabilization talks with their British and French counterparts.  By June 15, Sprague, Warburg, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, and Clement Moret of the Bank of France had drafted a plan for temporary stabilization.

Word of this plan leaked out.  The reaction in the U.S. was negative: the dollar rose against foreign currencies, threatening U.S. exports, and stock and commodity markets were depressed.

Although Roosevelt was considering shifting his policy to a new median dollar-pound rate, he eventually decided not to enter into any commitment, even a tentative one.

On June 17, fearing the British and the French would seek to control their own exchange rates, Roosevelt rejected the agreement, in spite of his negotiators’ pleas that the plan was only a temporary device full of escape clauses.

On June 30, Roosevelt went further: in an interview with four reporters, he openly criticized stabilization.  Then on July 3, he issued a message to the Conference condemning its efforts at stabilization when "broader problems" existed, and asserting that the exchange rate of a nation's currency was less important than other economic values.

Roosevelt’s rejection of the agreement gathered an overwhelmingly negative response from the British, the French, and internationalists in the United States.  British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald feared “Roosevelt’s actions would destroy the Conference” and Georges Bonnet, rapporteur of the French Monetary Commission, is said to have “exploded.”

Critics see nationalism as a key factor in Roosevelt’s decision.  But John Maynard Keynes hailed FDR's decision as "magnificently right", and Irving Fisher wrote FDR that his message "makes me the happiest of men."

Some form of stability in exchange rates was sought – and the only reasonable method by which to stabilize rates is to link the subject currencies to an accepted commodity, in this case (and as usual) gold.  Setting aside the non-market forces that lie behind a government managed gold-exchange standard, such a system offers at least some form of mitigation for international imbalances.  That Keynes and Fischer rejoiced at the failure of this conference tells me that the world would have been better off had the objectives of the conference been met.

This seems like a rather significant event – it is identified by both Hoover and Hull as the event that triggered the coming World War – yet to my recollection Hoover did not mention it at all in the “approved” part of this volume.  It only appears in the appendix provided by the editor.  Certainly, as money is one side of every transaction in a modern economy, it would seem a failure at settling open international issues toward this commodity would be significant as regards the coming global catastrophe.

The second lost opportunity was Roosevelt’s recognition of Communist Russia.  Hoover saw this as granting legitimacy to this movement, and opening the door for infiltrations into the government of the United States.  Hoover claims that Roosevelt ignored the whole Communist infiltration into his Administration, and ignored the entire international purpose of Communism.  Perhaps…or perhaps he didn’t – purposely allowing the “infiltration” to exist and continue.

It would seem that Roosevelt from all this five years of education, experience, might have realized both the treachery and aggressive character of the Communists.  But he brushed it aside – and he brushed aside an even more malignant development…[t]he Communist infiltration into the American Government.

The third was Munich.  Hoover does not condemn the transfer of Sudeten Germans to the Reich, as he sees this as only correcting that which should not have been agreed to at Versailles.  Instead he sees the lost statesmanship in not allowing this opening for Hitler to move against Russia to continue to a more appropriate end.

Fourth, Hoover identifies the British and French guarantee of Poland and Rumania in March, 1939. As previously documented, this guarantee was provided with the strong, back-door encouragement of Roosevelt himself.  This buried in cement the previous hands-off approach of the allies in regards to the coming war between Hitler and Stalin.

It was probably the greatest blunder in the whole history of European power diplomacy….  By their actions they not only protected Stalin from Hitler but they enabled him to sell his influence to the highest bidder.

Stalin’s price was the annexation of neighboring Baltic States and East Poland.  Chamberlain could not agree to this immoral request.  Hitler was not so concerned with morality.  Additionally, while Hitler still had his plan of moving into Southeast Europe and also against Russia, he now had, in the meantime, to deal with enemies in the west – enemies he would rather not have dealt with in his desire for land and resources in the east.

The fifth major blunder was in the winter of 1941, when Roosevelt threw the United States into undeclared war with Germany and Japan, in violation of the promises he made in the run-up to his election just a few weeks before.

Sixth was Lend-Lease.  By the time this was approved, Roosevelt already knew that Hitler was going to turn his attention to Russia and therefore (according to Hoover) should have limited his actions solely in basic aid to Britain, instead of the much more direct and indirect confrontations of Germany.

Hoover describes the seventh as “the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history…”, that being the “tacit American alliance and support of Communist Russia when Hitler made his attack in June, 1941.” 

No greater opportunity for lasting peace ever came to a President and he muffed it.

Of course, it is not plausible that Roosevelt simply “muffed” this.  Such horrendous mistakes aren’t made.  Whatever one thinks of career bureaucrats, they are not stupid or unintelligent.  This was not a “muff” but a deliberate choice with a known outcome – but for a seemingly unexplainable reason.

It is coincident with this German attack on Russia that Roosevelt significantly increased the pressure on Japan, as if coming to the aid of Russia was of utmost significance to the President.  Instead of seeing this as a way to allow two tyrants to destroy each other, Roosevelt saw the need to come to the aid of an “ally,” Russia.

The eighth gigantic error in Roosevelt’s statesmanship was the total economic sanctions on Japan one month later, at the end of July, 1941.  The sanctions were war in every essence except shooting.  Roosevelt had been warned time and again by his own officials that such provocation would sooner or later bring reprisals of war.

Was this really one more “gigantic error”?  Or did Roosevelt want war and therefore he took actions knowing the likely (if not virtually certain) consequences.

The ninth was Roosevelt’s “contemptuous refusal of Prime Minister Konoye’s proposals for peace” in September 1941.  The acceptance of these proposals was encouraged by both the American and British Ambassadors in Japan.  The proposed terms would have achieved every American objective with the possible exception of the return of Manchuria to China – an item still to be left open to discussion. 

William C. Bullitt was appointed American Ambassador to Moscow in December, 1933.  In July, 1935, he reported to Roosevelt certain of his conclusions regarding the objectives of the Communists, including:

It is of course the heartiest hope of the Soviet Government that the United States will become involved in a war with Japan….”

Such a war would pit the U.S. against Russia’s main rival for dominance of the Far East.  Just as he did in Europe, it seems Roosevelt worked to make the Asian world safe for Stalin.  As one example of the benefits to the Russians of this entry into war by the U.S., it should be recalled that at the end of the war Manchuria was given to the Russians, even at a time when Russian aid was knowingly not needed to end the war in the Pacific.  The same outcome as could have been achieved in 1941 before Pearl Harbor (assuming Japan insisted on keeping Manchuria as part of the peace negotiations), without several million dead and millions more wounded in the meantime.

The tenth was the refusal to accept the proposal by the Emperor of Japan for a three month stand-still agreement in November 1941.  U.S. military leaders strongly urged Roosevelt to accept this; “Then Hull issued his foolish ultimatum, and we were defeated at Pearl Harbor.”

It was only foolish if one considered peace to be the objective.  Roosevelt wanted war despite clear indications that he could achieve most if not all of his stated objectives via negotiations.  Hull was not foolish, and he certainly did not issue the ultimatum on his own authority.

The eleventh was Roosevelt’s demand for “Unconditional Surrender” at Casablanca in January 1943.  It will be recalled that Roosevelt claimed he just said this off-the-cuff.  For an off-the-cuff remark, it had horrendous consequences both for the Germans, and eventually the Japanese.  For an off-the-cuff remark, it sure held sway on Truman.

The twelfth error of lost statesmanship was the sacrifice of free nations at the foreign Ministers meeting at Moscow, in October, 1943.

The thirteenth and possibly one of the greatest of all confused wanderings in Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s statesmanship was at Teheran in December, 1943.  Here was the confirmation of the acquiescence at the Moscow conference of the annexations; here was the acceptance of Stalin’s doctrine of a periphery “of friendly border states” – the puppet Communist governments over seven nations.

The fourteenth fatal loss of statesmanship was by Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta in February, 1945.  Not only were all Stalin’s encroachments on the independence of a dozen nations ratified….

Of course, the fate of these nations was sealed once the West teamed with Stalin.  Certainly their fate may not have been better under Hitler, but the outcome would have come without the blessing of the United States, and in any case had the two tyrants been allowed to so weaken each other, they likely would not have ended the war in position to lord over these smaller regions in Central Europe and in the Baltic.  It is not plausible that these were all errors or “confused wanderings.”  Such agreements don’t happen by mistake. 

Roosevelt directly calls out Truman beginning with the fifteenth lost opportunity, that being in May – June, 1945, with Truman’s refusal to “take notice of the Japanese white flags.”  As mentioned earlier, Truman was certainly not bound by Roosevelt’s call for “Unconditional Surrender,” and it has been shown elsewhere that even Truman had opportunities to redefine this in such a way that the Emperor could retain his position – a desire even of the U.S. military, as they viewed this as a necessary condition for Japanese soldiers to voluntarily stand down.

The sixteenth was at Potsdam:

The wickedness of slavery of war prisoners, the expelling of whole peoples from their homes was ratified and amplified from Yalta.

Beyond all this, against advice from leading men, the ultimatum was issued to Japan of unconditional surrender without the saving clause allowing them to retain the Mikado recommended by a score of experienced American voices.  The Japanese, in reply, asked only for this concession, which was met with the atomic bomb – and then conceded in the end.

Hoover describes this as a conference where “[p]ower had now passed to inexperienced men in the democratic countries and the Communists had their way at every consequential point.”  This is a faulty conclusion on Hoover’s part.  He has spent much of this book providing solid examples of the failures of the previous, apparently “experienced” statesman from the West – the first fourteen items on his list provide such examples.  He takes Roosevelt and Churchill to task on their countless occasions of allowing the Communists to have “their way at every consequential point.”  These first fourteen points were no less egregious than those attributable to Truman, yet somehow the failure is blamed on “inexperience.”  It is not so; it was not a failure.  It was a decision based on knowledge of a desired and likely outcome.

The seventeenth wandering of American statesmanship was Truman’s immoral order to drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese.  Not only had Japan been repeatedly suing for peace but it was the act of unparalleled brutality in all American history.  It will forever weigh heavily on the American conscience. 

Hoover finally makes an unequivocal statement about “Truman’s immoral order.”  Again it should be noted that this is to be found in the appendix of the book, placed in this volume by the editor.  Hoover does not use such strong language regarding Truman in his intended volumes, those being cleaned up by his own direction to his assistant.  In this statement, Hoover is only wrong on the prediction that this decision will “forever weigh heavily on the American conscience.”  Immediately after the war, many worked overtime to develop the myth of the atomic bombs, despite numerous reports by leaders – both civilian and military – that said this action was not necessary to end the war.

The eighteenth failure was in respect to China, where first Roosevelt, then Truman encouraged Chiang Kai-shek to incorporate communists into his government.  Of course, the fate of China was in any case lost once America made alliance with the Russians.

The nineteenth failure Hoover identifies is the sowing of a third world war “sown in every corner of the world.”  The “cold war” as he calls it, first manifesting in Korea.

It is not appropriate to call nineteen such significant failures simply mistakes, or blunders, as Hoover continually does.  Each of these decisions and actions had significant impact and consequence on the world stage, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions if not billions of people.  Two or three missteps in a time of crisis might be understandable.  Hoover lists a string of nineteen major failures – and nowhere in this book does he identify any such list of policies pursued or actions taken that would purposely and deliberately lead to peace, or a sooner end to the war.  There is no corresponding list of diplomatic “successes.”

Such continual blunders do not happen by mistake at the highest levels of diplomacy and statesmanship by men of the highest capability in this art.  It is far more believable to accept the explanation that the actions taken were by design, with knowledge of the likely outcomes, and with alternatives developed in case of failure.  In addressing the actions leading up to Pearl Harbor, George Victor, a Roosevelt admirer, offers a similar sentiment:

Events are poorly explained by making assumptions that crucial acts by competent, conscientious leaders were capricious, careless, or negligent. And U.S. leaders who figured in the Pearl Harbor disaster were highly competent and conscientious.

After Roosevelt stationed the fleet at Pearl Harbor, Commander McCollum wrote a memo for him, recommending its use as a lure. Roosevelt implemented the recommendation. Admiral Richardson concluded the administration use of the fleet endangered it gravely, and he argued the point over and over with his superiors. When he took measures to protect his fleet, Roosevelt relieved him. Stark then kept Kimmel uninformed of Japan’s plans to attack it at Pearl Harbor. And Marshall kept Short uninformed.

To most Americans, manipulating one’s nation into war is something done by foreign tyrants – not our own leaders. Since 1942 U.S. history has been distorted by the idea that presidents simply do not do what Roosevelt’s enemies said he did.

What Hoover sees as the nineteenth failure I regard as the ultimate success – success for those who put this entire plan in motion.  The first eighteen “failures,” as Hoover calls them, can all be viewed as successes if a perpetual cold war was the objective.  It is a fine objective if aggrandizement of the state is desired; if centralization is the goal; if actions toward one-world government are in the sights of the leaders.  All of these were outcomes after this war.  It is foolish to dismiss that these might also have been the objective of the war.  Nineteen “mistakes” and “blunders” leading to these results don’t just “happen.”

However, I think the story goes even deeper.  It is interesting that the totalitarian model of the state took hold in many parts of the world at approximately the same time – during the 1920s and 1930s.  Russian Communism, along with German and Italian Fascism, all arose out of the ashes of the Great War.  Further, from an economic standpoint, it must be recognized that the programs Roosevelt put in place during the 1930s were different only in degrees from the state actions taken in Europe.

Was there a plan to turn much of the industrialized world into a centrally planned, command and control economy, or were these conversions merely coincidence?  Such significant and simultaneous changes do not happen by accident, I believe.  Many of the world’s economies abandoned silver as money during the late 1800s, and moved toward central banking by the early 1900s, this reducing and eventually eliminating the role of gold as money.  Money was taken from the hands of the market and placed into the hands of the planners.

Roosevelt was elected to implement this totalitarian economic plan in the United States.  In fact, the first of the nineteen failures was when Roosevelt toppled the agreement already in place to return to an international gold standard, one that would have helped to mitigate the various global financial imbalances.  Hoover claims Roosevelt’s economic failures as the first reason why Roosevelt wanted war – in order to change the subject, if you will.

I think Hoover is correct, but not for the reasons he claims.  Roosevelt’s economic plan did fail – not the plan to revive the American economy, but the plan to model and mold it into a successful totalitarian system.  While we look back at Roosevelt’s policies as revolutionary in the American context (which they certainly were), they did not achieve the level of sustainable control that was seen in other parts of the world.  Roosevelt regularly met with failures: in the length of the depression, in occasional push-back from the legislature and the courts, and mostly from an American spirit that was much closer to the idea of economic freedom than from those who populated the “successfully” centralized states of Europe.

Despite the relative progress he made, Roosevelt failed in his economic task of effective centralization.  Therefore he was tasked to get the country into a war that would build up one of the other centralizing powers, and naturally further centralize the United States.  The spread of totalitarian control by the oligarchs is not confined to borders or ideologies.  For various reasons, the proper choice was Stalin and the Russians as opposed to Hitler and the Germans.  For instance, Communism was exportable, while National Socialism was…national.  The objective was to build up a perpetual enemy, one that would allow for further government control and further world-wide centralization.  War is the health of the state, and perpetual global war allows for the healthiest state.

Every one of the nineteen “failures” identified by Hoover can be viewed as successes if the objective of spreading totalitarianism and centralization is kept in view.  Re-read the list with this in mind.  While not an iron-clad certainty, the pattern fits the conclusion.

Had Roosevelt stayed out of the conflict, the two great European totalitarian powers would have so weakened themselves, that the door would have reopened for the possibility of a liberalized west.  America would have remained the beacon that Hoover regularly suggested it would and should be by staying out of the European conflict.  For all of its faults, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the predecessors to modern Germany offered some of the most liberal possibilities for people in the West (for example, the ample benefits afforded due to a common language across multiple political jurisdictions).  Instead of staying out of the conflict and allowing the two European powers to destroy each other and leaving the United States as a free beacon for the world, Roosevelt chose to take sides.

Therefore, one can see step by step – beginning with Roosevelt’s about face on the London conference in 1933 that would have brought gold back into the global economic landscape – that these blunders were not blunders at all, but deliberate steps taken by men desirous of ushering in a great leap forward in totalitarianism.  If this totalitarianism could not be achieved in America through the front door, the back door via global war and ultimately perpetual war was not too high a price to pay for those oligarchs in positions of control.


  1. At least FDR had to scheme and deceive to gain his war. Now we’re in wars devoid of national interest with no deceit whatsoever. The Cold War enabled continued shooting Police Actions (with protests). With the end of the Cold War we destruction and discontent just to keep the pot boiling. This would be difficult to support in the face of a fair, blank sheet of paper review.

  2. The seeming and deceiving has not stopped... A number of historians were on to FDR, J.T. Flynn, to name one but, none ever received any traction... and those opposing him, Lindbergh being one, paid a heavy price....