Herbert Hoover's "Secret History of World War II" - and Some Reflections It Prompts

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Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath Herbert Hoover, edited by George H. Nash Hoover Institution Press, 2011

Herbert Hoover's "Secret History of World War II" - and Some Reflections it Prompts Dwight D. Murphey Wichita State University, retired

Long held in storage by the Hoover family but just recently released, former U.S. President Herbert Hoover's "secret history" of World War II, written between 1944 and 1963 and now edited by Hoover historian George H. Nash, sheds light on "nineteen gigantic errors" of strategy and geopolitics that Hoover saw as having been committed by the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman starting with the diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933. The result is a "revisionist history" that runs counter to the image of "the good war" that was created by the Allied perspective during the war and that has remained the conventional perception. Hoover's account and the reflections to which it gives rise have particular relevance today because they bear directly on the perception entertained by Americans, so important to both neoconservatism and neoliberalism, that the many foreign interventions by the United States are benign because they are wellintentioned. This article will review highlights of the history as Hoover relates it and will ponder some of the implications that so greatly contradict today's conventional wisdom about the war and its aftermath.

Key Words: Herbert Hoover; World War II; Strategic errors; insouciance toward Communism; "The good war;" U.S. foreign interventions; Double standards toward totalitarian systems; Hoover's "mutual exhaustion" premise; Churchill's Balkans strategy; Undeclared wars; Total war; Bombing civilians; Morality of atom bombs; World War II conferences; Post-World War II treatment of millions; Manchuria; Soviet entry against Japan; Marshall mission to China; Loss of China to Mao; Korean War precursors; Katyn Forest massacre; Nuremberg trial.

Herbert Hoover was president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. Despite the eclipse that his reputation suffered because of the Great Depression, he deserves to be remembered as one of the monumental figures of the first half of the twentieth century. He was already world-renowned, before he became president, for leading the food-relief efforts during and after World War I that saved so many millions of lives, including (as just a small part) an estimated 20 million in Russia in the famine of 1921. For several years after his presidency, his opponents invoked his name as a symbol of failure, but long before his death in 1964, Hoover emerged as a highly respected elder statesman. His philosophy was that of a classical liberal: in domestic matters, he favored "a properly regulated individualism"; in foreign affairs, he favored an active involvement of the United States in the world, but, in keeping with the United States' traditional posture prior to 1898, held that "it is not the right of any American to advise foreign peoples as to their policies."

Freedom Betrayed is, as the subtitle says, a "secret history of the Second World War and its aftermath." When the book first arrived to this reviewer, its imposing bulk (caused largely, it turns out, by the high quality of the paper) gave him the impression that "it is a tome that will mainly interest archivists and serious historians, but will be tedious reading for the general public." He soon found, however, that those who are intimidated by the size will miss out on an awfully good read. The book is tremendously informative and provocative, but at the same time moderate in tone and engagingly readable.

The history is "secret" only because Hoover did not offer it for publication during his lifetime (he finished it in 1963 and died the next year) and because his family held it in storage until they recently made it available to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace for editing by George H. …