(Note to readers: The following article is the introduction to my new book, The Assassination of James Forrestal, with hyperlinks added.)
Fear Factor The truth may be there to see. But it won’t, like magic, appear. You must seek it diligently, And not be restrained by fear.
James Vincent Forrestal was born on February 15, 1892, in the town of Matteawan, New York, on the Hudson River in Dutchess County between West Point and Poughkeepsie. In 1913, the town merged with adjacent Fishkill Landing and adopted the name, “Beacon,” after Beacon Mountain, the most notable landmark in the small urban area. His father, also named James, had emigrated from County Cork in Ireland to the town in 1857 at the age of nine, where he joined his mother, who had emigrated after her husband had died, and she had remarried. The new husband was named Patrick Kennedy, but the stepson kept his birth name of Forrestal.
Forrestal was the youngest of three children, all sons. Until he left college and went off to work on Wall Street, he went by the name of Vince, to distinguish him from his father. His father had apprenticed in carpentry and was accomplished and enterprising enough to form his small construction company. His mother, born Mary Anne Toohey, was the daughter of Irish immigrants, was a schoolteacher, a devout Roman Catholic, and a strict disciplinarian at home. She may be given a good deal of the credit for young James’s notable self-discipline and his strong work ethic.
Young James was an excellent student and an enthusiastic participant in athletics, playing baseball, basketball, and tennis in high school, probably gaining the greatest proficiency in tennis. Boxing was also very popular in the area at the time, but his mother forbade him to participate. Only later did he violate the prohibition while at college, sustaining the somewhat flattened nose that he wore proudly for the rest of his life.
His mother fancied him to be ideal material for the priesthood, but his breadth of interests attracted him to a different sort of education than the seminary. While in high school he set his sights on Princeton University, but it took him a few years to reach that goal.
After graduating at age 16, in 1908, he spent three years working for three area newspapers, the Matteawan Evening Journal, the Mount Vernon Argus, and the Poughkeepsie News Press. Journalism was in his blood, and he had expressed a desire to return to it upon leaving government, but it was never to be.
He entered Dartmouth College in 1911 and then transferred to Princeton after his freshman year. He was a better than average student, but he distinguished himself more in his various extracurricular activities, particularly student journalism. Working first as a reporter for The Daily Princetonian, he ascended to its editorship at the end of his junior year. Like the reporting work he continued to do during summer vacations for the Matteawan Evening Journal, the editor’s job also helped his always-precarious financial situation because it was a paying job.
In his senior year, his classmates voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.” With all he had going for him, it’s a bit of a mystery that he never graduated, leaving Princeton one credit short of the required number. There is speculation that it might have involved confusion over the credits that were transferred from Dartmouth.
Upon leaving Princeton, he took a couple of odd jobs in the New York City area before landing in a position more suitable to his background and taste, as financial reporter for the New York World newspaper. It wasn’t long, though, before that job opened his eyes to the much greater career possibilities that he would have actually doing the sort of Wall Street work that he was reporting on. Recalling a contact he had made at Princeton, he interviewed with William A. Read and Company in 1916 and was promptly offered a job as bond salesman, which he accepted.
Given the heavy responsibility of sales for upper New York State, he pitched in with the sort of total commitment that would mark his entire career, both in the private sector and in public service. He was known to stay on the job frequently until at least nine o’clock at night. He also traded heavily on the many contacts he had made during his Princeton years. His diligence, his enthusiasm, and his contacts paid off when he was made a partner in the firm in 1923, vice-president in 1926, and president of the company in 1937.
The same year that Forrestal was made a partner, 1923, the firm’s name changed to Dillon, Read and Company after the new controlling owner, Clarence Dillon. Dillon had been born Clarence Lapowski in San Antonio, Texas, the son of a prosperous Jewish clothing merchant. His father, Samuel Lapowski, had sent him to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts and then to Harvard, changing the family name to Dillon after his wife’s family name when Clarence was in college. Exhibiting exceptional financial skill after joining William A. Read, Dillon had become a partner in 1916, the same year in which William A. Read died of a sudden illness.
Dillon had recognized Forrestal’s talent and later took him under his wing as something of a protégé, but the younger man’s rapid ascent in the investment banking firm was interrupted in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson took the country into the great war in Europe.
At this point Forrestal made another career move of the sort that would typify his life. Out of a sense of patriotic duty he signed up for military service. Discovering that with his first choice, the Marines, his road to becoming an officer might not be as short as he would like it to be, he joined the Navy and trained to be an aviator. Successfully completing training with the Royal Flying Corps of Canada, he achieved the rank of lieutenant, but was never sent overseas. He spent most of his tour of duty at the office of Naval Operations in Washington, DC.
Just as World War I had done, World War II would pull Forrestal away from his highly successful and lucrative investment banking career. In mid-1940, the war in Europe was already a full-scale conflagration, and U.S. participation in it was beginning to take on the appearance of inevitability. Forrestal, a Democrat by family background, had already worked behind the scenes with Securities and Exchange Commissioner William O. Douglas in implementing Franklin Roosevelt’s Wall Street reforms. Roosevelt had subsequently made Douglas a Supreme Court Justice. With war on the horizon, FDR saw the need for recruitment of some to the best talent from the private sector to help in the mobilization effort. One of the people Douglas recommended was his friend Forrestal.
The position to which he was initially appointed was in the White House as administrative assistant to the president. He was a part of a group of close advisers that varied in number through the years from four to six. The most famous person to hold the position is probably the influence-peddling lawyer Thomas “Tommy the Cork” Corcoran and, as things stand now, the most infamous is the Soviet agent Lauchlin Currie. Should the revelations in this book ever gain wide currency, a man who joined the team in 1942 and stayed on through the early years of the Truman administration, David Niles, might well supplant Currie at the top of the infamy totem pole.
Forrestal spent slightly less than two months in that job in the summer of 1940. Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy chose him for the new position of Under Secretary after New York lawyer and World War I war hero, William J. Donovan, later the head of the Office of Strategic Service (OSS) and Knox’s Chicago banker friend Ralph Bard turned him down. Forrestal began his seven years with the Department of the Navy on August 22. In the capacity of Under Secretary he was the person most responsible for the Navy’s mobilization for the war on the horizon.
Forrestal would remain in that vital position until May of 1944, when victory in World War II was in sight. America’s naval success in the war owed largely to sheer numbers of ships and planes, as well as their rapidly improving effectiveness. To the extent that any one man could claim credit for that part of the battle, it was James Forrestal.
When Secretary Knox died unexpectedly on April 28, 1944, Forrestal was the consensus choice in Washington to succeed him. Nominated as expected by President Roosevelt, he was unanimously approved by the Senate, becoming Secretary on May 19. The press was just as approving as was official Washington. In the run-up to the nomination, Business Week had put him on its May 6 cover.
Secretary of the Navy was a much more important position at that time than it has been since the consolidation of the armed services under the Department of Defense, created by the National Security Act of 1947. Forrestal took the reins firmly and remained widely popular. Continuing in office when Vice-President Harry S. Truman succeeded Roosevelt on May 19, 1945, upon the latter’s death, his popularity was reflected by his appearance on the cover of Time magazine on October 29, 1945.
The public remained unaware of the foreign policy breach that was slowly opening up between Forrestal and much of the rest of the team, even before Truman had inherited them from Roosevelt. As the end of the Pacific War neared, the firmly anti-Communist Forrestal was most concerned with preventing the Soviet Union from grabbing any of the spoils of victory over the Japanese, with whom they had had a non-aggression agreement throughout the war. Through information he received through Naval Intelligence, he knew better than anyone how desperate the Japanese military situation was and worked behind the scenes to achieve a negotiated surrender, but he was not backed up by the Roosevelt administration.
Forrestal was not part of the official delegation to the Potsdam Conference that met in that suburb of Berlin with the war allies shortly after the German surrender to formulate terms for the end of the Pacific War. However, he flew privately to Germany hoping to have some input, taking with him future president John F. Kennedy, the young Navy veteran son of his friend, former Ambassador to the Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, but arrived after the conference had completed its work.
The Potsdam Declaration emanating from that conference, signed by the United States, Great Britain, and China, as Forrestal feared, remained silent about the future of the Emperor of Japan and did not waver from the call for Japanese “unconditional surrender.” Though the surrender terms actually reflected, to a degree, Forrestal’s moderate approach, the Japanese rejected it, and only 11 days later, on August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Even after another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later and devastating conventional bombing was continued on other Japanese cities, the Japanese still appeared to be holding out. However, on August 10 they sent out a radio message in which they said they would agree to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, “with the understanding that said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler.”
Since that hardly constituted the unconditional surrender that the American public had been led to expect, Truman, urged on by his Secretary of State, James Byrnes, was leaning toward rejecting it. At that point, Forrestal suggested to the President that we accept the Japanese offer upon the condition that the Emperor would be subject to orders of the American military governor, while still calling it, for public consumption, “unconditional surrender.” That formulation was accepted by Truman and subsequently by the Japanese and the war came to an end. Forrestal’s intervention at that moment saved a countless number of lives and who knows how much further gain by the Soviet Union in the region. Joseph Stalin had finally declared war on Japan immediately after the dropping of the second A-bomb.
In the immediate post-war period Forrestal became most closely identified with the transformation of U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union from general accommodation to what has been characterized as “containment.” He circulated the now famous 1946 “long telegram” of Soviet specialist, George F. Kennan, stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to key members of the government and was responsible for its publication in Foreign Affairs in 1947. That document described the implacable, almost messianic attitude of Soviet Communism toward capitalism and the West. The containment policy manifested itself in active U.S. support for the anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey and became known as the Truman Doctrine after President Truman laid it out in a speech to Congress in July of 1947. Forrestal’s identification with the Truman Doctrine has made him a target of leftist history writers to the present day.
As Secretary of the Navy, Forrestal also got caught up in the bitter internal skirmishing that went on over the military consolidation bill that eventually became the National Security Act of 1947. That legislation created the Department of Defense with the various military branches under it, separated fixed-wing aircraft from the Army under the newly created Air Force, and also created the Central Intelligence Agency. Forrestal, representing the sentiments of the officers that he supervised, had been a strong advocate for the continued independence of the Navy. In spite of his opposition to the legislation that created the post, when the holder of the eliminated position of Secretary of War, Robert Patterson, declined Truman’s offer of the job, Truman nominated Forrestal for the job, and he became America’s first Secretary of Defense on September 17, 1947.
The year and a half of Forrestal’s tenure in the newly created position was a period of considerable turbulence. Forrestal continued to resist what he considered to be dangerously rapid demobilization of the armed forces, and the consolidation of those forces hardly ran smoothly. A particular thorn in his side was the newly named Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, of Missouri. Symington aggressively sought the aggrandizement of the new branch in an abrasive and arrogant manner that seriously undermined Forrestal’s authority. His Missouri connections in Truman’s White House, however, made it virtually impossible for Forrestal to replace him.
The largest source of disquiet for Forrestal in his new position, however, was the controversy over Palestine. Great Britain had been in control of the territory, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, under a mandate of the League of Nations, established in 1923. By 1947, Zionist terrorism against the British authorities caused them finally to throw up their hands and to dump the matter into the hands of the United Nations.
Forrestal, with his responsibility for supplying our armed forces during World War II, was keenly aware of the nation’s growing dependence on oil from the Middle East, and that Zionist aspirations were putting the nation on a collision course with the nations that supplied the oil. He feared, furthermore, that the relatively tiny nation of Israel, which the Zionists intended to create, could not be sustained without the assistance of U.S. military force, endangering our access to oil and pushing the Muslim countries in the region into the lap of our primary geopolitical adversary, the Soviet Union.
Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the former Army general who had been Chief of Staff throughout World War II, shared Forrestal’s view as did most of the foreign policy establishment within the government. Forrestal, however, was blunter and more outspoken on the question, and with his private-sector background, was more easily painted as simply a tool of the big oil companies who were worried about the threat to their profits.
Over Forrestal’s objections, the Truman government not only supported the United Nations vote on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine but actively worked to pressure enough countries into supporting the measure for it to succeed. Britain announced that its Mandate would terminate on May 15, 1948. The Zionists proclaimed the creation of the new state of Israel in the part of Palestine that the UN had allotted to the Jews, and the United States immediately granted it recognition as a state.
In the meantime, Forrestal saw his treatment by the American media take a complete turn. From being one of the heroes in the victory over the Axis Powers, he was turned into a money-grubbing villain. The two leading voices in his vilification were the left-leaning “muckraker,” Drew Pearson, and the putative conservative, but FDR-admiring, primarily gossip columnist, Jewish arch-Zionist, Walter Winchell. Their objective seemed to go beyond getting him out of the government. Rather, it seemed that their purpose was to destroy his reputation for all time.
When Truman was surprisingly re-elected in November 1948, the die was cast for Forrestal to leave the government. He got along very poorly with Truman’s Missouri cronies and he had even met privately with the Republican nominee, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, expecting like almost everyone else did that Dewey would be the new president.
Forrestal thought he had a private agreement from Truman that he would leave the government on May 1, 1949, but on March 4 Truman made the abrupt announcement that Forrestal was going to be replaced by West Virginia lawyer Louis Johnson, the man who had been Truman’s main fund-raiser during the campaign and also a person for whom Forrestal had very little respect. Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony took place on March 28, and things went quickly downhill for Forrestal from that point.
The unexpected acceleration of the timetable for Forrestal to step down has been attributed to Truman’s realization that he was in the throes of some sort of emotional breakdown and therefore had to be replaced quickly. That argument, as we shall see, falls under the overall category of what we might call Forrestal-destruction propaganda. By the best evidence available, up until the day Johnson’s swearing in, Forrestal seemed to be perfectly normal. He also seemed to be quite normal only minutes before he went out the 16th floor window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, some seven weeks later.
The latest manifestation of Forrestal-destruction propaganda has the psychological strain on him resulting not from the vicious press vilification campaign that he suffered on account of his stand on Palestine but because of the stress of the internal battle over unification of the military services. That line of argument, as far as we can tell, made its debut, Soviet style, in an article in The Washington Post on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Forrestal’s death, which we discuss in Chapter 5. By 2008 that revisionist explanation for Forrestal’s supposed psychological decline had been incorporated into the first mainstream history book to use evidence surrounding Forrestal’s death uncovered by this writer, which we discuss in Chapter 12.
Again, the best evidence indicates that the late anti-Zionist writer, Alfred M. Lilienthal, was dead accurate in including Forrestal among an illustrious group of victims of Zionism:
The roster of renegade libertarians, liberals and conservatives alike, who over the past thirty years have tried to buck the tide of Jewish-Zionist nationalism and then found themselves victims of a smear campaign, reads like an international Who’s Who. Included in this illustrious list drawn from top educational, clerical, literary, political and journalistic circles are: Yale’s Millar Burrows, Harvard’s William Ernest Hocking, Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, Dr. William Sloane Coffin, Henry Van Dusen, Dean Francis Sayre, Rabbi Elmer Berger, Dr. A. C. Forrest, Dr. John Nicholls Booth, Father Daniel Berrigan, Morris Ernst, Arthur Garfield Hays, Vincent Sheean, Dr. Arnold Toynbee, Norman Thomas, Howard K. Smith, J. William Fulbright,James Abourezk, Ralph Flanders, General George Brown, James Forrestal, Henry A. Byroade, Moshe Menuhin, Dr. Israel Shahak, Dorothy Thompson, Willie Snow Ethridge, Margaret McKay, Hannah Arendt, Sir George Brown, Folke Bernadotte, Dag Hammarskjold, Bruno Kreisky, Georges Pompidou, and Charles de Gaulle. (The Zionist Connection II: What Price Peace, page 422).
Looking carefully at the list we see a name near the end whose fate bears the closest resemblance to that of James Forrestal, that is the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. mediator of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bernadotte was assassinated by Zionist terrorists in Jerusalem on September 17, 1948. The death of another prominent Swede on the list, U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold from an airplane crash in Africa on September 18, 1961, remains shrouded in mystery and controversy.