How J. Edgar Hoover Saved the Nation
Hollywood efforts to revise the history of the Cold War in favor of radical left-wing interests seem to be unceasing, and in recent years have gotten worse than ever.
The latest installment in this genre is the Clint Eastwood-directed film, J. Edgar, a supposed biopic about J. Edgar Hoover, long-time head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and bête noir of American Liberals. As portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio (and scripted by Dustin Lance Black, who also gave us Milk), Hoover was a neurotic, driven egomaniac, interested in effective law enforcement but publicity mad and power hungry, obsessed with a mostly illusory communist menace, and a closet sexual deviate in the bargain.
All these are standard elements in the left-wing smear of Hoover that has been out there for decades, and the Eastwood treatment basically repeats them, adding less than nothing to our knowledge of the subject. An inordinate amount of screen time is devoted to showing that Hoover and his FBI associate Clyde Tolson were homosexuals (Hoover repressed, Tolson overt) – in essence, Brokeback Mountain at the Bureau. But all of this is insinuation and surmise, as private scenes between the two are by their nature sheer invention.
Worse than this, if possible, are aspects of the film meant to show the public, official Hoover as a would-be tyrant and political bully, abusing the power of the FBI to get the things wanted. Given the amount of documentation that has been released from Bureau archives, it’s remarkable that, when the film deals with matters checkable from the record, it routinely gets the relevant items not only wrong but backwards.
Hoover is depicted, for instance, as having conducted surveillance of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in the early New Deal era, discovering her in a compromising situation, an alleged example of his snooping on higher-ups to strengthen his position. So far as the FBI was concerned, this reference is completely bogus. The surveillance in question was conducted (in 1943, not ’33), by Army counterintelligence, which was monitoring youthful leftist Joseph Lash, a draftee much favored by Mrs. Roosevelt but not so by the Army. As the record clearly shows, the FBI had no responsibility for the surveillance, but was simply informed about it by the Army.
The movie later shows the FBI Director browbeating Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy into persecuting Martin Luther King, with a well-meaning Kennedy reluctantly agreeing. Putting aside the image of the famously ruthless Kennedy as intimidated civil libertarian, the truth of this episode is different also. In fact, both Robert Kennedy and his presidential brother were concerned about two identified Communists in King’s entourage, and worried that this would damage the civil rights movement, hence their own political prospects. The brothers accordingly conferenced with King, who promised to break off the connections but didn’t. The FBI wiretaps that revealed this were explicitly authorized by Robert Kennedy. Given his political history in general, that he did so with any great reluctance may be doubted.
In like fashion, the movie closes with scenes in which President Richard Nixon—depicted as an enemy of Hoover though they were in numerous matters allies— orders on the occasion of Hoover’s death that the Director’s official and confidential files be seized, as they allegedly contained damaging information on high officials, Nixon presumably included. However, when White House operatives get to the FBI, the file cabinets are empty—DiCaprio-Hoover having earlier ordered that their contents be destroyed. This too is total fiction, an episode that demonstrably didn’t happen.
In fact, Hoover’s official and confidential files survived long after the Director’s passing, and unless they have recently been disposed of (always a possibility in the current era of disappearing records) they should be available to researchers today under the Freedom of Information Act. I have hundreds of pages of these files in my possession, and have consulted them often in writing about America’s domestic Cold War. The accompanying FBI chart, like the information on Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe Lash, is derived from these supposedly nonexistent records.
In short, all these Eastwood-Black vignettes and others like them are falsehoods, systematically doctoring the record to discredit Hoover. And the reason for this is not far to seek, leading us to the single greatest falsehood in the movie. For the main point of smearing and misrepresenting Hoover is of course not merely to attack him as an individual, but to discredit the anti-Communist cause that he embodied. It is in this respect that the film is most mendacious and misleading.
To judge by the contents of the movie, the danger of Communism in the United States, whatever its extent may have been, was apparently over and done with circa 1919, the era of the A. Mitchell Palmer “Red scare” (under Democratic President Woodrow Wilson), in which Hoover was a junior player. Thereafter, in the unfolding of the film, the domestic Communist problem seems to vanish, scarcely being referred to in treatment of the next five decades. At one point, Hoover himself is heard to comment that the Communist issue had subsided by the 1930s.
All of this, however, is absurdly false, disguising the true story of what happened in the long-running struggle for the world that we call the Cold War. For it was precisely in the 1930s that massive Communist penetration of the U.S. government occurred, to be increased in exponential fashion in the pro-Soviet daze of World War II. At this period, literally hundreds of Soviet agents, Communist party members and fellow travelers showed up on federal payrolls and used their official positions to advance the cause of Moscow, via policy sabotage, spying and pro-Communist propaganda.
It was in tracking and countering this treasonous penetration that Hoover and the FBI rendered their most invaluable service, the more so as numerous members of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, at the White House, Treasury, State Department and other venues variously aided the penetration, covered up the facts about it, then set out to destroy those who tried to warn the nation of the danger. In the course of which cover-up, numerous perjuries, grand jury fixes and other felonious actions were committed by high-ranking U.S. officials.
Hoover and his men fought valiantly —and sometimes almost alone —against this massive Red infiltration, the cover-up and the hazards these presented. The chart above, prepared at Hoover’s direction at the time of the Alger Hiss case, indicates some of the innumerable reports the FBI submitted to U.S. agencies in the period 1945-48 about the extent and nature of the penetration. While these reports in many cases were disparaged or ignored, they did lead in time to the gradual ouster of some of more flagrant comrades from official payrolls. Hoover and Co. thus saved the nation from even greater perils than those that in fact befell it.
Here was a titanic struggle between faithful law enforcement agents and the evil designs of a hostile foreign power, thoroughly documentable from official records and well worthy of a movie. Yet not a word about it is uttered in the Eastwood treatment, where the names of such Soviet agents as Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Solomon Adler and countless others are never mentioned, and J. Edgar Hoover is depicted as the bad guy. Disinformation on Cold War issues and corruption of the historical record could hardly go much further.
A footnote to the above: The cinematic part of Hoover pal Clyde Tolson is played by Armand (Armie) Hammer, the great grandson of the Hammer family patriarch of the same name. The elder Hammer, described in current bios as “an oil tycoon” and “philanthropist,” was in fact a big-time Soviet agent, a front man for Moscow, recruited personally by Lenin, who carried water for the Kremlin up through the 1980’s. Young Hammer, of course, is not responsible for the misdeeds of his namesake, but the pro-Soviet doings of the senior Hammer are themselves an ironic refutation of this shamefully dishonest movie.