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James Forrestal

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James Vincent Forrestal
James Forrestal

In office
May 19, 1944 – September 17, 1947
Preceded by Frank Knox
Succeeded by John L. Sullivan

In office
September 17, 1947 – March 28, 1949
Preceded by (none)
Succeeded by Louis A. Johnson

Born February 15, 1892(1892-02-15)
Matteawan, New York, U.S.
Died May 22, 1949 (aged 57)
Montgomery County, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse Josephine Ogden Forrestal
Profession Politician

James Vincent Forrestal (February 15, 1892May 22, 1949) was a Secretary of the Navy and the first United States Secretary of Defense. Forrestal's death resulted from a fall out of a Bethesda Naval Hospital window which has led to speculation and much controversy. He was a supporter of naval battle groups centered on aircraft carriers. In 1954, the Navy's first supercarrier was named the USS Forrestal in his honor as is the headquarters the United States Department of Energy. He is also the namesake of the Forrestal Lecture Series at the United States Naval Academy, which brings prominent military and civilian leaders to speak to the Brigade of Midshipmen.



[edit] Early life and career

Forrestal was born in Matteawan, now Beacon, New York, the son of an Irish immigrant who dabbled in politics. After graduating from high school at the age of 16 in 1908, he spent the next three years working for a trio of newspapers: the Matteawan Evening Journal, the Mount Vernon Argus and the Poughkeepsie News Press.

Forrestal entered Dartmouth College in 1911, but transferred to Princeton University the following year. At the latter school, he served as an editor for The Daily Princetonian and was voted by the senior class as "Most Likely to Succeed", but left just prior to completing work on a degree.

After college, Forrestal went to work as a bond salesman for William A. Read and Company (also known as Dillon, Read & Co.). When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Navy and ultimately became a Naval Aviator, training with the Royal Flying Corps in Canada. During the final year of the war, Forrestal spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., at the office of Naval Operations, while completing his flight training. He eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Following the war, Forrestal served as a publicist for the Democratic Party committee in Dutchess County, New York helping politicians from the area win elections at both the state and national level. One of those individuals aided by his work was a neighbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Forrestal then returned to William A. Read and Company, earning a partnership, in 1923, before eventually becoming president of the company in 1937.

By most accounts, Forrestal was a compulsive workaholic who was very cold and neglectful towards his family. One instance of this trait came when Forrestal, while working in England, received a phone call from his two sons, ages eight and six. The two had missed their plane in Paris, but Forrestal simply told the boys to work out the problem themselves and meet him in London. His wife, the former Josephine Ogden, a Vogue writer whom he married in 1926, also was a victim of this treatment and eventually developed alcohol and mental problems inherited from her mother[citation needed].

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Forrestal as an administrative assistant on June 22, 1940, then nominated him as Under Secretary of the Navy six weeks later. In the latter post, Forrestal would prove to be very effective at mobilizing industrial production for the war effort.

He became Secretary of the Navy on May 19, 1944, following the death of his immediate supervisor Frank Knox from a heart attack. Forrestal then led the Navy through the closing year of the war and the demobilization that followed. What might have been his greatest legacy as Navy Secretary was an attempt that came to nought. He, along with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew, in the early months of 1945, strongly advocated a softer policy toward Japan that would permit a negotiated face-saving surrender. His primary concern was "the menace of Russian Communism and its attraction for decimated, destabilized societies in Europe and Asia," and, therefore, keeping the Soviet Union out of the war with Japan. Had his advice been followed, Japan might well have surrendered before August 1945, precluding the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[1] So strongly did he feel about this matter that he cultivated negotiation attempts that bordered closely on insubordination toward the President. [1]

First Forrestal and later General McArthur criticized President Truman's Korean war plans, and they both were sacked. [Forrestal died before the Korean War started.]

Forrestal opposed the unification of the services, but even so helped develop the National Security Act of 1947 that created the National Military Establishment (the Department of Defense was not created as such until August 1949). With the former Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson retiring to private life, Forrestal was the next choice.

His 18 months at Defense came at an exceptionally difficult time for the U.S. military establishment: Communist governments came to power in Czechoslovakia and China; West Berlin was blockaded, necessitating the Berlin Airlift to keep it going; the war between the Arab states and Israel after the establishment of Israel in Palestine; and negotiations were going on for the formation of NATO. His reign was also hampered by intense interservice rivalries.

In addition, President Harry Truman constrained military budgets billions of dollars below what the services were requesting, putting Forrestal in the middle of the tug-of-war. Forrestal was also becoming more and more worried about the Soviet threat.[2] Internationally, the takeover by the Communists of Eastern Europe, their threats to the governments of Greece, Italy, and France, their impending takeover of China, and the invasion of South Korea by North Korea would demonstrate the legitimacy of his concerns on the international front as well.

Forrestal is alleged to be an original member of a group formed in 1947 with the purported code name of Majestic 12.

James Forrestal was one of the foremost architects of the United States cold war policies. Dwight D. Eisenhower recorded he was in agreement with Forrestal's thesis on Communism. Eisenhower recalled that Forrestal had been "the one man who, in the very midst of the war, always counseled caution and alertness in dealing with the Soviets." Eisenhower remembered on several occasions, while he was Supreme Allied Commander,he had been visited by Forrestal, who carfully explained his thesis that the Communists would never cease trying to destroy all representative government. Eisenhower commented in his personal diary on 11 June, 1949, "I never had cause to doubt the accuracy of his judgments on this point." [3]

[edit] Psychiatric Treatment

The attending psychiatrist Dr. Reines was handpicked by the Surgeon General.

First week: narcosis with sodium amytal Second week and for a period of four weeks: a regime of insulin sub-shock combined with psycho-therapeutic interviews. According to Dr. Reines, the patient over reacted to the insulin much as he had the amytal and this would occassionally throw him into a confused state with a great deal of agitation and confusion. Fourth week: insulin administered only in stimulating doses; 10 units of insulin four times a day, morning, noon, afternoon and evening.

A rather strict regime of isolation from the outside was stablished for the patient. Family was not advised of patient's suicidal state.

According to Dr. Reines, "we considered electro-shock but thought it better to postpone it for another ninety days. In reactive depression if electro-shock is used early and the patient is returned to the same situation from which he came there is grave danger of suicide in the immediate period after they return... so strangely enough we left out electo-shock to avoid what acutally happened anyhow".[4]

[edit] Death

Although Forrestal had told associates he had decided to resign, he was shattered when Truman abruptly asked for his resignation. His letter of resignation was tendered after Truman's dismissal on March 28, 1949. On the day of his removal from office, he was reported to have gone into a strange daze and was flown on a Navy airplane to the estate of Under Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett in Hobe Sound, Florida, where Forrestal's wife, Josephine, was vacationing. He was checked into the Bethesda Naval Hospital five days later. The condition was officially announced as "nervous and physical exhaustion"; his lead doctor, Captain George Raines, diagnosing his condition as "depression" or "reactive depression."

A chief reason for Forrestal's fragile mental state was that his high-profile position was in sharp contrast to his personality.[5] As a person who prized anonymity and once stated that his hobby was "obscurity", he and his policies had been the constant target of attacks from columnists, including Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell. Pearson's protege, Jack Anderson, later asserted that Pearson "hectored Forrestal with innuendos and false accusations."[6]

Forrestal seemed to be on the road to recovery, having regained 12 pounds since his entry into the hospital. However, in the early morning hours of May 22, his body was found on a third-floor roof below the 16th-floor kitchen across the hall from his room. The Montgomery County, Maryland, county coroner called it a suicide within hours of the death.

The official Navy review board, which completed hearings on May 31, waited until October 11, 1949, to release only a brief summary of its findings. The announcement, as reported on page 15 of the October 12 New York Times, stated only that Forrestal had died from his fall from the window. It did not say what might have caused the fall, nor did it make any mention of the bathrobe sash that was tied around his neck. There were reports of paranoia and of involuntary commitment to the hospital, as well as suspicions about the detailed circumstances of his death, which have fed a variety of conspiracy theories, some of which are described below. One of Forrestal's statements described as "paranoid" was his prediction that the United States would soon be at war; a few months later the US was indeed at war in Korea.[6]

His alleged suicide note was part of a poem from Sophocles' tragedy Ajax:

Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar,
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time–
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave....
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale–

The actual note [2] was not released by the Department of the Navy until April 2004.

James Forrestal is buried in section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery.

[edit] A Conspiracy?

Doubts have existed from the beginning about Forrestal's alleged suicide. The early doubts are detailed in the book The Death of James Forrestal (1966) by Cornell Simpson, which received virtually no publicity. As Simpson notes (pp. 40-44), a major reason for doubt is the fact that the Navy kept the transcript of its official hearing secret. Additional doubt has been raised by the 2004 release of that transcript, informally referred to as the Willcutts Report, after Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, the head of the National Naval Medical Center, who convened the review board.

Among the discrepancies between the report and the accounts given in the principal Forrestal biographies are that the transcription of the poem by Sophocles appears to many to have been written in a hand other than Forrestal's, and there was broken glass found on Forrestal's bed, a fact that had not been previously reported. Theories as to who might have murdered Forrestal range from Soviet agents -- a view championed by Joseph McCarthy -- to U.S. government operatives sent to silence him for what he knew about UFOs. [7]

Forrestal himself maintained that he was being tracked and bugged by Zionist operatives. As Forrestal biographer Arnold Rogow puts it:

"...Forrestal, during his last months in office, harbored a conviction that he was under day-and-night surveillance by Zionist agents; and when he resigned as Secretary of Defense in March, 1949, he was convinced that his resignation was not unrelated to pressures brought to bear on the Administration by American Jewish organizations."

Arnold Rogow, James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy, p.181

Rogow footnotes this passage, noting:

"While those beliefs reflect the fact that Forrestal was a very ill man in March 1949, it is entirely possible that he was 'shadowed' by Zionist agents in 1947 and 1948. A close associate of his at the time recalls that at the height of the Palestine controversy, his (the associate's) official limousine was followed to and from his office by a blue sedan containing two men. When the police were notified and the sedan apprehended, it was discovered that the two men were photographers employed by a Zionist organization. They explained to the police that they had hoped to obtain photographs of the limousine's occupant entering or leaving an Arab embassy in order to demonstrate that the official involved was in close contact with Arab representatives."

Arnold Rogow, James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy, p.181

New light was shed on Forrestal's concerns in March 2006 when The Times of London, referencing newly declassified documents, revealed that a serious attempt by Menachem Begin's Irgun Gang to assassinate Britain's anti-Zionist counterpart to Forrestal, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, had been thwarted by British intelligence in 1946. Forrestal had been the most conspicuous and forceful anti-Zionist in the Truman administration.

There was also a press campaign against Forrestal, led by columnist Drew Pearson. The campaign tried to make it appear that he was paranoid. Paranoia, however, was never mentioned in the official evaluations of his psychiatric state. One of Pearson's most spectacular claims was that while Forrestal was at Hobe Sound, Florida, shortly before he was hospitalized, he was awakened by a siren in the middle of the night and ran out into the street exclaiming, "The Russians are attacking." This claim has not been confirmed by anyone who was there that night, and was described as a fabrication by Captain George Raines, the Navy doctor in charge of Forrestal's treatment[8]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Hoopes and Brinkley, pp. 205-214. The quoted line is from p. 208
  2. ^ See Whittaker Chambers to confirm that his concerns on the domestic front were quite legitimate
  3. ^ Immerman,James."The CIA in Guatemala." U.of Texas Press: 1982.
  4. ^ Admiral M.D. Willcutts Report, p. 34, 41, 1949, released to the public 2004
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Digireads, 2005 ISBN-10: 1420924915
  6. ^ a b Akashah, Mary; Donald Tennant (1980). "Madness and Politics: The Case of James Forrestal" (PDF). Proceeding of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 60: 89-92. Retrieved on 2007-09-09. 
  7. ^ C. G. Jung, Flying Saucers; A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Princeton University Press, 1979 ISBN 10: 0691018227
  8. ^ Hopes and Brinkley, pp. 455-456

[edit] Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal ISBN 0-7366-2520-8 (1992)
  • Cornell Simpson The Death of James Forrestal (Western Islands Publishers, 1966)
  • Arnold Rogow, James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy (MacMillan, 1963)
  • Walter Millis ed., The Forrestal Diaries (New York: Viking, 1951)
  • Jeffrey M. Dorwart, Eberstadt and Forrestal, A National Security Partnership, 1909-1949 (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press 1991)
  • Mary Akashah and Donald Tennant (1980). "Madness and Politics: The Case of James Forrestal" (PDF). Proceeding of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 60: 89-92. Retrieved on 2007-09-09. Refutes the idea that Forrestal's "policies and positions were somehow the products of a diseased mind."
  • Hugh Turley, "Handwriting Tells Dark Tale?", Hyattsville Life & Times, December 2007, page 3.

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Frank Knox
United States Secretary of the Navy

Succeeded by
John L. Sullivan
Preceded by
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Louis A. Johnson
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