Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited and with an introduction by George H. Nash, included below (Hoover Institution Press, 2011).
In November 1951, a public-relations executive named John W. Hill met Herbert Hoover at a dinner in New York City. It was an unhappy time in the United States, especially for conservative Republicans. Abroad, the Korean War had turned into a bloody stalemate that Pres. Harry Truman’s administration seemed unable to end. Earlier in the year, the president had abruptly dismissed Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a conservative hero, from America’s Far Eastern military command, to the consternation of Hoover and millions of others. At home, Truman’s liberal Democratic administration was under furious assault from conservative critics of its policies toward Communist regimes overseas and Communist subversion within our borders.
How quickly the world had changed since the close of the Second World War a few years earlier. Then the future had seemed bright with promise. Nazi Germany and imperial Japan had been crushed; fascism as an ideology had been discredited; the birth of the United Nations had appeared to presage an era of global peace. Now, a mere six years later, in Asia and along the Iron Curtain in Europe, a third world war — this time against Communist Russia and China — seemed a distinct possibility.
“Mr. Hoover,” said Hill that November evening, “the world is in one hell of a mess, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is,” Hoover replied.
“It has always occurred to me,” Hill continued, “that we are in this mess because of the mistakes of statesmen. Somebody ought to write a book [on the subject] like [E. S. Creasy’s] ‘Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World’; I think it would be a classic.”
“You are absolutely right,” Hoover responded. “That should be done, and I am going to tell you what should be the first chapter.”
“What is that?” asked Hill.
“When Roosevelt put America in to help Russia as Hitler invaded Russia in June, 1941. We should have let those two bastards annihilate themselves.”
Hill was delighted. “That would be a great book. Why don’t you write it, Mr. Hoover?”
“I haven’t the time,” Hoover countered. “Why don’t you write it?”
What Hill did not know — and what Hoover, that evening, did not tell him — was that for several years Hoover had been at work on a book with a similar theme: a comprehensive, critical history of American diplomacy between the late 1930s and 1945, with emphasis on the misguided policies of President Roosevelt. It was a volume in which the Roosevelt administration’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union would be subject to withering scrutiny.
Twenty years later, in 1971, in a conversation with an interviewer, Hill lamented that no one had ever written the book he had once proposed to Hoover on “The Fifteen Decisive Blunders of Statesmen.” “I have always wished somebody would do it,” he added. “It would be controversial because every one of the decisions the author stated would cause trouble, would cause somebody to come up and defend it, and the book would sell like hotcakes.”
What Hill did not realize was that nearly eight years earlier Hoover had completed his own book of diplomatic blunders. Unlike the scattershot collection of essays that Hill had envisaged, Hoover’s tome was tightly focused. Originally conceived as the section of his memoirs that would cover his life during World War II, the “War Book” (as he called it) had morphed into something far more ambitious: an unabashed, revisionist reexamination of the entire war — and a sweeping indictment of the “lost statesmanship” of Franklin Roosevelt.
Hoover ultimately entitled his manuscript Freedom Betrayed. More informally, and with a touch of humor, he and his staff came to refer to it as the Magnum Opus. The label was apt. For nearly two decades, beginning in 1944, the former president labored over his massive manuscript, producing draft after draft, “edition” after “edition.” He finished the final version (save for some minor editing and additional fact-checking) in September 1963 and prepared in the ensuing months for the book’s publication. Death came first, on Oct. 20, 1964. A little over two months earlier, he had turned 90 years old.
After Hoover’s passing, his heirs decided not to publish his Magnum Opus. Since then, for nearly half a century, it has remained in storage, unavailable for examination.
This volume, Freedom Betrayed — in its final, author-approved edition of 1963–64 — is the book that is now in your hands. It is published here — and its contents thereby made available to scholars — for the first time.
From the introduction by Herbert Hoover (circa 1963)
The Pilgrims landed on this continent bringing with them the vital spark of American life — freedom. Since then, there have been four times when freedom has been dangerously near the tragedy of defeat:
The War of the Revolution
The War between the States
The Second World War
The Cold War
Statesmanship brought expanded liberty from the Revolution and the Civil War. The nation grew to strength and to prosperity unknown in all human history.
In the Second World War, we, with our allies, crushed militarily the forces of Nazism and Fascism. But we have no peace. During the war one of our allies, Stalin, expanded the Communist dictatorship and empire of Russia to endanger freedom in the whole world. We are now deeply involved in the “Cold War,” which imperils our very existence.
To protect our own freedom — in this, in reality a third world war — we must carry the major burden of defending the free nations of the world. This burden itself imperils our future.
The purpose of this memoir is to analyze step-by-step when, where, how, and by whom we were plunged into the Second and Third World Wars, with the resulting betrayals of freedom. I will likewise record those who warned against and opposed these ominous decisions which led to this turning-point in civilization.
In this memoir I will omit views of my own as to what took place. I will demonstrate the truth from the words and actions of world leaders themselves, and the documentation which has come to light.
From a true record of human experience alone may come the understanding which can guide our future.
Even today important segments of the American people and American leadership are not fully aware of the menace to freedom which lies in socialism and other forms of centralized government.
At the outset of this work I wish the reader to be under no misapprehension as to my position upon America’s joining the Second World War.
[Editor’s note: The following passages come from the final, climactic pages of the last chapter (89) of the 1953 version of Hoover’s Magnum Opus. These pages were probably written very early in 1953, not long after the presidential election of 1952. In this chapter, Hoover summed up, with remarkable candor and intensity, his revisionist indictment of the Roosevelt-Truman foreign-policy record.]
Chapter 89: A Review of Lost Statesmanship — 19 Times in Seven Years
There are those who still defend Roosevelt and Truman by blaming Hitler and Stalin for all the calamities which have come upon the world. That they were malignant and malign figures in human history needs no demonstration.
Any review of American and British lost statesmanship in dealing with them, however, has no excuse in history. Without these gigantic errors these calamities could not have come to the Western world.
I shall list those major occasions here lest the reader, in this maze of actions, has forgotten who was responsible for what and when. I refer the reader to those chapters in this memoir where the facts and reasons for their conviction are given.
The World Economic Conference of 1933
The first time (of importance) that Roosevelt became lost in international statesmanship was his destruction of the 1933 World Economic Conference. This Conference was arranged by British Prime Minister [Ramsay] MacDonald and myself to take place in January 1933. Owing to the election of Mr. Roosevelt it was 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.
The Recognition of Communist Russia in 1933
Roosevelt’s second lost statesmanship was in recognition of Communist Russia in November 1933. Four presidents and five secretaries of state — Democrats as well as Republicans — had (with knowledge of the whole purpose and methods of international Communism) refused such action. They knew and said the Communists would be able to penetrate the United States, carrying their germs of destruction of religious faith, freedom of men, and independence of nations. They considered our recognition of Soviet Russia would give it prestige and force among other nations. All of Roosevelt’s puerile agreements with them that they would not deal in their wickedness within our borders were on the record repudiated in less than 48 hours. A long train of Communists and fellow travelers were taken into the highest levels of administration, fifth-column action spread over the country, with a long series of traitorous acts during his remaining 12 years in the presidency.
I am not disposed to condemn the agreement at Munich in September 1938 for transfer of Sudeten Germans to the Reich because it was a hideous heritage from Versailles which made such action inevitable. However, by Munich Hitler opened the gates for consummation of his repeated determinations to invade Russia. Having gone that far in providing for the inevitable war between the dictators, the lost statesmanship was then trying to stop these monsters from mutual destruction.
The British-French Guarantee of Poland and Rumania in 1939
The fourth abysmal loss of statesmanship was when the British and French guaranteed the independence of Poland and Rumania at the end of March 1939. It was at this point that the European democracies reversed their previous policies of keeping hands off the inevitable war between Hitler and Stalin.
It was probably the greatest blunder in the whole history of European-power diplomacy. Britain and France were helpless to save Poland from invasion. By this act, however, they threw the bodies of democracy between Hitler and Stalin. By their actions they not only protected Stalin from Hitler but they enabled him to sell his influence to the highest bidder. The Allies did bid but Stalin’s price was annexation of defenseless people of the Baltic States and East Poland, a moral price which the Allies could not meet. Stalin got his price from Hitler.
Yet Hitler had no intention of abandoning his determination to expand in Southeast Europe and to destroy the Communist Vatican in Moscow. But now he must of necessity first neutralize the Western Democracies which he proceeded to do.
The long train of the hideous World War II started from the blunder of the Polish guarantees. Roosevelt had some part in these power politics, but the record is yet too incomplete to establish how much. Churchill, not yet in the government, had contributed something by goading Chamberlain to desperate action after his appeasement at Munich.
United States’ Undeclared War
The fifth major blunder in statesmanship was when Roosevelt, in the winter of 1941, threw the United States into undeclared war with Germany and Japan in total violation of promises upon which he had been elected a few weeks before.
Failure in Watchful Waiting
In the weeks before lend-lease and its war powers were forced upon the American people, Roosevelt knew definitely of Hitler’s determination to attack Russia, and he informed the Russians of it. He should have turned away from the undeclared war on Germany, confined lend-lease to simple aid to Britain by way of finances, to buy munitions, supplies, and ships, thus keeping within international law. Statesmanship at that moment demanded imperiously a policy of watchful waiting.
Alliance with Stalin
Indeed the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history was the tacit American alliance and support of Communist Russia when Hitler made his attack in June 1941. Even the false theory that American military strength was needed to save Britain had now visibly vanished. By diversion of Nazi furies into the swamps of Russia, no one could any longer doubt the safety of Britain and all the Western world. These monstrous dictators were bound to exhaust themselves no matter who won. Even if Hitler won military victory, he would be enmeshed for years trying to hold these people in subjection. And he was bound even in victory to exhaust his military strength — and the Russians were bound to destroy any sources of supplies he might have hoped for. His own generals opposed his action.
American aid to Russia meant victory for Stalin and the spread of Communism over the world. Statesmanship again imperiously cried to keep out, be armed to the teeth and await their mutual exhaustion. When that day came there would have been an opportunity for the United States and Britain to use their strength to bring a real peace and security to the free world. No greater opportunity for lasting peace ever came to a president and he muffed it.
The Economic Sanctions on Japan of July 1941
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.
Refusal to Accept Konoye’s Peace Proposals
The ninth time statesmanship was wholly lost was Roosevelt’s contemptuous refusal of Prime Minister [Fumimaro] Konoye’s proposals for peace in the Pacific of September, 1941. The acceptance of these proposals was prayerfully urged by both the American and British ambassadors in Japan. The terms Konoye proposed would have accomplished every American purpose except possibly the return of Manchuria — and even this was thrown open to discussion. The cynic will recall that Roosevelt was willing to provoke a great war on his flank over this remote question and then gave Manchuria to Communist Russia.
Refusal to Accept a 3 Months’ Stand-Still Agreement with Japan
The tenth loss of statesmanship was the refusal to accept the proposals that his ambassador informed him came from the emperor of Japan for a three months’ stand-still agreement in November 1941. Our military officials strongly urged it on Roosevelt. Japan was then alarmed that Russia might defeat her ally, Hitler. Ninety days’ delay would have taken all the starch out of Japan and kept war out of the Pacific. As the Stimson diary disclosed, Roosevelt and his officials were searching for a method to stimulate an overt act from the Japanese. Then Hull issued his foolish ultimatum, and we were defeated at Pearl Harbor.
The train of losses and this Japanese victory in the Japanese occupation of all South Asia were incalculable. Further, with the loss of sea control, Hitler and Togo were able to destroy our shipping in sight of our own shores.
The Demand for Unconditional Surrender
The eleventh gigantic error in Roosevelt’s statesmanship was demand for “unconditional surrender” at Casablanca in January 1943, where without our military, or even Churchill’s advice, he was seeking a headline. It played into the hands of every enemy militarist and propagandist; it prolonged the war with Germany, Japan, and Italy. And in the end major concessions in surrender were given to both Japan and Italy. It held out no hope of peace to the Germans if they got rid of the Nazis. The war to the bitter end left no semblance of a structure in Germany upon which to build again.
The Sacrifice of the Baltic States and East Poland at Moscow, October 1943
The twelfth error of lost statesmanship was the sacrifice of free nations at the foreign-ministers meeting at Moscow in October 1943. Here amid words of freedom and democracy not a word of protest was made against the known Russian intentions to annex the Baltic States, East Poland, East Finland, Bessarabia, and Bukovina (which he had in his agreement with Hitler). This acquiescence marked the abandonment of the last word of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter.
Teheran and Its Sacrifice of Seven More Nations
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 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. Fidelity to international morals and their own promises of independence of nations and free men demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill at Teheran stand firm against Stalin once and for all. There were by this time no such military perils of Stalin’s making a separate peace that could justify these agreements, acquiescences and appeasements.
Yalta — the Secret Agreements on the Downfall of 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, but with a long series of secret agreements other malign forces were set in motion that will continue to plague the world with international dangers for generations. Knowing that Stalin had already created Communist puppet governments over seven nations, Roosevelt and Churchill sought to camouflage their lost statesmanship with gadgets entitled “free and unfettered” elections, “representation of all liberal elements.” Even the strongest defender on military grounds of appeasement at Teheran could no longer defend it at Yalta. Here at least a stand might have been made for decency and free mankind which would have left America with cleaner hands and the moral respect of free men.
Refusal of Japanese Peace Proposals of May–July 1945
The fifteenth time of lost statesmanship was in respect to Japan in May, June, and July 1945. Truman refused to take notice of the Japanese white flags. Truman was not obligated to Roosevelt’s “unconditional surrender” folly. It had been denounced by our own military leaders in Europe. Peace could have been had with Japan with only one concession. That was the preservation of the Mikado who was the spiritual as well as secular head of the state. His position was rooted in a thousand years of Japanese religious faith and tradition. And we finally conceded this after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been sacrificed.
The sixteenth time of blind statesmanship was Truman at Potsdam. Power had now passed to inexperienced men on the democratic countries, and the Communists had their way at every consequential point. The whole Potsdam agreement was a series of ratifications and amplifications of the previous surrenders to Stalin. Not only were all the Communist annexations and puppets further cemented to Stalin, but the provisions as to government in Germany and Austria were so set as to send parts of these states into Stalin’s bosom. The result of reparations policies was to load the American taxpayers with billions of the cost for relief of idle Germans and stifle the recovery of Germany and thus of Europe for years. 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.
Dropping the Atomic Bomb
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.
Giving China to Mao Tse-Tung
The eighteenth series of steps in loss of statesmanship was by Truman, Marshall, and Acheson in respect to China. Beginning with Roosevelt’s insistence to Chiang Kai-shek of a Communist coalition government there followed Roosevelt’s hideous secret agreement as to China at Yalta which gave Mongolia and, in effect, Manchuria to Russia. Truman sacrificed all China to the Communists by insistence of his left-wing advisers and his appointment of General Marshall to execute their will. He must be assessed with a gigantic loss of statesmanship in those policies, which in the end made 450,000,000 Asiatic peoples a Communist puppet state under Moscow.
The Dragon’s Teeth of World War III
From the Moscow, the Teheran, Yalta and the Potsdam Conferences, the policies as to China, the dragon’s teeth of a third world war were sown in every quarter of the world and we were to see “the cold war” over years and finally the hideous war in Korea and the feeble North Atlantic Alliance with all its dangers of American defeat again.
I do not need end these volumes with more than a few sentences. I was opposed to the war and every step of policies in it. I have no apologies, no regrets.
I had warned the American people time and again against becoming involved. I stated repeatedly its only end would be to promote Communism over the earth; that we would impoverish the United States and the whole world. The situation of the world today is my vindication.
Despite these physical losses and these moral, political disasters, and these international follies, Americans can have faith that we will grow strong again; that the march of progress will sometime be renewed. Despite the drift to collectivism, despite degeneration in government, despite the demagogic intellectuals, despite the corruption in our government and the moral corruptions of our people, we still hold to Christianity, we still have the old ingenuity in our scientific and industrial progress. We have 35 million children marching through our schools and 2,500,000 in our institutions of higher learning. Sometime these forces will triumph over the ills in American life. The promise of a greater America abides in the millions of cottages throughout the land, where men and women are still resolute in freedom. In their hearts the spirit of America still lives. The boys and girls from those homes will some day throw off these disasters and frustrations and will re-create their America again.
The election of a Republican administration in 1952 is the sign of this turning.
— Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States.