Tuesday, November 18, 2008

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF CURT GENTRY'S J. EDGAR HOOVER

This biography is a study in quiet, creepy state terror, terror as it took hold in a modern democratic state. No black shirts, no armbands, no drums, just quiet, behind-the-scenes abuse of power, blackmail, fraud, spying without warrants, illegal arrests and deportations.

Naive Americans are sometimes heard to ask how could people in other lands allow evil people to take power? Well, this book will show you how it is done and how it was done in their own country.

As someone else has said, it is a book every American should read. Little that the war criminal, George Bush, has inflicted on the American people wasn’t practiced much earlier under Mr. Hoover.

Gentry’s book reads like a good novel with a strong narrative, and it is loaded with interesting anecdotes.

There have been several interesting biographies of Hoover, but this one is the one I most strongly recommend. This focuses on his career and use of power, and it is there that the truly important story is to be found.

Gentry several times hints around Hoover's homosexuality but doesn't dwell on it. We know from Anthony Summers' book that Hoover had a rather bizarre private life as a flamboyant cross-dresser. This wouldn't be of any great significance except that Hoover had no tolerance for homosexuals in government, having been responsible for destroying the careers of a number of them.

Gentry also makes clear that the insane Joseph McCarthy was largely the creature of Hoover. Hooveer fed him tidbits or sometimes worked backward to supply some printed support after McCarthy had gone off half-cocked bragging about things in public he had not one shred of evidence to support. McCarthy was a drunk looking to spark a lackluster career. He was also thought to be a pedophile, but none of these things mattered to Hoover so long as he could use McCarthy to his purpose. Only when McCarthy stopped being useful did Hoover drop him.

Presidents like Johnson and Kennedy and even Roosevelt eagerly ate the political filth he fed them by hand, casting shame on their legacies. Hoover compromised many people who should have been his strongest critics, including, for example, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union.

For all his years of abuse and excess, it is not clear that he ever achieved anything in the way of making America a safer, more secure place from external and internal enemies.

An important chapter of Hoover’s time in power remains inadequately scrutinized: his full role in the investigation of Kennedy’s assassination. As Gentry documents and as others have documented, the FBI was well aware before the assassination of serious threats against Kennedy and yet seems to have taken inadequate action to thwart them.

Hoover’s role in “solving” the crime remains one of the great mysteries of 20th century American history. The Warren Commission had no independent investigative ability. All it did was take Hoover’s rushed, inadequate, and pre-judged investigation and re-package it. And we know now that the so-called Warren Report was riddled with errors and misjudgment and the selective use of facts. It was a piece of Soviet-era state rubbish posing as detailed investigation.

If, as many who have studied the assassination believe, it was the work of the American Mafia, we have an automatic explanation for Hoover’s shoddy work. Hoover claimed he never believed the Mafia existed until he was almost forced to accept it. He chased pathetic “reds” rather than the real criminals who were eating away at the substance of American society. Many have theorized that the Mafia held evidence, perhaps photographs, of Hoover’s homosexuality and cross-dressing, keeping him neutralized for decades in exactly the way Hoover neutralized so many politicians and potential critics.

I like very much the way Gentry briefly followers through the successors of Hoover at the FBI, summarizing their changes and contributions, and it is not an uplifting story.

The very fact that the FBI building in Washington still has Hoover’s name on it in big metal letters tells us a great deal about the nature of power in America.

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