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Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal.

James Forrestal lived the American dream as both triumph and tragedy. Born in 1892, a small-town Irish-Catholic boy eager for success, be made his way from Princeton eating clubs to Wall Street wealth and Manhattan glamour, and then in the 1940s to administrative power in wartime Washington. After a brief stint in 1940 as White House assistant he became Undersecretary and then Secretary of the Navy, and in 1947 the nation's first Secretary of Defence. In the process, he rejected an intrusive mother and her dreams of the priesthood, married an unstable showgirl, bedded a succession of women, neglected and alienated two sons, watched a wife succumb to alcoholism, intensified his own addiction to work, and in 1949 committed suicide, two months after leaving office in a state of nervous collapse.

It's a fascinating story, a life out of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O'Hara, and Hoopes and Brinkley tell it extraordinarily well. As a young man, Hoopes served on Forrestal's defence staff. He deeply admired Forrestal's dedication to public service. Hero-worship inevitably breaks through. But as a rule the authors balance their sympathy, even idealization of Forrestal the public servant, against a wide range of archival and manuscript sources, personal interviews, and recent secondary literature. Hoopes, moreover, as a result of experience in government, including a mid-1960s tour as Undersecretary of the Air Force, brings to the narrative a sure "feel" for the texture of Washington political life.

Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers like Forrestal who played key roles in national defence during and after World War II embedded wartime administration in prewar social relations, a point that becomes crystal clear as Hoopes and Brinkley describe Forrestal's investment deals and friendships - with Robert Lovett, Averell Harriman, Ferdinand Eberstadt, Artemus Gates, and others - during his interwar years at Dillon, Read and Co. Forrestal, however, according to the authors, stood slightly apart from this crowd, and to those they interviewed. He was never wholly at ease. He remained inwardly uncertain, outwardly detached; a difficult man to know, the most personally complex of the group. In the end, in fact, the private Forrestal eludes even Hoopes and Brinkley.

Forrestal the government man is easier to fathom. There is more evidence on the public side; the secondary literature is richer. In contrast to motives attributed to personal psychology, motives in political and bureaucratic games, though complex enough, are more easily grounded in supporting evidence. Bureaucratic roles and relationships not only structure behaviour. They can also help explain it. In addition, in 1944 Forrestal began a diary, see Walter Milles (ed.), The Forrestal Diaries (1951), and though by no means introspective it does provide more direct access to Forrestal's ruminations.

Unlike most business executives in wartime Washington, Forrestal, as the authors demonstrate, developed a serious interest in government. There was the play of influence and power, the potential to shape high policy. But structure as well as process and content intrigued Forrestal, and he wanted to improve it. Driven Patriot has value for students of such foreign policy issues as the origins of containment doctrine, the expansion of U.S. covert activity abroad, and the conflict over Palestine, But it is also of value for students of U.S. public administration.

In this context the authors provide an excellent introduction to wartime navy administration, including the organizational innovations that Forrestal introduced to reduce institutional and personal barriers to central civilian control. They also show how Forrestal's fascination with the British system of cabinet government and permanent high-level civil service influenced his views on the U.S. national security state. Matters of both policy and organization were bitterly contested over how to fit the military services into this new structure, and chapters on the politics and personalities of this contest are among the best in the book.

It may be too much to suggest that Hoopes and Brinkley are saying that the institutional pressures, political vendettas, personal betrayals, and outright character assassination that befell Forrestal as Secretary of Defence were enough to drive anyone mad. For they also assert that Forrestal hurt his own position in policy battles. He too often refused to act publicly on his private convictions. He grew so dependent on office that he could not risk losing it with threats of resignation.

Yet the larger theme of Forrestal the victim of politics remains. As a consequence, Driven Patriot, in addition to its value as interpretative history, may also be read as an outstanding brief for the defence of a man too easily cast as villain in revisionist accounts of cold war origins.
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Author:Cuff, Robert
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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