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J. Edgar Hoover's final years: 1960-72.

Neither Truman's Presidency nor Eisen-hower's proved to be notably agreeable portions of J. Edgar Hoover's forty-eight-year tenure (1924-72) as the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Director. Still, unpleasant though Hoover found the Eisenhower years (especially) at the time, they came to appear like the distilled essence of prelapsarian joy compared with John E Kennedy's Camelot. Whilst neither by temperament nor by conviction was Eisenhower the type of President Hoover would have wished, at least Eisenhower could be recognised as an adult human being. And then, by contrast, there was the Kennedy tribe.


In 1956, unsuccessful Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had blandly described Democratic in-fighting with the words "No-one can say we Democrats don't have fun"; (1) but the Kennedys elevated this off-hand comment to a veritable religion of hedonism, allied to an outlook that made image-mongering the universe's very centre. Old Joseph Kennedy, the clan's paterfamilias, had warned that his son would attain supreme office on pure Madison Avenue principles: "we're going to sell Jack like soap flakes". (2) The chief difference between Jack and any other commodity was that a cheating soap-flakes manufacturer can end up sewing mailbags in captivity, whereas when J.F.K. won the 1960 Presidential election by spectacular vote fraud in Chicago's Cook County (proverbial nationwide for its hordes of politically active corpses), he got away with it. Hoover knew he had gotten away with it, and was determined to make him sweat, not only (or primarily) on this issue, but also on the question of Jack's wartime affair with suspected National Socialist agent Inga Arvad. Jack asked Hoover to provide, in writing, a formal statement exonerating Arvad of Nazi espionage. Hoover refused, aware that the F.B.I. still had the recordings of Kennedy's and Arvad's pillow talk, and that he would be stupid to relinquish the potential power over the new Chief Executive which the recordings' survival gave him. (3)

To Hoover (as to many others), Jack at least had the partially redeeming virtue of intellectual laziness that lessened his rancour. Not so his brother Robert -- "Bobby", as most people called him -- whom in 1961 Hoover recommended to the post of Attorney-General. "Worst damn piece of advice I ever gave!", Hoover afterwards assured his lieutenant, a gentleman who bore the improbable (even by American standards) name of Cartha DeLoach. (4) Jack felled political opponents in the half-genial expectation that they would get up again and dust themselves off; Bobby always hit to hurt. When worsted in a football game, Bobby, unlike Jack, would kick and gouge opponents until separated from them by superior force. One of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson's advisers, John P. Roche, observed of Bobby: "He couldn"t distinguish a principle from a fireplug." (5) It might be truer to say that Bobby made his antipathies into a principle: that for him, opposing football players represented cosmic evil while, and only while, he was pummelling them. The approach that worked so well on the football field he carried over in political life. He did not so much enunciate policy as expectorate it forth. Whereas Jack often soothed, Bobby always nagged. He nagged Hoover about the F.B.I.'s failures in combatting organised crime: a particularly audacious accusation coming from Bobby.

While Bobby hounded individual rogues like the trucking-union boss Jimmy Hoffa -- basically a small-time villain who at least had battled intra-union Communists -- he took no serious action against the Mafia. Illinois Mafioso Sam Giancana told the mistress he shared with Jack: "Listen, honey, if it wasn't for me your boyfriend wouldn't even be in the White House." (6) And a temporary rebuff drew from Giancana a plaint warranting immortality: "They can't do this to me," he whined, "I'm working for the government." (7)

Hoover never needed Bobby to teach him how to fight mobsters. That the F.B.I. could, and should, have done better in this fight is undeniable. It might have done so, but for what DeLoach acutely called Hoover's "profound contempt for the criminal mind ... [which] persuaded him that no such complex national criminal organisation [as the Mob] could exist without him knowing about it." (8) Nevertheless, Hoover had put in an impressive, sensible performance at 1951's Senate Commission into gangsterism (among the first American political events to be nationally televised); and his characteristic staccato hectoring made him a natural television performer, one skilled at offering sound-bites four decades before the word "sound-bite" had even been invented. Besides, when (in September 1962) ex-mobster Joe Valachi delated to the authorities the membership, nature and structure of La Cosa Nostra -- information hitherto unknown, outside the Mob itself, in any but the most fragmented manner -- he confided his admissions to Hoover's F.B.I., not to Bobby or his associates. Bobby happily tried to hog credit for the resultant revelations, but only after the F.B.I. had done the legwork. It constituted a typical performance for one whose place as America's least competent Attorney-General remains unchallenged. His unique achievement lies in having antagonised almost every section of American society: the Deep Southerners who hated him for doing anything at all, the Northern radicals who hated him for not doing enough, the law enforcement officers confronted with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan that before his tenure had seemed about as probable as a Tsarist invasion. (When, in the mid-1960s, the F.B.I. finally vanquished the Deep South's K.K.K. activism -- thanks partly to brave individuals like Delmar Dennis, a Methodist minister who risked his own life by infiltrating one of the Klan's most murderous cells at the F.B.I.'s behest (9) -- it did so with little practical help, and much active stonewalling, from Washington D.C.)

Had Bobby contented himself with making a hash of his own job, he might still have salvaged some useful results from his term in office; alas, he also thought himself a better and cleverer Hoover than Hoover. Thus, whereas both of Eisenhower's Attorneys-General (Herbert Brownell and William Rogers) had usually adopted a three-wise-monkeys attitude towards dubiously legal or downright illegal electronic surveillance on Hoover's part -- they heard nothing, they saw nothing, they said nothing -- Bobby initiated extra surveillance, in October 1963, at his own command. Bobby, who in DeLoach's bitter words "never saw a wiretap he didn't like", (10) predictably kept this command top-secret (as it remained until June 1969, (11) by which time he had been dead for almost a year). One difficulty if you institute wiretaps -- a difficulty that Bobby seems never to have contemplated, in his initial enthusiasm for snooping -- is the danger of thereby capturing material personally offensive to yourself. Bobby found out this truth the hard way after his brother's murder, when F.B.I. microphones captured the chit-chat of an internationally celebrated leader, watching on television a re-run of Jack Kennedy's funeral. As the television screen showed Jacqueline Kennedy kneeling before her husband's casket, the leader in question said of the grieving widow: "Look at her -- sucking him off one last time." (12)

Hoover took considerable pleasure in showing Bobby the transcript of that particular observation. The leader who had thus accused Jackie was none other than Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King.

Of all Hoover's wrongdoings, real and fictional, his harassment of King harmed him most in posterity's eyes. Now that King has become the opiate of post-Christian America's masses -- those who cheer art-galleries' portrayals of Christ steeped in urine and the Virgin Mary covered in dung would shriek with wrath if King were so depicted (13) -- two simple truths extremely well known to Hoover and to almost every other 1960s bureaucrat have dropped down the memory hole: King's comparatively humble position in black politics for most of his life (at his zenith he was merely primus inter pares); and his incessant Communist associations. The facts indicate that both Hoover and King behaved deplorably towards one another, King's behaviour being rather worse than Hoover's.

Along with most Americans, Hoover knew little of King before March 1956, when King had emerged from obscurity to lead the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Initially neither Hoover nor F.B.I. agents actually in the field suspected King of fellow-travelling. One memo from Washington D.C. to the F.B.I.'s Atlanta office (20 September 1957) went so far as to say: "In the absence of any indication that the Communist Party has attempted, or is attempting, to infiltrate this organisation [the King-controlled Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or S.C.L.C. for short], you should conduct no investigation in this matter." (14)

This changed between 1958 and 1961. During those years F.B.I. files noted King's meetings with black Communist leader Benjamin Davis (who donated blood at the nearest clinic in 1958 when a mental patient wounded King with a knife); his praise for the Socialist Workers' Party; his arrest in Georgia on a dangerous driving charge; and his complaint (in "Nation" magazine) that F.B.I. job policies discriminated against blacks. Still, even with these provocations, the F.B.I. considered it best not to provoke King directly. An internal report to DeLoach convinced him -- not that DeLoach needed much convincing -- to overrule any calls for the F.B.I. to correct King's factual misstatements, since King "would only welcome any controversy or resulting publicity that might ensue." (15)

In 1961 it emerged that King had given a lecture four years earlier at Tennessee's Highlander Folk School, a fully integrated educational establishment troubled by rumours of being a Communist Party training camp. An over-zealous F.B.I. official urged a comprehensive investigation of King's dealings with this college, but failed to prove that King had visited it more than once. Hoover became so angry that he forced the underling to leave the Bureau's headquarters for good. (16)

Only from 1962 did Hoover worry much about King's activism. The F.B.I. had discovered, and in January 1962 Hoover reported to Robert Kennedy, King's close and deep friendship (of at least four years" standing) with a New York Jewish lawyer, Stanley Levison. During the early 1950s this mysterious and sinister figure, whose death in 1979 deprived historians of many details concerning the American Communist Party's power struggles, had been among the most active and skilled of Party treasurers. In 1956 he was thought by the F.B.I. to have become disillusioned with his Party career. The Bureau even considered him (in 1959) as a suitable informant on Party activities, though Levison rebuffed all F.B.I. approaches to him. By this time Levison had assumed in King's life a Svengali-like role. He wrote speeches for King (including one that King gave to America's highest labour-union forum, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.); he helped edit the manuscript for King's first book, "Stride Toward Freedom"; he even protected King from the worst outcomes of the latter's financial ineptitude. Like many brilliant rhetoricians, King suffered from spectacular administrative and legal ignorance, so that his utopian visions would regularly be interrupted by his inability to return a vital phone call or to submit an income-tax form. Enter Levison: who knew exactly how to appease a bumptious civil-service clerk; how to design a publishing contract; how to get a deeply anti-Communist union leader or a deeply uncommitted television host on side.

This all raised, to Hoover, the fearful possibility that Levison had not severed his Communist Party connections at all: that his ostensible split with the Party in 1956 had been a feint, and that through him the Party could do what it liked with King's crusade. Possibility began to resemble probability when Hoover learned, also in 1962, that one of King's young proteges -- Jack O'Dell, who owed his job at the S.C.L.C.'s New York branch to Levison's recommendation -- had been involved with the Party for years. King, for his part, had burbled Marxist sentiments to his academic supervisors, to close friends, to S.C.L.C. staffers, and sometimes to entire congregations, ever since the early 1950s. A term paper he wrote in his Boston University student days referred to "my present anti-capitalistic feelings", (17) although these feelings never prevented King himself from being capitalistic enough to retain pitiless copyright control over his public utterances. (18) To (presumably astonished) readers of "Ebony", a middle-class periodical advocating black economic self-help, King proclaimed that "southerners are making the Marxist analysis of history more accurate than the Christian hope that men can be persuaded through teaching and preaching." (19)

By this stage, one hardly needed the late Joseph McCarthy's outlook to fear that King might be at least a Communist dupe, and perhaps even a deliberate Communist operative. King denied to Ben Bradlee (future "Washington Post" editor) ever having been told about any possible Communist infiltrators except O'Dell, whereas the F.B.I. had files to reveal that it had warned King about Levison's background too. When "The New York Times" quoted, on 18 November 1962, King's assurance that the F.B.I. was crawling with white bigots, the F.B.I. took him seriously. King accused the Bureau of recruiting its agents for Southern police work (especially in Georgia) from the ranks of Southerners themselves: thereby guaranteeing meal-tickets to men who spent their off-duty hours, if not actually donning white sheets, then sympathising with those who did. Had King bothered to obtain the relevant statistics from those investigative officers whom he regularly disdained except when he needed to be rescued from lynch-mobs, he would have discovered that the charge of Southerners dominating the F.B.I.'s Southern operations was false. DeLoach, hoping to put King right on the topic, tried to arrange at least one meeting with him. In doing so DeLoach underestimated King's indolence, which included lofty refusal to check incoming messages. King never did return DeLoach's telephone calls, and he left DeLoach with the impression of the F.B.I. being deliberately snubbed. Unlike King, Hoover knew how to bide his time.

Then came Bobby's authorisation to Hoover for wiretapping of King's office, followed by similar permission for bugging King's home and any hotel rooms he used. Hoover now felt the heat from both sides. Bobby wanted Hoover to curb King; King wanted Hoover, if not to curb Bobby (since the idea of anyone else doing the Attorney-General's job pleased King even less), then at least to force the Kennedys into controlling Hoover and explicitly smashing the Southern Democrats' segregationist power bloc.

Under these conflicting pressures, Hoover blurted out his true feelings towards King on 18 November 1964, at -- of all places -- a press conference. Normally press conferences ranked in Hoover's opinion only one step morally above Communist rallies; but on this occasion his hearers were mostly members of the National Women's Press Club, and therefore (he assumed) too ladylike to cause him trouble. After a boring recitation of crime statistics, Hoover raised the matter of King's misconceptions as to Southerners in the F.B.I. "In my opinion", Hoover went on to announce, "Dr Martin Luther King is the most notorious liar in the country."

Thrice DeLoach, who was seated on the platform, frantically scribbled messages to Hoover urging that he declare his accusation off the record. Thrice Hoover refused. "DeLoach", he finally proclaimed, "advises me to tell you ladies that my calling Dr King a notorious liar should be off the record. I won't do this. Feel free to print my remarks as given." (20)

Giving the all-clear to publication of his outburst was the worst error of Hoover's life. Ascribing unique mendacity to King in a nation that continued to harbour Alger Hiss, and had once harboured Julius Rosenberg, could only make Hoover look foolish. On that day Hoover became publicly vulnerable as he had never been publicly vulnerable before. He had managed the impossible. In one sentence he had handed over the moral high ground to a demagogue who thought it comical to charge a widowed First Lady with necrophiliac fellatio; to an ordained clergyman who, at moments of erotic climax with prostitutes, would scream "I'm f ... king for God!" or (still more revealingly) "I'm not a Negro tonight!" (21)

After 18 November 1964, then, Hoover remained on the permanent defensive. But as his national influence weakened, little by little, so -- for different reasons -- did King's. The Nobel laureate who achieved a private audience with Pope Paul VI soon found himself superseded. Increasingly denounced by black conservatives like George S. Schuyler for his sympathies with Moscow and Hanoi

(Schuyler likened King to "some sable Typhoid Mary"), (22) increasingly mocked by Black Power and Nation of Islam leaders as an Uncle Tom, King spent his post-1964 career trying in desperation to outbid the hard Left without stooping to violence. It did him no good. Lyndon Johnson, the most impassioned champion blacks had had in the White House for a century, wanted nothing to do with King's rants. King was dead politically for three years before the sniper fire of drifter and drug-peddler James Earl Ray, on 4 April 1968, killed him physically.

Had Hoover but known it, he could have destroyed King's power base without a single public insult, let alone sustained electronic surveillance. From 1987 it emerged that King was, throughout his adult life, a plagiarist. In particular King stole his doctoral thesis material from others, and stole from a fellow black preacher his "I have a dream" speech. During King's lifetime -- as opposed to the present day -- the merest hint of plagiarism could, and did, regularly destroy careers, above all academic careers. Confirmation that King had plagiarised would have reduced his vast academic following to a handful of indiscriminate worshippers. Unrepentant King apologist Gerald McKnight admits: (23, 24)
 "Had the F.B.I. discovered King's plagiarism ... faced with the evidence
 that he stole his dissertation, it is hard to see how King could have
 continued as an effective public figure.

 That the bureau missed this singular window of opportunity to destroy
 King diminishes the carefully cultivated image of the Hoover-era F.B.I. as
 omnipotent and omniscient."


"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair": Hoover's last years made him resemble an Ozymandias straight from Central Casting. They witnessed almost unrelieved political decline, cruelly coexisting with alert mental function till the end. Decline, admittedly, did not seem imminent at first. Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk recommended that President Johnson appoint Hoover Attorney-General once Bobby, in a characteristic temper tantrum, had stormed out of the job. (25) This suggestion Hoover declined; forty years possessing power's substance had left him ill-fitted for power's legal shadow, although Kirk's warm admiration pleased him. He showed no pleasure at all when Alabama's Governor George Wallace, campaigning for the Presidency in 1968 as a law-and-order independent, asked him to be his running mate. (Hoover continued to resent Wallace's failure to rid Alabama's essential services of Klansmen at the F.B.I.'s urging, though various other Southern Governors had long since effected at least partial anti-Klan purges in their own States. (26) He also deprecated what he called "psychoneurotic tendencies" (27) on Wallace's part, Wallace having been invalided out of the Air Force after a nervous breakdown.) Yet the notion that powerful individuals saw him as a future Vice-President could hardly fail to tickle his vanity.

In 1965 America's television screens began transmitting episodes of "The F.B.I.", starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. These brought the law-enforcing feats of Hoover and his organisation to the notice of millions far too young to have attended pre-war picture theatres where Hoover's crime-fighting activities had been extolled; and they gave Hoover a Saint Martin's summer of glory before the film cameras. (Improbably enough, "The F.B.I." continued in production until 1974, by which time "M.A.S.H." and like-minded televisual subversion had made it appear the wheeziest of anachronisms.) What was more, Johnson issued, in plenty of time for Hoover's seventieth birthday, Executive Order No. 10682, the wording of which DeLoach had drafted. This order specifically decreed that the normal Federal civil service retirement age of seventy did not apply in Hoover's case. Johnson is supposed to have justified his action by saying "I'd rather have him [Hoover] inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in." (28) Cheated thereby of his own hopes for taking over as F.B.I. director, DeLoach continued nevertheless to serve Hoover faithfully and shrewdly, until a job offer by the Pepsico firm in 1970 enticed him away from Hoover's entourage.

The departure from the F.B.I. of DeLoach's chief rival, William Sullivan, occurred in less agreeable circumstances. Throughout the 1960s Sullivan had fancied himself as wresting the directorship from DeLoach when Hoover died or was persuaded to resign. Secure (as he thought) in Hoover's esteem, he more and more ran the domestic security unit, Cointelpro, as an independent operation, with only the most tangential reference to F.B.I. practices. When he considered that Hoover was letting King off far too lightly, he sent King -- only three days after Hoover's "notorious liar" accusation -- an anonymous letter purporting to come from a disappointed black, and urging King to commit suicide. Accompanying the letter was a tape of one of King's more strenuous bump-and-grind sessions, captured by F.B.I. recording devices. (29) Sullivan took great care to conceal from Hoover his authorship and despatch of this epistle, but he took no care whatever to conceal his conviction that Hoover was past his peak. Correctly if tactlessly, he chided Hoover for assuming that the American Communist Party was directing all anti-Vietnam student activism; he knew far more about such New Left heroes as John Lennon than Hoover had ever learnt or wanted to learn. Chiding gradually turned into outright rebukes, outright rebukes into waspishly abusive memos to "the old man". In 1970 Sullivan turned up to his office one morning only to discover that he no longer had a job. Hoover had not actually dismissed him; he had simply ordered the lock on Sullivan's door changed overnight. After this blow, Sullivan reinvented himself as the anti-Hoover historian to end all anti-Hoover historians, and told any news-hound who would listen (at times via telephone calls from a psychiatric clinic) that he was writing the definitive secret history of foul F.B.I. play. Testifying before Congress that he himself had never hated King, that he had feigned hatred only to placate the pathologically "racist" Hoover, he laboured away at his memoirs. These appeared in 1979, but he could no longer benefit from them. On 9 November 1977 he had perished in a bizarre, but apparently genuine, hunting accident. (30)

Had Sullivan been alone in his impatience with Hoover the septuagenarian, the latter's last years would have been happier. Unfortunately for Hoover, every objection Sullivan had made to Hoover's continuing as F.B.I. director found its echo, point by point, in the counsels of White House advisers once Johnson had stepped down from the Presidency in favour of Richard Nixon. With Johnson, as with no other President after Franklin Roosevelt died, Hoover enjoyed a certain intimacy. Johnson sometimes invited Hoover to his Texas ranch, and Hoover came to play an avuncular role in the lives of Johnson's daughters, commiserating with them in their teenage griefs, playing boisterously with their pet dogs. (He seemed less avuncular when subjecting their boyfriends and husbands to F.B.I. wiretapping, but as Johnson of all people well knew, "every man has his price".) With Nixon, Hoover found himself again on the outer. Not only was Nixon's grim reserve the antithesis of Johnson's backslapping affability (it is impossible to imagine Nixon revealing his gall-bladder scar on television, as Johnson famously did), but the Nixon circle believed that Hoover's intellectual powers were being blunted by age. Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan noted Hoover's decline in a characteristically well-written memo of February 1971, which by no means lacked all compassion towards the flailing colossus: (31)
 "He has nowhere to go but down; and he is going down steadily ... With each
 of these new picayune battles in which he involves himself, his place is
 being sullied ... My strong recommendation would be to retire Hoover now in
 all the glory and esteem he has merited ... and not let him -- for his own
 sake and ours -- wind up his career a dead lion being chewed over by the
 jackals of the Left."

By 1971 even Nixon, appreciative though he was of Hoover's past services, had come to agree. America's internal issues held little interest for Nixon anyhow -- on one of the Watergate tapes, he eloquently referred to domestic political processes as "building outhouses in Peoria" (32) -- and even if the home front had been one of Nixon's all-consuming concerns, Hoover was no longer the man to improve it. The sheer danger of day-to-day life in the streets at this time, for millions of middle-class Americans, had become a nightmare. In New York City above all, Mr. and Mrs. John Citizen lived in fear. Men and women who had been left unaffected by Berkeley's and Yale's campus protests, men and women for whom the race conflagrations in Los Angeles and Newark and Detroit and Washington D.C. had been nothing more than obstreperous news items on their television screens, now found their blood running cold. In late 1969 and early 1970, police around the nation had to deal with an average of eighty reported bomb attacks each day. (33) Separate explosions at the headquarters of I.B.M., Mobil Oil, and General Telephone claimed forty-three lives. Nixon urged Congress to combat these outrages by reimposing capital punishment, but unavailingly. Troops in May 1970 opened fire on anti-war protesters at Kent State University, Ohio, killing four students and crippling a fifth for life; a week later, two more students died of bullet wounds in similar circumstances -- though with much less news coverage -- at Jackson State University, Mississippi. Nor was gaol any safer than freedom in this "skunk hour" (Robert Lowell's expressive phrase): September 1971's mass shootings and throat-cuttings at the riot-infested Attica Correctional Facility, New York State, had left forty-two prisoners and wardens dead. Most had been slain not by the rioters but by the National Guardsmen who were meant to be restoring order. (34)

Presidential Assistant Tom Huston flatly informed White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman: "At some point, Hoover has to be told who is President. He has become totally unreasonable." (35) Future Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy -- himself an erstwhile F.B.I. agent, who had acquired the melancholy distinction of failing to convict Timothy Leary for illegal drug use (36) -- wrote a confidential report concerning ever-poorer F.B.I. morale. Moved by the urgency of the circumstances to quote Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" ("The old order changeth, giving place to new"), Liddy also described Hoover's deputy Clyde Tolson as having said on 30 June 1971, with untypical bluntness: "Hoover knows that, no matter who wins in `72, he's through." (37) Eventually Nixon decided on what he hoped all concerned would accept as a face-saving solution. Hoover, the President determined, would retain his job till the 1972 election; after that, he would need to go. DeLoach -- who, dutiful as he was, concluded independently of the White House that Hoover had outlived his prime -- advised the Cabinet to handle "the old man" gently: (38)
 "Offer him the post of "director emeritus." Give him an office at the
 bureau -- a big one. Let him keep Helen Gandy [Hoover's faithful personal
 assistant for almost all his F.B.I. career] as his secretary. Let him keep
 his bullet-proof limousine."

Not that the Cabinet's members needed much urging to handle Hoover gently; rather, it required a stomach-churning fortitude on their part to contemplate handling Hoover at all. The President entreated DeLoach to give Hoover the bad news in person: something DeLoach refused, and Nixon feared, to do. Then Attorney-General John Mitchell determined to bite the bullet in a metaphor perhaps singularly appropriate in the F.B.I.'s context -- and tell Hoover himself. At the crucial moment Mitchell's courage also failed.

So nobody dared to give Hoover the sack. Yet during the last days of April 1972, the question of what to do with him exercised Nixon's team all over again. Could Nixon afford to wait even until the November election before ridding himself of Hoover? We shall never know if he could or not, because the problem that in Nixon induced only dithering, the Grim Reaper solved for him sometime on the night of 1-2 May.

In retirement, of course, it struck Nixon as rather a pity that Hoover had died after all. Hoover would never have let a two-bit burglary by a bunch of amateurs grow into the all-consuming cancer of Watergate. But then, as Nixon had himself admitted at Hoover's funeral, "magnificent achievement and dedicated service" (39) were what Hoover's life was all about.


Hoover's declining years constituted a cruel end, but one not much crueller than Hoover would have predicted for himself. He knew in his bones the provisional nature of his achievement, and of civilisation as a whole: the difficulty with which man has extricated himself from the cave, and his readiness to revert to savagery at the first chance he gets. Idiot triumphalism, such as Francis Fukuyama would many years later dignify with the trappings of a creed, repelled Hoover.

Of all twentieth-century tragic figures (and the adjective "tragic" cannot in all conscience be denied him), Hoover perhaps most resembles a leader with whom he would have shuddered at the very notion of being linked: Marshal Petain. The comparison, though in some respects inept -- not least vis-a-vis the respective positions of Jews in Petain's France and Hoover's America -- warrants pursuing.

Both men possessed scientific and soldierly, rather than contemplative, minds; both men, despised by most intellectuals, enjoyed near-regal acclaim among the middle classes; both men loathed Communism as profoundly secularist and, indeed, secularism as profoundly Communist; both men had only scorn for vote-catching politicians; both men placed undue trust in hostile and treacherous juniors. And both men, above all, committed the supreme sin that outweighed all their good qualities: they lived too long.

With justice, Hoover expert Richard Gid Powers concluded an article on Hoover (40) by citing a lament that Cato the Elder, as described by Plutarch, uttered in his last years:

"It is hard that I, who have lived with one generation, should be obliged to make my defence to those of another."

(1.) Alistair Cooke, "Six Men" (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1978), page 172.

(2.) Thomas Reeves, "A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy" (Free Press, New York City, 1991), page 143.

(3.) Reeves, page 56.

(4.) Cartha DeLoach, "Hoover's F.B.I.: The Inside Story by Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant" (Regnery Publishing, Washington D.C., 1997), page 59.

(5.) Reeves, page 321.

(6.) Reeves, page 154.

(7.) Reeves, page 474.

(8.) DeLoach, page 303.

(9.) William Norman Grigg, "Passing of an American Hero", The New American (22 July 1996), pages 39-40; William H. McIlhanny, "Klandestine: The Untold Story of Delmar Dennis and His Role in the F.B.I.'s War Against the Ku Klux Klan" (Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York State, 1974), pages 7-99.

(10.) DeLoach, page 11.

(11.) David Garrow, "The F.B.I. and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From `Solo' to Memphis" (W. W. Norton, New York City, 1981), page 81; Laurence Stern and Richard Harwood, "A Dirty Business", Nation (23 June 1969), pages 780-781.

(12.) Taylor Branch, "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65" (Simon & Schuster, New York City, 1997), page 250; Jon Meacham, "The Middle of the Journey", Newsweek (18 January 1998), page 62.

(13.) Paul Gottfried, "Martin Luther King, Jr., as Conservative Hero", Chronicles, April 1997, pages 29-31; Roger Kimball, "The Elephant in the Gallery, or, The Lessons of `Sensation'," The New Criterion (November 1999), pages 4-8.

(14.) Garrow, pages 22, 233.

(15.) Garrow, page 24.

(16.) Garrow, pages 24-25; Ralph de Toledano, "J. Edgar Hoover: The Man in his Time" (Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York State, 1974), page 332.

(17.) Garrow, page 213; Martin Luther King, "Strength to Love" (Harper & Row, New York City, 1963), pages 88 and 98-99.

(18.) Theodore Pappas, "Plagiarism and the Culture War: The Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Other Prominent Americans" (Hallberg Publishing Corporation, Tampa, Florida, 1998), page 140.

(19.) Martin Luther King, "The Unchristian Christian", Ebony (August 1965), page 79.

(20.) DeLoach, pages 204-205.

(21.) Branch, page 207; Meacham, page 62.

(22.) Nicholas Stix, "The Black Nationalism of George S. Schuyler", Chronicles (November 1997), page 42.

(23.) Gerald McKnight, "The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the F.B.I., and the Poor People's Campaign" (Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1997), pages 6-7.

(24.) McKnight, page 146; Pappas, page 83.

(25.) Richard Gid Powers, "Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover" (Hutchinson, London, 1987), page 395.

(26.) Kenneth O"Reilly," `Racial Matters': The F.B.I.'s Secret File on Black Americans, 1960-1972" (Free Press, New York City, 1989), page 172.

(27.) Dan T. Carter, "The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics" (Simon & Schuster, New York City, 1998), page 354; O"Reilly, page 172.

(28.) Robert Dallek, "Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and his Times, 1961-1973" (Oxford University Press, New York City, 1998), page 126.

(29.) Garrow, pages 125-126.

(30.) Sanford J. Ungar, "The Bureau", The New Republic (13 October 1979), pages 35-36.

(31.) Bruce Oudes, "From: The President: Richard Nixon's Secret Files" (Harper & Row, New York City, 1989), page 217.

(32.) Godfrey Hodgson, "All Things to All Men: The False Promise of America's Presidency" (Simon & Schuster, New York City, 1980), page 105.

(33.) Richard Nixon, "The Memoirs of Richard Nixon" (Macmillan, London, 1978), pages 470-471.

(34.) Jon Wiener, "Come Together: John Lennon in his Time" (Faber & Faber, London, 1985), pages 197-198.

(35.) Anthony Summers, "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover" (G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York City, 1993), page 387.

(36.) G. Gordon Liddy, "Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy" (St Martin's Press, New York City, 1980), pages 108-115.

(37.) Liddy, pages 176-177.

(38.) DeLoach, page 412.

(39.) Curt Gentry, "J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets" (W.W. Norton, New York City, 1991), page 721.

(40.) Richard Gid Powers, "Hoover, J. Edgar", American National Biography (Oxford University Press, New York City, 1999), Vol. 11, page 159.

MR. R.J. STOVE is Editor of the quarterly magazine Codex (, and his articles appear frequently in such journals as Chronicles (Rockford, Illinois), The Salisbury Review, Quadrant, News Weekly and The Adelaide Review.
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Author:Stove, R.J.
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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