Letter to a Court Historian about Forrestal’s Death

Letter to a Court Historian about Forrestal’s Death

by DC Dave


H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken aptly called them “the timorous eunuchs who posture as American historians.” That was in 1920, but little has changed. It might be a freshly minted Ph.D. from TCU, teaching at a backwater university in Texas like Matthew A. McNiece, or the man often described as the foremost historian of the Cold War, Yale history professor John Lewis Gaddis, but the fake authoritativeness and the real pusillanimity are at least as evident today as they were in Mencken’s day. That is certainly the case when it comes to their writing about the very important subject of the violent death of the U.S. government’s leading opponent of the creation of the state of Israel, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.


“the timorous eunuchs who posture as American historians”

Now comes a man who has achieved a station in the profession that, but for his inability to write coherent English, young McNiece might aspire to, University of California at Merced professor emeritus Gregg Herken. You know that Herken has made it with the ruling establishment when you see that his new book on the movers and shakers who lived in the Georgetown district of Washington, DC, during the Cold War era got reviewed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Weekly Standard, and numerous other publications. That he has the stamp of approval as a certified court historian is further evidenced by the fact that for 15 years he was chairman of the Department of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

What strikes one in listening to his presentation about his book at Washington’s Politics and Prose bookstore is his apparent lack of any sense of outrage over the very cozy relationship that existed (and still exists, we must presume) between prominent putative journalists and people at the very highest levels of America’s intelligence community, that is to say, our secret government.

People so completely in bed with the most sinister people in the government can hardly be proper watchdogs upon them.

One might say the same thing about professional historians. The government kept its own inquiry into Forrestal’s death secret for over 55 years and this fact seems not to have troubled our professional history community in the slightest. They continued with the snap suicide conclusion reached by the local coroner, the head of Bethesda Naval Hospital, and the news media, even when the summary results of the inquiry, released nearly a half year late, reached no conclusion as to what caused Forrestal’s fall from a 16th floor window. Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, in their often-cited biography, Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal, managed to leave out the information that there had ever even been such an inquiry, much less that it had been kept secret. And when this writer was able to pry it loose through use of the Freedom of Information Act in 2004, our neutered arbiters of historical truth unanimously dummied up about it and have kept their silence right up to the present day.

Herken is comfortably in that mainstream, ignoring completely everything that we have learned since the initial reporting on the May 22, 1949, fall in his brief mention of Forrestal’s death. His offense is worse than most, because we know he knows better. One of his references, as I note in the March 28 email that I was moved to write to him (below), is to the article in which I reveal the phoniness of the transcription of the morbid poem that was sold to the public as a sort of suicide note:

Dear Professor Herken,

I was impressed by the scholarship that you demonstrated in your letter to The New York Review of Books, reinforcing with new evidence your already persuasive argument that Robert Oppenheimer was an active member of the Communist Party of the United States.  I was especially disappointed, then, to see how completely your scholarly skills seemed to have deserted you when you wrote about the death of our first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, in your most recent book, The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington:

Dismissed from his Pentagon post by Truman in March for his intransigence in the defense budget debate, Forrestal suffered a nervous breakdown weeks later and was confined to a secure wing of the navy’s hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  During the early morning hours of May 22, 1949, after a restless night spent copying lines from the chorus of Sophocles’s play Ajax, Forrestal fell to his death from the window of his room on the hospital’s sixteenth floor.

He would be the first senior-ranking American casualty of the Cold War. (pp. 94-95)

Taking your small inaccuracies first, Forrestal did not fall from “the window of his room.” There were at least three windows in his room, but Forrestal, according to the official record, did not go out any of them.

He went out the window of the kitchen across the hall from his room.

No diagnosis of “nervous breakdown” was made by any of the doctors examining Forrestal at Bethesda Naval Hospital.  You can search the transcript of the official “investigation” of Forrestal’s death and find that the word “nervous” appears only once, in the endorsing letter of Dr. James Strecker in which he states his own qualifications on the subject of nervous disorders.

It is also unwarranted to state flatly that Truman sacked Forrestal because of his “intransigence in the defense budget debate.” There are any number of reasons why Truman replaced Forrestal with Louis Johnson, but by giving that sole reason you do manage to make your insupportable conclusion that Forrestal was a “casualty of the Cold War” sound somewhat plausible.  Arnold Rogow’s carefully hedged-in conclusion is much more supportable, which is why I lead off with it in “New Forrestal Document Exposes Cover-up.”

However history may ultimately judge his opposition to the establishment of Israel, by 1949 it was clear that Forrestal was, in a sense, one of the casualties of the diplomatic warfare that had led to the creation of the Jewish state.

All these inaccuracies are relatively slight, though, compared to your statement about Forrestal’s restless night spent copying those lines from Sophocles.  You should have told your readers, as all the other promoters of the suicide thesis have, that the poem in question reflects a bleak and despairing state of mind.  More importantly, though, you should have shared with readers the evidence that most of those other writers did not have, that is, that the handwriting of the transcription doesn’t resemble Forrestal’s in the least and that the corpsman on duty looking over Forrestal said that in those last two hours of Forrestal’s life when the corpsman was on duty the lights were off in his room and he did no reading or writing, and that no book was entered into evidence during the official investigation.

You then proceed to compound your error in the endnote that accompanies the quoted passage:

Internet conspiracy theorists have suggested that Forrestal was actually murdered by Soviet spies, or possibly by Mossad agents, because of his opposition to creation of the state of Israel.  While some of Forrestal’s “paranoia” turns out to have been justified—he was right in believing that the U.S. government had been penetrated by Russian spies—his personal papers at Princeton leave little doubt that he was deeply depressed for some time prior to his death.

Since the Mossad would not exist until a half year after Forrestal’s death, not even those people you tar with the meaningless pejorative “Internet conspiracy theorists” have ever, to my knowledge, suggested that that organization had anything to do with Forrestal’s death.  That pro-Israel and pro-Communist partisans within the Truman government were, however, behind Forrestal’s death has been suggested—by me in particular.  You have referenced my work so you must know that I name the powerful White House aide David Niles as the most likely culprit in the plot to murder Forrestal.  He was identified in the Venona intercepts as a person cooperating with Communist agents and he was eventually dismissed by Truman for passing important military secrets to Israel.

Because you specifically cite Part 3 of my “Who Killed James Forrestal?”—by web address though not by name—you know as well that I am on the firmest of ground when I say that the Sophocles transcription was not in Forrestal’s handwriting.  That is the article, after all, in which I revealed the dissimilarity between the handwriting in the transcription and several Forrestal handwriting samples: http://www.dcdave.com/article4/041103.htm.

Surely you must agree that nothing that might be found among Forrestal’s personal papers that is suggestive of his suicide can compare in significance to the evidence that I have presented in this short email that is suggestive of his murder.  The lead doctor at Bethesda, Captain George Raines, after all, said that he was suicidally depressed (although his second in command, Captain Stephen Smith, seems to have disagreed rather vigorously), but that evidence of suicide hardly compares to the physical evidence of murder:  the ginned-up “suicidal transcription,” and broken glass on the bed and the laundered crime scene that I discuss in Part 2 of “Who Killed James Forrestal?”

I would very much like to hear what you might have to say in defense of what you have written about Forrestal’s death in light of the facts that I have presented.  Should I hear nothing I shall take it as a concession that what you have written is, as it seems to me on its face, indefensible.


David Martin

March 28, 2015

Ten days have now passed and, predictably, I have had no response from Professor Herken. No doubt he has concluded that a person with a mainstream approval rating like his need not be bothered by anything so trivial as the truth. Nobody who might threaten his aerie, in his judgment, has said anything about his errors concerning Forrestal’s death, after all, so he needn’t be bothered.

As Mencken would have anticipated, he is in good company. Douglas Brinkley has brushed me off more than once as have the entire stable of historians at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and a host of others.   Frankly, I don’t know how they live with themselves, or at least how they can refrain from spitting at what they see in the mirror when they shave in the morning.

David Martin

April 7, 2015

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11 thoughts on “Letter to a Court Historian about Forrestal’s Death

  1. It’s sad to see that the author still needs
    to justify Forrestal’s ‘paranoia’ about
    the Soviet spies in the US government,
    when, by now, it should be a matter
    of common knowledge that virtually
    every Jew was a Soviet spy, unless
    proved otherwise.

    Since it’s to be taken for granted these
    days that every Jew is an I$raeli spy,
    unless proved otherwise, you only need
    to enlighten yourself to the fact that –
    before the Jews set up their I$rael in
    Palestine in 1948 – the Soviet Union
    was THE I$rael of the Jews – I$rael
    Mark 1.


  2. As if to prove my point and Mencken’s point and Thomas DiLorenzo’s point about American historians, we have this breaking story from Alison Weir concerning the American Historical Association:

    The American Historical Association (AHA) has refused to publish a paid advertisement for my book, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel.

    This type of action demonstrates how the history discussed in my book has, in fact, so often remained hidden. It follows an incident a few years ago in which the largest chain of history magazines in the U.S. refused any advertisement by the Council for the National Interest, based on the accusation that CNI is “anti-Israel.”* CNI is a 20-year-old organization that works for policies that represent American interests and principles…

    Read the full article at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/27/keeping-hidden-history-hidden/.

    My review of Alison’s book is here: https://buelahman.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/pernicious-zionism-revealed/


  3. Another thing that Mr. Martin might have mentioned is that Bernard Baruch (a water carrier for the pro-Israel movement) had warned Forrestal that his opposition to the creation of Israel was contrary to his “personal interest.”


    • Indeed. I have mentioned that episode on several previous occasions, though. The first time was in Part 2 of “Who Killed James Forrestal?”which I wrote back in 2004. The quote is from the Walter Millis version of “The Forrestal Diaries.”

      “Had lunch with B[ernard] M. Baruch. After lunch, raised the same question with him. He took the line of advising me not to be active in this particular matter and that I was already identified, to a degree that was not in my own interests, with opposition to the United Nations policy on Palestine. He said he himself did not approve of the Zionists’ actions, but in the next breath said that the Democratic Party could only lose by trying to get our government’s policy reversed, and said that it was a most inequitable thing to let the British arm the Arabs and for us not to furnish similar equipment to the Jews.” (p. 364) http://dcdave.com/article4/040922.html

      Most recently I mentioned it in my 2012 article”‘Jews’Tried to Kill Truman in 1947.”

      Even someone as generally well informed about high level skulduggery as this writer had his scholarship diminished by his ignorance of the revelations in the Margaret Truman and Ira R. T. Smith books. When I learned of the Zionist attacks on Bevin et al., I wrote Part 4 of “Who Killed James Forrestal?” subtitled “Britain’s Forrestal,” and included a section that reflected my ignorance entitled “Who Knew?” It is worth repeating in its entirety here:

           Although it is apparent that those signers of the warning letter to The New York Times had no knowledge of the previous attempt on the life of Ernest Bevin, one must wonder who, outside the ranks of British intelligence, did know about it.  In particular, we have to wonder if one so connected to the higher reaches of power in the world as Bernard Baruch, when he warned his friend Forrestal in February of 1949 that he had already become too identified with opposition to Israel for his own good, knew more than he was telling about the danger that Forrestal faced.  And when Forrestal complained about being followed and bugged, did he know that the Irgun crowd had come pretty close to snuffing out the life of his British counterpart?  Could such knowledge have been behind his resistance to commitment to Bethesda Naval Hospital and his reported claim that he would never leave the hospital alive when he attempted to get out of the car taking him there?  Might that have been the revelation from Secretary of the Air Force Symington on the day of Forrestal’s departure from office that drove him into his sudden funk?
           And after Forrestal’s death, could there have been any doubt in the minds of those aware of the attempt on Bevin who had ultimately been behind the later crime?  Might these have included those powerful friends such as Ferdinand Eberstadt and Robert Lovett, who had failed to visit him in the hospital and then, when the results of the investigation of his death were never made public, failed to register any public complaint?  At the very least, those in the know included the contemporary and future leaders of Great Britain, and the knowledge that the leaders of the United States government had conspired with Zionist thugs in the assassination of the one courageous voice of reason in their midst would very likely have animated their own future Middle East policy.



  4. I’m interested…but I don’t have time to sort through the constant digressions into historian-bashing. Can’t you just stick to the point? Write a second article to decry historians…


    • See the title and the opening sentence. This is the article that you are asking for, the one bashing historians. Anything that does so is hardly correctly characterized as a digression. If, on the other hand, you want to get up to speed quickly on the Forrestal death I suggest that you go first to “New Forrestal Document Exposes Cover-up” to which I link in the article http://dcdave.com/article4/040927.html. If, on the other hand, you just want to remain true to your screen name I’m afraid I have little to say to you.


  5. Thanks for the more accurate quote. I was aware of the attempt on Truman’s life, etc. I think I remember reading also that there were probably 2 assailants. The broken glass on the floor, and the slippers being by the bed also suggest Forrestal did not leave the bedroom under his own power. In any case, the so-called suicide note being not in F’s handwriting is near conclusive evidence that someone else was there and therefore that F was murdered, in my opinion. It may be asked why would the murderers not expect that the note being in another hand would not be noticed? Well, it was good enough for the press, which did not pick up on it. They may have had no alternative, since they couldn’t get it in F’s handwriting and probably had a strong desire to raise a suggestion of suicide, so they did the best (or worst) they could.


  6. the resonant frequency of truth is anti-semitic….according to the

    who claim to be Israel by naming their terrorist
    Zionist STATE “ISRAEL” aka…The Stool Sculpture Deity Cult Compound
    {for the record…} Biblical Israel cannot be the “Jews”.
    since Gog & Magog “Jews” {proselytes to Talmudic Judaism}
    can’t be “Israel” simply because they are “Jews” who are in fact Gog & Magog…


    no one on earth HAS to stay in the stool sculpture deity cult compound

    “They” could come out…

    Thanks for the great work on the infiltration and destruction of the
    American “Government” by the Synagogue of Satan so-called “Jews”.

    great will be your reward in the Kingdom


  7. I have received a private communication in which I was reminded that Professor Herken is a tenured [emeritus] professor. I responded by pointing him to something I had written in Part 4 of “America’s Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster.”

    The tenure system was created for the purpose of buttressing freedom of thought and freedom of expression. The university would be the one place where one could pursue truth without fear or favor. If a professor’s pursuit of truth were to lead him into dangerous waters, he need not, like so many of his fellow citizens, fear for his job because he would be protected by tenure. Unfortunately, if the extreme reticence of the academic community in the face of not just the Foster scandal, but a host of others related to the presidency and the federal government in general, is any indication, the tenure system is not working as intended. The problem, it would appear, is that the habits of mind and behavior developed to achieve tenure are very difficult to break once tenure is achieved. The supreme irony here is that those achieving tenure, then, are precisely those least fit to make proper use of the privileges thus granted.



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