Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited by Dr. George H. Nash
Book Review Part 2:
Of particular interest to those interested in Polish history is Herbert Hoover’s lengthy case study entitled “A Step-by-Step History of Poland”, which went through at least seven drafts. Hoover’s interest in Poland stretched back to his undergraduate days at Stanford University when he met Ignacy Paderewski and continued through his initial humanitarian endeavors for Poland after World War I and in the first two years of World War II. In this case study, Hoover chronicles the fate of Poland from the beginning of World War II, through his humanitarian visit in 1946, at the behest of President Truman.
Hoover’s emphasis is on the diplomatic interactions of American and British officials with their Polish counterparts. He quotes numerous conversations, declarations and promises that were made to fight for Poland’s territorial integrity and independence, but which were gradually abandoned. Hoover presents his case by highlighting the statements of Allied leaders and comparing them to their actions, making a strong case that the Americans and British engaged in a deliberate policy of appeasement towards the Soviet Union. The result is a strong indictment of many senior leaders and President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in particular. Of all the Allied conferences Hoover puts the greatest focus on the Teheran Conference and pinpoints it as the definitive moment of the Allies’ betrayal of Eastern Europe to the Soviets and the clearest example that the Atlantic Charter of 1940 would not apply to Stalin’s expanding empire.
The length of Hoover’s case study on Poland and the extensive references to and descriptions of matters related to Poland throughout the book, attests to the special place that Poland had in Hoover’s heart. Hoover’s sympathetic, but objective and factual analysis, presents a stark contrast to the apparent callousness of Allied leaders towards Poland’s fate. No American has taken a greater interest in and done more on Poland’s behalf than Herbert Hoover.
Hoover’s criticism of Allied leadership extends to the Pacific theater as well. He chronicles the numerous attempts by then Prime Minister Konoye to meet to President Roosevelt to negotiate peace between Japan and the United States. Though the question of whether war with Japan could have been avoided is another unanswerable “what if”, Hoover clearly shows that Roosevelt never reciprocated Konoye’s advances and following the fall of his cabinet, the rise of militarist leaders and ongoing sanctions against Japan, a showdown became a fait accompli.
Hoover relies primarily on published memoirs and government documents that were released in the years after the war. Though his sources were limited compared to what we have today, Hoover makes a compelling case for a thorough re-examination of the narrative of World War II that has been commonly accepted in the West. Hoover’s rationale for not publishing the book during his lifetime was to avoid generating controversy and bad blood between him and living participants in wartime events. Hoover’s reputation, which had been severely tarnished by the Great Depression, had largely been rehabilitated in the eyes of the public in his 30 years as an ex-President.
Now that nearly half a century has passed since the book was completed, and over seventy years since the war began, Hoover’s epic history presents us with an opportunity to reexamine some of the most momentous events in modern history. Hoover doesn’t presume to have the answers, but the greatest asset of the book is the volume of questions that it poses. Why did the United States recognize the Soviet Union in 1933, despite unceasing Communist subversion? What was the advantage to Allied interests to strongly support the Soviet Union through Lend Lease, even when Germany’s defeat was certain? To what degree did Soviet agents influence Allied policy at the highest levels and why weren’t they dealt with when they were exposed?
I recently came across a photo of Soviet troops in 1946, standing next to an American, Willys jeep, amidst the ruins of Warsaw on the Aleje Jerozolimskie, which run through the heart of the city. How much did the billions of dollars in American aid to the Soviet Union help to facilitate the subjugation of Poland? Why should the cost of defeating Hitler have been the enslavement of Eastern Europe? Did Roosevelt and Churchill even make these calculations?
These and other questions deserve more complete answers.