Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hoover's FBI

A book review by R.J. Stove:
The largely ignored death in South Carolina, in March 2013, of ninety-two-year-old Cartha DeLoach—for years No. 3 at the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson—surely inspired in many a Hooverologist the sense that a historiographical dam would soon break. So close had DeLoach been to uttermost FBI power, albeit the actual directorship eluded him, that while he lived, chroniclers of Bureau intrigue must have found him an immovable obstacle. Most of DeLoach’s 1995 memoir Hoover’s FBI relied on publicly accessible sources; and it scarcely let cats out of bags, even in the passages where DeLoach portrayed Hoover in (so to speak) his shirt-sleeves. (Yes, shirt-sleeves rather than dresses. No tabloid Munchausen’s spiels about Hoover the alleged transvestite can survive DeLoach’s evidence, which likewise demolishes similar agitprop about Edgar and Clyde high-tailing it to Brokeback Mountain.) Very much worth reading; DeLoach proved to be a naturally fluent writer, but Solzhenitsyn he was not.

Consequently the field has been wide open for a thorough, archives-based account of just how the FBI sold itself to a public hitherto skeptical, not of foreign entanglements alone, but of sacrificing local jurisdictions upon new Beltway altars. Hoover in many ways shared Louis XIV’s genius for both publicity and trivia. Yet even le Roi Soleil had once needed to face down his Fronde. As for Hoover’s own patrons, no one knew better than that other publicity genius FDR how provisional the New Deal imperium always was before Huey Long’s failure to emerge from his 1935 gunfight at the Baton Rouge corral.

Inasmuch as a Hooverian brain-trust could be improvised into being, it carried the decided risk of unpopularity added to outright physical danger. While Hoover exploited the periodic combat deaths of G-men for all they were worth, being the Bureau’s resident Tacitus or Macaulay seldom allowed for excessive cosseting in head office. At the very lowest assessment, head office presupposed two criteria which both Tacitus and Macaulay would have struggled to meet: beautifully laundered white shirts and immaculately polished shoes. (Read more.)

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