"Forrestal Committed Suicide," Claims Cold War Historian


Claim Based on His Own Ignorance, He Also Claims


America's foremost scholar on the history of the Cold War, Yale University history professor John Lewis Gaddis, in response to a question by this writer last night, claimed that he knew nothing about the release of the official investigation of the death of James Forrestal (the Willcutts Report).  According to Wikipedia, "Gaddis is best known for his critical analysis of the strategies of containment employed by United States presidents from Harry S. Truman to Ronald Reagan..." 


Also according to Wikipedia,  "Biographers Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley have dubbed Forrestal "godfather of containment" largely on account of his work in distributing [George F.] Kennan's writing.  Wikipedia calls Kennan "the father of containment."


In my question to Gaddis, I noted that he states flatly on page 354 of his new biography of Kennan, the promotion of which had brought him to the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, that Forrestal "had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide."  "Could it be," I asked, "that you are unfamiliar with the official investigation of his death, kept secret for 55 years and released only in 2004?  That report is on the web site of the Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library of Princeton University.  No critical reader of that report could conclude that Forrestal committed suicide."


Gaddis responded that, indeed, he knew nothing of this official investigation and its belated release.  In stating that Forrestal had committed suicide, he said, he was simply repeating the "prevailing opinion" on the matter.  


Consider what we have here.  The leading opponent in the U.S. government of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, the one most responsible for the change of U.S. policy toward the Communists from one of accommodation to one of confrontation and containment, dies violently and mysteriously.  Stalin is well known for assassinating his opponents, wherever they might be.  Abundant evidence has been produced that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were laced with Stalin's agents, right up to the very top.  The news that the official investigation of this violent death was suppressed for 55 years, only to be released through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2004, has been on that leading opponent of Communism's Wikipedia site for some years now, as has been the key evidence showing that the death was, in all probability, a murder.  But America's leading scholar on the confrontation claims not to know the first thing about this and reflects as much in his latest book.


It is possible, I suppose.  He is, after all, a professor of history at Yale.  It's not very likely, though.  Like I said, he's a professor of history at Yale.  In fact, he is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale.  Lovett is the Skull and Bones member to whose Florida estate Forrestal was flown after his strange, likely drug-induced, seizure in Washington.  That was just prior to Forrestal's eventually fatal transfer to the 16th floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital.


Whatever the case, Professor Gaddis would no doubt agree with the writer that, when it comes to the most important matters in this country, it is possible that one can learn too much.


David Martin

December 9, 2011




I have now had a chance to look at Gaddis’s new book and have found there some more information that sheds additional light on his answer to my question.  Included in his bibliography, as one would expect, is the 2009 book by Nicholas Thompson, The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War.  In Part 6 of my series, “Who Killed James Forrestal,” I show that Thompson writes at some length, though in a very dishonest way, about the findings of the Willcutts Report, the one about which Gaddis claims ignorance.  There are therefore three possibilities with respect to Gaddis’s claim of ignorance of that report, (1) Gaddis has read the book but forgot about that section, (2) he included the book in his bibliography without having read all of it, or (3) he was not telling the truth when he said that he had never heard of the Willcutts Report.  Neither possibility gives one much confidence in Gaddis as a historian.


December 21, 2011


See also “Press and historians close ranks, minds.”



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