Persistent Lies about James Forrestal
From the Arlington Cemetery Web Site
To comment on this article go to B’Man’s Revolt.
This is an email that I sent on December 18, 2014. It did not bounce back as undeliverable, so I assume it reached its intended recipient. As of this date I have received no response and the changes that I suggested have not been made. Consequently, I have decided to make the email public:
Dear Arlington National Cemetery Webmaster,
On the site for our first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, you state, "On May 22 , after several prior attempts at suicide, and after copying a passage from Sophocles' "Chorus from Ajax", he jumped from the 16th floor hall window."
Only the date in that statement is verifiably correct. The allegation of several prior suicide attempts originates with the scandal columnist and Forrestal enemy Drew Pearson. Pearson had no source for his allegations and not one person has come forward to support it. Rather, everyone who has looked into the multiple suicide attempts charge has found it to be bogus. Biographers Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley say that Elliot Janeway was told by Ferdinand Eberstadt that Forrestal made an attempt to kill himself at Hobe Sound, FL, (with no details given), but they did not interview Eberstadt, who was alive when they wrote their book, and Janeway is at least as unreliable as Pearson.
Concerning the passage from the poem by Sophocles, check out the copy that I obtained with the Freedom of Information Act in 2004 and the samples of Forrestal's handwriting here. Now do you still want to say that he was the one who copied that excerpt?
He did not go out the hall window, either; he went out the window of a kitchen across the hall from his room. And if you still want to maintain that he jumped, I suggest that you examine the handwriting on that surrogate suicide note again and reflect upon the meaning of what you see.
The Arlington National Cemetery web site in question is not an official government site. On the site’s home page one is greeted with this message: “Welcome To The Unofficial Site Devoted To America’s Most Hallowed Ground And To The Heroes And The Pathfinders Who Rest In Eternal Peace And Honored Glory There.”
Above that is the message: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY (WEBSITE)
Where Valor Proudly Sleeps
The man whose name is behind the site is one Michael Robert Patterson, and at the bottom of the page he tells us one more time that he and his site are in no way associated with either the United States government or its army. By the manner in which he has treated the subject of James Forrestal’s death, he and his site would seem to be not very closely associated with the truth, either.
I first took note of the Arlington Cemetery site’s Forrestal observations in Part 2 of “Who Killed James Forrestal?” published more than ten years ago on September 22, 2004. In Part 2, reading from the official inquiry on Forrestal’s death, the Willcutts Report, we also have this exchange with the lead psychiatrist in the case, Dr. George Raines:
Q. Did Mister Forrestal make any attempts at suicide while he was under your care?
A. None whatsoever. The matter of suicide in Hobe Sound, he told Doctor [William] Menninger that he had attempted to hang himself with a belt. Menninger and I were very skeptical of that and both he and I were of the opinion that it was sort of a nightmare. The man had no marks on him and there was no broken belt. Very frequently a depressed person has a fantasy of dying and reports it as real. So far as I know he never made a single real attempt at suicide except that one that was successful.
Captain Raines is the one doctor among the several that Forrestal had who testified that his patient had expressed suicidal urges to him. He also absurdly volunteered that the handwriting of the transcribed poem looked like Forrestal’s. For a man with an intimate knowledge of the case, who was clearly doing his best to sell the suicide story, to deny knowledge of Forrestal making any previous attempts at suicide virtually confirms that there were no such attempts. Even without this testimony, which did not come to light until 2004, repeating Drew Pearson’s completely uncorroborated and patently ridiculous claims was irresponsible to begin with.
I made reference to the erroneous claims of the Arlington Cemetery site again on September 27, 2004, in a short summary article entitled “New Forrestal Document Exposes Cover-up.” This repeated mention has obviously had no effect on Mr. Patterson. After the passage of a decade, I decided to make a more active effort to get him to bring his statement concerning Forrestal’s demise into closer conformity with the known facts.
From studying his home page, we should hardly be surprised at his failure to respond. Taking him at his word that he is not associated with the U.S. government, it is still hard to imagine how his site would be different if it were wholly owned and financed by the most war-profiting elements of the military-industrial complex. Consider his collection of quotes on his home page, particularly the one laid out as though it were some lyrical poem at the top of the second column:
Great harm has been done to us.
We have suffered great loss.
And in our grief and anger we have found
our mission and our moment.
--President George W. Bush, September 2001
This celebration of the whipping up of war fever is very reminiscent of what Hermann Göring told American psychologist Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg:
Why, of course, the people don't want war… But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
All that is needed to give the Göring observation a particularly American flavor is to suggest that the war glorification be wrapped in the cloak of religion. To call this military cemetery sacrilegiously “our most hallowed ground” is a step in that direction. But that’s not enough for Patterson. With another of his quotes, he turns to the master of the genre:
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.
--Abraham Lincoln, November 1864
From a site that is devoted not to truth but to the glorification of war, then, I don’t suppose I should be holding out much hope that they would do justice to a man who labored mightily to bring an end to the Pacific War well before the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to forestall our endless involvement in war in the Middle East. Unfortunately, I’m also getting the same non-response from the less jingoistic Find A Grave. I sent the following message to Curator, Senior Administrator Russ Dodge on the same day:
Your misstatement concerning the nature of James Forrestal's death is not as egregious as the one at the Arlington National Cemetery site, but if you will read what I sent them (attached) you will still see that what you have written is now indefensible. The evidence is now really overwhelming that he was thrown from the window of the main tower of the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Find A Grave has a number of other people working on their site, with their email addresses. Perhaps readers could join me in importuning them.
January 8, 2015
Readers clicking on the word “misstatement” in my letter to Russ Dodge of Find A Grave, above, will see that there is no longer any obvious misstatement there. Previously it said that Forrestal committed suicide by jumping from a 16th floor window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Now it says only that he fell from the window, which is in harmony with the government’s last word on the subject in the Willcutts Report, the official investigation of Forrestal’s death. It is also in harmony with his official biography from the Department of Defense, whose last paragraph has this very telling statement:
In fact, centralization of authority in the Office of the Secretary of Defense became a constant objective under Forrestal and many of his successors. Unfortunately, Forrestal was no longer in the Pentagon when Congress approved these amendments. He left office on 28 March 1949 and died tragically less than two months later.
One can be sure that those words, which don’t explain the nature of the tragedy, whether he was murdered, committed suicide, or died by accident, were chosen very carefully.
As for the new statement at Find A Grave, we fancy that the change was made because we decided to follow our own advice and write a more detailed follow-up email explaining why it was inappropriate to say flatly that Forrestal committed suicide, but this time with a copy to all of the other editors listed on the web site. Readers who are still inclined to communicate with them might thank them, as I did, for making the necessary change.
That leaves Michael Robert Patterson of the Arlington National Cemetery site with the claim that Forrestal committed suicide. We hold out little hope, though, for anyone who would state as fact the ridiculous uncorroborated claim by scandalmonger and political enemy Drew Pearson that Forrestal made four previous attempts at suicide. Furthermore, anyone who would print approvingly President George W. Bush’s war cry on the eve of his vengeful criminal assault on Afghanistan obviously just has an agenda and is not really interested in the truth.
January 12, 2015