Man Awarded Ph. D. for Trashing Martin, Forrestal
To comment on this article go to B’Man’s Revolt.
In its pursuit of excellence in academic endeavors, Howard Payne University employs as its faculty individuals who exemplify a commitment to Christian ideals and who are dedicated to the search for and dissemination of truth. – from the catalog of Howard Payne University.
Ask you what provocation I have had?
The strong antipathy of good to bad.
– Alexander Pope
His name is Matthew A. McNiece. He is now the chairman of the Department of History, Political Science, and Geography at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. His doctoral dissertation is entitled “Un-Americans” and “Anti-Communists,”: The Rhetorical Battle to Define Twentieth-Century America. It was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the AddRan College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Texas Christian University in December of 2008 and approved, permitting the then 29-year-old McNiece to proudly introduce himself ever after as “Doctor Matthew McNiece.”
His Dissertation Adviser was Mark T. Gilderhus, Professor and LBJ Chair of History. The other members of the committee putting their stamp of approval upon the document were Stephen E. Woodworth, Professor of History, Peter Worthing, Associate Professor of History, Todd M. Kerstetter, Associate Professor of History, and Brad E. Lucas, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of English.
What McNiece Says I Said
Cutting straight to the chase, here’s what Dr. McNiece has to say about me concerning my inquiries into the violent death in May 1949 of America’s first secretary of defense, James V. Forrestal:
Perhaps the World Wide Web‘s most dogged proponent of an alternative Forrestal narrative is “DC Dave” David Martin (www.dcdave.com). Self-styled as a poet, economist, and political commentator, Martin self-publishes various articles on the illegitimacy of the “official” story. His website exemplifies the complexity of conspiracy mythmaking, as all new evidence is collaborated into existing webs of information which point to a more sensational explanation for Forrestal‘s death. Martin successfully petitioned the U.S. Navy, via the Freedom of Information Act, to release the Willcutts Report in 2004. Instead of using its findings as the Navy did, to exonerate those in command of Forrestal‘s care of significant wrongdoing leading to his death, Martin pulls a variety of quotes to suggest that Forrestal‘s doctors did not consider him “insane.” Even so, rather than using them to perpetuate the “surprise” element of Forrestal‘s suicide, Martin deploys these statements in a contradictory way. While the doctors were presumably wrong in detaining Forrestal for hospitalization in the first place, here their judgment appears as infallible–if the doctors did not think Forrestal would commit suicide, surely he did not and was instead murdered. Similarly, Martin points to contemporary press accounts of “scuffs” or “scuff marks” on either the building‘s exterior or the sill of the kitchen window as signs of a struggle, like the “broken glass” that was reported in Forrestal‘s room but removed by the time a picture– included in the Willcutts Report–of the scene was taken a few hours later. Yet, nothing in the room or in the kitchen bore signs of a failed hanging, leaving unexplained the knotted sash around Forrestal‘s neck, so tightly tied that it had to be cut to be removed from the corpse. Here, the conspiracist‘s question is, if so tightly tied around the neck, how could it slip from its mooring in the kitchen without disturbing something? While Occam‘s Razor suggests attributing these seeming inconsistencies to innocent mistakes in the rush to publish the first facts of Forrestal‘s death, or of the tragic misdiagnosis of Forrestal by fallible medical professionals, Martin coalesces them to prove there is, as the old conspiracist‘s bromide maintains, “more to the story.”
Yes, it’s all one paragraph, and it contains one reference, a footnote at the end directing the reader simply to http://www.dcdave.com, my home page.
I know what you’re thinking, “That is some really bad writing.” Indeed it is, but I have had the misfortune of having seen it many times before in the early years of my career when I taught economics in college. It is actually fairly typical of the work of the students who were destined to fall into the lower half of the class when final grades were handed out. A student demonstrating such a writing capability in an economics class might work really hard, reading everything put before him and doing all his assignments, but the writing would give him away and let him down.
As they say in Spanish, “Si falta la palabra, falta la idea.” It’s not a literal translation, but here it fits best to render it in English as “Poor writing betrays poor thinking.”
Almost as bad as the lack of clarity in his writing is his improper use of showy words. He might be in the right ballpark meaning-wise with “collaborated” and “coalesces,” but they aren’t transitive verbs and one can’t use them that way just because he wants to. You’d think that at least the English professor on his committee wouldn’t have let it pass. Concerning “bromide” and “Occam’s Razor,” I gather only that they are things that, for safety’s sake, should be kept away from him in the manner of the childproofing of a house.
Yes, the writing is bad, but from reading this passage and the rest of his Chapter 4, appallingly titled with an allusion to the sound Forrestal’s body made at the end of his fatal fall, “’Things that Go Bump in the Night’: The Social Construction of an Anticommunist Hero,” I have a hard time deciding which is worse, his writing, his reasoning, his scholarship, or his character.
What I Really Said
Concerning the scholarship, for starters, what he represents as my case for suspicion concerning the belt or sash around Forrestal’s neck, and then shoots down, is not my case at all. Cornell Simpson said something about reported scuffmarks on the window ledge in his book, The Death of James Forrestal, but I considered it of such small consequence that I left it out of my analysis. McNiece even puts the terms “scuffs” and “scuff marks” in quotes as though those were my precise words, but you may search Parts 1 and 2 of “Who Killed James Forrestal?” or my entire web site and you won’t find them anywhere.
Here is what I do have to say about the matter in Part 1, before I obtained the Willcutts Report:
And to this day no one in authority has told us what that sash was doing there. Might that be because the attempted hanging scenario is not just nonsensical, but it is impossible? If Forrestal was bent on killing himself, wouldn’t he have simply dived out the window, particularly when the attendant was likely to return at any minute? After the sash had been wrapped and tied tightly around his neck, was there enough of it left over for it to also have been tied at one time around the radiator beneath the window? Were there any indications from the creases in the sash that an attempt had been made to tie it around something at one end? How likely is it, anyway, that Navy veteran Forrestal would have been so incompetent at tying a knot that it would have come undone? Most importantly, how do we know that skilled assassins, working for people with ample motives to silence this astute and outspoken patriot (more about those people later) did not use the sash to throttle and subdue Forrestal before pitching him out the window?
In Part 2, devoted primarily to an analysis of the Willcutts Report, I have a short section on the subject entitled “The Suspicious Cord”:
The general approach of the review board from the beginning seems to be to take it as a given that Forrestal took his own life and that it is their job to come up with some explanation as to how he was able to get away with it. The exception to that rule is in their treatment of the bathrobe cord that was tied around Forrestal’s neck. They certainly knew that this had to look very, very suspicious, that someone might have used it to throttle Forrestal in his bed and then throw him out of the window. If Forrestal was bound to kill himself, was he so addled that he did not realize that throwing himself out a 16th floor window, by itself, would do the job?
The first person to testify about it was Hospitalman William Eliades:
When the doctor shone the light you could see one end was tied around his neck and other end extended over toward the left part of his head. It was not broken in any way and didn’t seem to be tied on to anything. I looked to see whether he had tried to hang himself and see whether a piece of cord had broken off. It was all in one piece except it was tied around his neck.
Eliades and several succeeding witnesses are asked how tight the cord was, and the consensus seems to be that it was tight, but not all that tight. One of the doctors who saw the body when the cord was still on is asked if he saw any signs of asphyxia, and he responded in the negative. Finally, Captain William M. Silliphant, the autopsy doctor, is called upon to lay to rest all speculation that Forrestal was first choked to death and then thrown out of the window:
Q. Was there any evidence of strangulation or asphyxia by strangulation?
A. There was absolutely no evidence external or internal of any strangulation or asphyxia.
That still leaves open the possibility that Forrestal was subdued and quieted by use of the cord and then thrown out of the window. If both carotid arteries taking blood to the brain are blocked, unconsciousness can occur within ten seconds. Maybe this is what happened in Forrestal’s case, with insufficient bodily evidence remaining for the autopsy doctor to notice. There is also the possibility that Captain Silliphant was not telling the truth. Those of us familiar with the performance of the autopsy doctor in the aforementioned Foster case, and in the John F. Kennedy case by Navy doctors in that same Bethesda Naval Hospital, are not inclined to believe autopsy doctors implicitly.
It would have helped if someone had gone to the trouble to determine if there was enough cord left over after “one end” was tied around Forrestal’s neck for the other end to have been tied to the radiator below the window for the man to hang himself out the window. And if an attempt had been made to so attach it, the cord might have left telltale creases where the failed knot had been. This avenue of inquiry, needless to say, was not explored.
In 2011, well after McNiece had written his dissertation, I would discover an April 1967 review of Simpson’s book by Medford Evans. Beginning with the review’s second paragraph, he provides perhaps the most common-sense explanation that has yet been given as to why the story of the aborted self-hanging made no sense:
I was living in metropolitan Washington at the time of the defenestration of Forrestal. I remember being convinced immediately that he had not committed suicide—which was the official story—but had been murdered. My reason was simple, but for myself, conclusive. The first report I read, in the Washington Post, said that Forrestal’s body had been found on the hospital roof below the open sixteenth-story window of the tower, clad in pajamas and robe, with the bathrobe cord knotted about his neck. The theory was, said the Post, that he had hanged himself out the window, and then the cord had slipped from the radiator or whatever it was tied to inside the window.
I didn’t believe it. I believe that men hang themselves, or that they jump out sixteenth-story windows. But I don’t believe that they hang themselves out sixteenth-story windows.
On the other hand, it is no trouble at all to imagine a murderer in orderly’s habit garroting a man with his own bathrobe cord, then heaving him out the window—perhaps with semi-maniacal haste and strength on hearing or thinking he heard approaching footsteps.
McNiece is right that I talk about signs of a struggle. How could he miss it when it’s the first section heading in Part 2? But I talk about it entirely with respect to the broken glass in Forrestal’s room, not with respect to the scene in and around the kitchen window through which he left the hospital. He is wrong to say that it had been removed by the time photographs were taken. The glass on the bed had been removed, as had the bedclothes and who knows what else, but the broken glass on the carpet at the foot of the bed had not. See the first of the crime scene photographs.
Concerning McNiece’s poor reasoning, one need not be versed in the Forrestal case or in my writings about it to readily detect the flaws in McNiece’s argument concerning my supposed contradictory deployment of statements in the Willcutts Report by the doctors at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. In the first place, he seems to believe that the doctors were somehow responsible for Forrestal’s commitment. While the lead doctor, Captain George Raines, might have assumed some responsibility for it, I present evidence in Part 1 that the White House was behind it. President Truman’s secretary Matthew Connelly says flat out that it was the White House’s decision. Furthermore, I show in Part 1 that the decision to put Forrestal on the 16th floor came from the White House and it was over the objection of the doctors. I do not write of the doctors as if they were of one mind, either. Captain Raines consistently paints Forrestal’s condition in the worst light. His second in command, Captain Stephen Smith, paints it in the best light. The weight of the opinion of the other doctors about Forrestal’s mental and emotional condition leans rather clearly in Smith’s direction, in my opinion.
I never discuss the condition in terms of whether he was “sane” or “insane.” Those are McNiece’s inventions. Once again, do the search. You won’t find those words or even their synonyms or near synonyms in my articles.
McNiece also needs to know that it is not necessarily contradictory to use the same person’s testimony as authoritative in one instance and not authoritative in another. When Captain Raines volunteered to the Willcutts Review Board that the handwriting in the transcription of a morbid poem looked like Forrestal’s handwriting his words carry no authority. What would he know about handwriting analysis and how familiar would he have been with Forrestal’s handwriting, anyway? What that statement suggests is that he is bending over backward to support the official story.
When Raines also tells us that Forrestal talked of contemplating suicide, in light of what he has volunteered about the handwriting, we should be skeptical of that as well (not to mention the fact that the handwriting actually looks nothing like Forrestal’s). Captain Raines is a military man and it looks very much like he has been tasked with selling the suicide story.
Precisely because of that fact, when Raines flatly denies that Forrestal had attempted suicide four times before entering Bethesda Naval Hospital and that Forrestal had run out into the night screaming that “the Russians are coming” as influential columnist Drew Pearson wrote, his words carry particularly heavy weight. When a witness for the prosecution gives testimony that supports the case for the defense it should be taken especially seriously.
It’s really quite remarkable how many things McNiece could get wrong in one short passage. But as they say in the infomercials, “Wait, there’s more.”
He is quite right to say that the Navy used the Willcutts Report to exonerate those responsible for Forrestal’s care of any wrongdoing. Did anyone expect anything different from the Navy’s in-house inquiry? He gives readers the impression, though, that this is something new, learned only after the report was released in 2004. In fact, they gave us those conclusions in 1949, albeit almost six months after having completed their work.
With his implied endorsement of what little the Navy had told us way back in 1949, McNiece would have us believe that there was nothing of any real importance in the full report in 2004. He reinforces that impression with the incoherent mishmash that he falsely represents as a summary of my analysis.
He is wrong, as well, to miss the fact that the review board—in what it released in 1949 and in the full report released in 2004—did not conclude that Forrestal committed suicide. It concluded only that the fall caused his death. It has nothing to say as to what might have caused his fall. In a very real sense, then, when I dispute the conclusion that Forrestal committed suicide I am not challenging the official story. It is the conclusion of the opinion molding community in the press, academia, and elsewhere in the United States; it is not the Navy’s official conclusion.
McNiece is able to suggest that, in contrast to the Navy, I used the Willcutts Report in an abusive and irresponsible way only by misrepresenting my work so completely that it would not be wrong to say that he simply lied about it. Even with his demonstrably limited intellectual capacity, he had to know better.
McNiece submitted his dissertation in December of 2008. In January of 2008, I published Part 5 of “Who Killed James Forrestal,” which contains a telling exchange between Professor David Kaiser of the Navy War College and me. One can read the entire exchange in the article, which is subtitled, “Press and historians close ranks, minds,” on my web site. My response to Kaiser lists the most important things in the Willcutts Report that undermine the suicide conclusion.
First we have part of Professor Kaiser’s response to my email objecting, among other things, to his writing as a matter of fact that Forrestal had committed suicide, in light of what we now know after the release of the Willcutts Report:
Your email states that the [Willcutts] report casts doubt on Forrestal’s suicide, but I can’t see that it did that in the slightest—the only doubt seemed to be about whether he purposely jumped out the window or was trying to hang himself.
Here is the key part of my response to him:
May I take it, then, that with regard to whether or not Forrestal committed suicide, you consider of no consequence the revelations that:
1. the handwriting of the transcribed poem, which, for the press, served as his suicide note, does not resemble Forrestal's at all
2. that broken glass was on his bed and on the carpet at the foot of the bed
3. that Forrestal's room was not photographed until many hours after he was found dead and that when it was it did not resemble the room that the nurse who first got a good look at the vacated room described. The photos show a bed with nothing but a bare mattress and pillow on them, whereas Nurse Turner testified that, as one might expect, "The bed clothes were turned back and towards the middle of the bed and I looked down and [the slippers] were right there as you get out of bed." No slippers or any other sign that the room had been occupied are evident in the photographs, either.
4. that the influential biographer, Arnold Rogow, apparently fabricated the story that the guard saw Forrestal transcribing the morbid poem when he last looked in on him, because the guard testified that when he last looked in the room Forrestal was apparently sleeping and the lights had been off and Forrestal apparently did no reading or writing during the guard's time of duty which began at midnight
5. that the influential newspapers reporting on the death apparently fabricated the story that the transcription ended in the middle of the word "nightingale" or, depending on which article in The Washington Post you read, the transcription included the lines, “When Reason’s day sets rayless–joyless–quenched in cold decay, better to die, and sleep the never-ending sleep than linger on, and dare to live, when the soul’s life is gone.”
6. that the findings of the Willcutts Report were not issued until several months had passed and then, the findings did not include the conclusion that Forrestal had committed suicide
7. that photographs of Forrestal's body were first withheld from the FOIAed material on the grounds that they might disturb Forrestal's surviving loved ones, and when told that there were no surviving loved ones the Navy changed its story and claimed that they were lost
8. that the book from which Forrestal supposedly copied the damning poem does not appear in official evidence nor is the supposed discoverer of either the book or the transcription ever officially identified
9. that the Willcutts Report was kept secret for 55 years, when its whole purpose was to clear the air and establish the facts publicly concerning the nature of Forrestal's death?
It’s been more than six years and Kaiser has not responded to the questions, so it is pretty clear at this point that he is not going to respond. He’s smart enough to see that there’s nothing he could say if he remains determined to defend the suicide story.
McNiece’s Crucial Character Problem
This brings us back to young Dr. McNiece. It’s not a sin to be intellectually challenged. It’s nature. As surely as the sun rises in the east, the normal curve of the distribution of abilities within the human population determines that there must be those who are down on the left (lower) end when it comes to intellect. It is the dishonesty, showing his lack of character, that is most troubling. We see both those glaring shortcomings on display in the last and only other time he mentions my work, kind of like the grand finale of a fireworks display:
Ironically, even [Evan] Hause‘s opera on Forrestal‘s defenestration would raise the ire of conspiracist Dave Martin. Titled “Nightingale,” Hause‘s opera recalls the long-standing belief that Forrestal copied lines from Sophocles‘ “Chorus from Ajax” in a sort of substitute suicide note. Hoopes and Brinkley suggest that Forrestal stopped after writing the word “nightingale,” which perhaps sparked recognition of a similarly named secret military program dealing with amnesty for the WWII Ukrainian death squads and for which Forrestal bore responsibility as Secretary of Defense. While Martin‘s conspiracy theory long centered around apparent inconsistencies between the copied text of the poem and other, confirmed samples of Forrestal‘s handwriting, columnist Hugh Turley added in December 2007 that the stanza stopped well short of the lines referencing a nightingale. Here again one sees the social construction of conspiracy mythology that replaces confirmed knowledge in an environment of anticommunist hysteria and ambiguous public awareness–even the Washington Post, as Martin and Turley both chide, continued reporting the “nightingale” connection as recently as on the fiftieth anniversary of Forrestal‘s death.
The usual McNiece failings in writing, reasoning, and scholarship are so evident here to any minimally educated reader that, in the interests of brevity, we shall skip over those and go straight to the honesty problem. That should have been evident to the members of his committee had they bothered to look at his footnote. They didn’t even need to read what was in the footnote’s referenced material. The references are two: once again to my home page, and to Turley’s Hyattsville Life and Times article that bears the title, “Handwriting Tells Dark Tale?”
The title by itself tells you that Turley’s article stresses the fact, as I do, that the handwriting in the poem transcription that the press and the historians have sold us as a sort of surrogate suicide note bears not the slightest resemblance to Forrestal’s handwriting. Common sense says that if someone planted the suicide note, they are the ones who killed him and Forrestal did not kill himself. Yet, insofar as I can decipher his prose, McNiece characterizes what we are doing by pointing this rather disturbing fact out as replacing “confirmed knowledge” with “anticommunist hysteria.”
McNiece must have been confident that his committee would let all this shoddy work pass because, having played the academic game so successfully for so long, he knew that as long as he appealed to their prejudices he was in the clear. Similarly, he could also be sure that he could get by with his fib when he introduced the author of Who Killed James Forrestal: “For Cornell Simpson, a lay historian who allegedly began his investigation into the conspiracy surrounding Forrestal‘s death in the mid-1950s, Forrestal exists as a hero of the pulp fiction genre, a dime-store spy novel‘s protagonist too powerful and too righteous to be undone by natural or straightforward causes.”
In fact, McNiece doesn’t know the first thing about Simpson’s background. “Cornell Simpson” is anonymous. It’s a pen name. I’m pretty sure that there are people still alive who know who “Simpson” (or maybe even the group of people who wrote his book) is, or was, but they’re not saying. For all McNiece knows “Simpson” could have been an Ivy League history professor afraid to put his real name on the book, or maybe he was Carroll Quigley. (Do universities—Christian or otherwise—revoke doctoral degrees for conscious lying in a dissertation?)
When he called “Simpson” a “lay historian,” he knew no more about him than he knew about me when he called me a “self-styled economist,” although by studying my web site carefully he could have traced a good bit of my professional career. Even more easily, he could have emailed me and I would have told him all about myself.
Forrestal Central to the McNiece Thesis
Since I have faulted McNiece for mischaracterization of the work of others, I have a particular obligation not to be guilty of the same offense. Is the provocative title of this piece a conscious distortion? At this point I shall beg the indulgence of the reader once again by presenting McNiece’s abstract of his magnum opus:
Manichaeism imbues both the history and the historiography of domestic American anticommunism. Within the latter, two major schools dominate. One identifies anticommunism as little more than an anti-intellectual anti-liberalism directed by conservatives against various social and political dissenters. The other rejects this view as dangerous revisionism that obscures the very real threat posed to the United States by the agents of (especially Soviet) communism. This study proposes a new understanding of domestic American anticommunism as a rhetorical battle to define the parameters of legitimacy and authenticity within the twentieth-century United States. In this view, neither of the main branches of the historiography fully guides the historian. Instead, tools from the field of rhetoric studies aid more traditional historical inquiry in illuminating the multivariate ways in which social and political forces deployed the construct of anticommunism as a tool for legitimation or delegitimation. Various chapters explore the interactions of political liberalism and conservativism with mainstream definitions of anticommunism, as well as the social construction of a national identity or a hero mythology within a peculiarly American anticommunist environment. Ultimately, domestic American anticommunism may be seen as a fundamentally conservative force for defining authenticity, and in a Manichean way, illegitimacy. For the better part of a century, anticommunism helped delineate “us” from “them” in U.S. social and partisan politics.
Did you catch that “hero mythology” jibe? That’s all about Forrestal and his death. It is very important to McNiece’s thesis, as one can gather only from the few passages I have quoted, that the notion that Forrestal was any sort of hero or admirable historical figure be shot down as simply a “myth,” created by nutty anti-Communists and “conspiracy theorists,” whoever those latter people might be. Not only must McNiece trash Forrestal to support his central thesis that the “anticommunists” are a bunch of villainous crazies but he must also trash one of Forrestal’s strongest advocates, that being the current writer.
In case the short excerpts up to now were not enough, check out McNiece’s third paragraph in Chapter 4:
For some, his death represents the classic fulfillment of a soldier‘s call to duty, no different than a heroic death on the field of battle. For others, Forrestal‘s legacy resembles that of a protagonist in a classic Greek tragedy, wherein the hero‘s greatest strength ultimately becomes his fatal flaw. For still others, an insidious enemy–figuratively, or, more conspiratorially, literally–felled Forrestal by a stab-in-the-back. This Forrestal is a sort of pulp spy novel‘s hero, too strong to have been undone by any natural force or straightforward challenge. These archetypes remain consistent whether one believes that Forrestal took his own life, as is the unanimous scholarly opinion, or was the victim of some sort of murderous conspiracy. Indeed, even the most reputed account of Forrestal’s life and the circumstances surrounding his death, the biography by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, reluctantly admits that “Forrestal’s death fostered several enduring suppositions.” Yet the veracity of these theories is in some ways less important than exploring why and how they developed—and remain—as cultural artifacts of America’s peculiar anticommunist Cold War culture.
Speaking of Manicheanism, I believe that readers have now been sufficiently exposed to what passes for thinking, McNiece-style, to agree that I am being more accurate and fairer to him than he has been to me if I sum up his thesis simply as “Us, good; them, bad, and the facts be damned.” The “us” are the credentialed history “scholars” who cling to that supposed “unanimous opinion” in the face of the newest evidence that, to their everlasting discredit, they preferred not to look for, and the “them” are assorted “anticommunists” and “conspiracy theorists.” As for Hoopes and Brinkley having supplied “the most reputed account…of the circumstances surrounding [Forrestal’s] death” I refer readers to my letter to Brinkley, which was available online when McNiece was writing his dissertation.
Let us nail our charge down with another McNiece quote from Chapter 4:
Nevertheless, a slight literary twist deploys Forrestal instead as the hero protagonist of a pulp spy novel. Just as the circumstances and public knowledge about his death allowed for the legacy‘s manipulation into the construct of a heroic soldier, Forrestal‘s demise may be reinterpreted in light of the burgeoning anticommunist hysteria that bred all manner of conspiracy theories–culminating most recognizably in [Senator Joe] McCarthy‘s unverified claim of widespread communist infiltration of the federal government. (He really does like that “pulp” label. ed.)
He is able to make his wave-of-the-hand statement that Senator McCarthy’s claims about communists in the government were unverified by ignoring completely McCarthy’s most prominent living defender, M. Stanton Evans. Neither Evans nor his 2007 book, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies appear in McNiece’s bibliography. Similarly, in his fact-free-zone of a treatise, a search of his document fails to turn up the names of either Alger Hiss or Whittaker Chambers.
Not Just McNiece
Near the end of Chapter 4, McNiece treats us with this passage:
While this exploration demonstrates the social construction of an archetypal anticommunist hero through the various eulogies of James V. Forrestal, responsible scholarship must emphasize that the scholarly interpretation of Forrestal‘s death faces no substantive threat to its credibility. The simplest, best evidenced, and most rational explanation remains that Forrestal suffered a mental break-down and committed suicide on May 22, 1949.
Indeed, had I been blessed with no more candlepower than McNiece has exhibited I might be content to let other people do my thinking for me, too.
The rot that I have revealed with respect to the Forrestal case goes far beyond the academic bush leagues of Texas. This is from an article I published in late 2011:
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..."
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.
The article has this telling addendum:
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.
McNiece, too, is safely, and sadly, reflecting the “prevailing opinion” within the cozy community of American academic historians. At this point a quote from the late, great journalist Joseph Sobran is in order:
When the word “extremist” is routinely applied to dissenting views and “out of the mainstream” is used as a dismissal, it’s safe to say that the pressure to conform has become very intense. Why else would these vacuous charges have any force? The recent revolt against “political correctness” is an encouraging sign that many people have had enough.
Education...has become a form of mass production, to be supervised by the state for the good of the state.
...the natural result is a population that sets great store by conformity to the mass. In public controversies, most people are chiefly concerned to play it safe. Before they take any position, they ask themselves not “Is it true?” but “What will happen to me if I say this?”
So, yes, McNiece has well reflected what these days passes for “responsible scholarship” with respect to Forrestal’s death. But it is not based upon evidence; it is based on cowardice.
July 7, 2014