Spartacus Drops the Ball on Forrestal


Perhaps it’s just too ambitious a project for one man to carry on.  Here is how Wikipedia describes it: 


          Spartacus Educational is a free online encyclopedia with essays and other educational material on a wide variety of historical subjects (including British History and the History of the USA, as well as other subjects including the First World War, Second World War, Russian Revolution, Slavery, Women's Suffrage, Nazi Germany, Spanish Civil War, and The Cold War). It is used by history teachers and students.


          Based in the UK, Spartacus Educational was established as a book publisher in 1984 by former history teacher, John Simkin, and Judith Harris. It became an online publisher in September, 1997.


A survey carried out by the Fischer Family Trust showed that the Spartacus Educational website was used by more history students in the UK than any other website, including that of the BBC. The Spartacus Educational website is recommended by a number of online educational resources, such as Manchester Metropolitan University,, Science and You, and St Mary's College, Hull.


At some point Judith Harris seems to have fallen by the wayside because Simkin’s is the only name currently appearing on the site.   I have not spent enough time at the site to profess to be any sort of an authority on its overall probity.  Simkin’s willingness to look with seriousness at alternative explanations to the Warren Report for President John F. Kennedy’s assassination certainly marks him as a cut above anything one is likely to find associated with the establishment press in the United States.  On the other hand, those school endorsements and what Simkin has to say about himself on his home page make him look very much like a member of the British establishment:


As well as running the Spartacus Educational website John Simkin has also produced material for the Electronic Telegraph, the European Virtual School and the Guardian's educational website, Learn. He was also a member of the European History E-Learning Project (E-Help), a project to encourage and improve use of ICT and the internet in classrooms across the continent.


Perhaps the fact that he toes the U.S. establishment line on Secretary of Defense James Forrestal’s apparent assassination—calling it a suicide—is because it is a lot hotter political potato than JFK’s assassination.  After all, we showed in our essay, “The Pearl Harbor Betrayal and James Forrestal’s Death,” that for Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan it was a hotter potato even than the argument that President Franklin Roosevelt precipitated and was fully aware in advance of the Japanese “sneak” attack.  Furthermore, there are scores of books that challenge the official version of the Kennedy murder.  In Forrestal’s case there is only one that questions what the mainstream press and historians have told us, The Death of James Forrestal, published in 1966 by the John Birch Society and written by an anonymous author who used the pen name “Cornell Simpson.” While new books on the JFK murder come out every year, only the current writer, with some help from the anonymous “Mark Hunter” at the site, keeps the Forrestal case alive.


The “hot potato” factor, then, is probably the best explanation for the fact that what Simkin has to say about Forrestal’s death is little different from what one would find in the U.S. mainstream. It is not consistent with the evidence that I have discovered, though.  On his biography page Simkin writes, “If you find any mistakes on any of my webpages please send details to:”  Earlier this week I accepted his invitation and sent him the following email: 


Hi John,


I think that it is about time that you corrected your conclusion on your James Forrestal page that Forrestal "committed suicide by throwing himself out of a 16th floor hospital window."  I see that you updated the page in August of last year, but when you did so you must have overlooked virtually everything that I have discovered in recent years, particularly the official transcript of the Navy's inquiry into his death.  I was able to obtain that inquiry through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2004.  The fact that it had been kept secret for 55 years should be enough to raise anyone's suspicion as to the veracity of the conclusion of suicide.


Please note that I do not say official conclusion of suicide.  That inquiry, which we may call the Willcutts Report after the convening officer of the board of inquiry, Admiral Morton C. Willcutts, may be considered the government's last word on Forrestal's death, and it did not conclude that Forrestal committed suicide.  It concluded only that the cause of his death was the fall from the window and that no member of the Navy had any responsibility for that fall.  


Your statement that he "threw himself" from the window is not even consistent with the conclusion reached by the press in the matter.  A bathrobe belt was tied around Forrestal's neck.  The newspapers attempted to account for it by saying that he must have been attempting to hang himself from the 16th floor window by tying one end to the radiator beneath the window and then climbing out the window to hang himself--as if the long plummet would not do the job.  Various writers on the subject have said that the belt either broke, came untied, or unexplainably just "gave way."  The Willcutts Report in its conclusion—like anyone who says simply that Forrestal jumped or threw himself out the window—makes no attempt to account for the presence of the belt.  They address the belt only by implication, concluding that the fall rather than the belt had killed him.  And, oh yes, they do conclude that the belt was intact and had not broken.


The list of what you call “primary sources” is really nothing of the sort.  They are secondary sources. The best primary source on Forrestal's death at this point is the Willcutts Report.  You will also find there a copy of the morbid poem that Forrestal was said to have been transcribing shortly before his plunge from the window.  I have found copies of Forrestal's handwriting and it is evident that someone else did that transcription.  Your "primary source," biographer Arnold Rogow, wrote that the navy corpsman guarding Forrestal's room had witnessed him doing the transcribing, but in his testimony to the Willcutts review board, the corpsman said that the room had been dark the entire time he was on duty and he had seen no reading or writing going on.  Rogow had no source for his clearly fabricated assertion.


You also cite the scandalous columnist Drew Pearson as an authority for several of his negative assertions about Forrestal.  No source could be less reliable.  Pearson also claimed that Forrestal had made four previous suicide attempts, an obvious falsehood with no source for the claim.  For more about Pearson’s spurious assertions see my article "Oliver Stone on James Forrestal."  


If you will examine only the short articles to which I have referred you, I am sure you will conclude that the claim that Forrestal threw himself from that hospital window is not the truth; rather, it is what one would expect from the Ministry of Truth.



Hardly surprisingly, so far I have received no response.  Maybe the late Don Bohning was right when he wrote in 2008, “In the guise of education, John Simkin’s website delivers agitprop.”  Write’s Bohning, “It takes a little digging to figure out Simkin is much more interested in indoctrination than education, in keeping with his unreconstructed left-wing views. Simkin exemplifies the kind of militant socialists, once peculiar to the Labour Party, who were all but run out of that party by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.”

If Simkin is an ideologically blinded left-winger as Bohning describes him, maybe that would explain his different treatment of the Forrestal and Kennedy deaths.  The Kennedy assassination is generally regarded to be more or a left wing issue, certainly more than the suspicious death of the dedicated anti-communist Forrestal, about which only the Birch Society has published a critical book. 

Though Simkin did nothing to refute the specific charges that Bohning leveled at him, Bohning did not get out of the exchange unscathed.  Simkin revealed that Bohning had been an informant for the CIA while working as a reporter for the Miami Herald. 

I can assure you that Simkin will be unable to find any such dirty linen in this writer’s closet, and that he will likely simply remain silent and leave his Forrestal page unchanged.  The best bet, in other words, is that his reaction will be no different from what one would expect from an employee of the Ministry of Truth.  In the unlikely event that he should respond, I will make note of it with an addendum to this article.

David Martin

October 16, 2015





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