DIARIES OF JAMES V FORRESTAL, 1944-1949
Complete and unexpurgated diaries from the Seeley G Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
This microfilm project makes available for the first time the complete and unexpurgated version of Forrestal's manuscript and typescript diaries covering the period March 1944 to March 1949. While the printed edition, The Forrestal Diaries, edited by Walter Millis with the collaboration of E. S. Duffield in 1951, runs to some 555 pages plus index, there are nearly 3000 pages of diary entries, mostly in typescript format which we are now able to reproduce in full.
Who was Forrestal and why was he important ? As Secretary of the Navy, 1944-1947, and first Secretary of Defense, 1947-1949, he had significant access to the President and was part of a State Department team with crucial responsibilities for running the war effort, ensuring a successful outcome for the Allies and, moreover, with a key role in considering and shaping the peace, reconstruction policies and the structure of the post-war world. Forrestal's background was of a businessman of considerable wealth, power, and position. In 1938 he had succeeded Clarence Dillon as President of Dillon Read. An efficient operator with a quietly driving ambition, he had risen relatively early to the top aged forty-six. Two years later he abandoned this career for good to enter the Roosevelt administration as one of FDR's special administrative assistants.
On 5 August 1940 the President nominated Forrestal to fill the position of Under Secretary of the Navy and he worked closely with Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy) and Henry L. Stimson (Secretary of War). He was well suited to the colossal tasks of wartime procurement and logistics as well as the expansion of the Navy Department.
The diary notes reproduced here start when Forrestal took over as Secretary of the Navy on Knox's death in 1944 and continue through to Forrestal's resignation as Secretary of Defense in March 1949.
The diaries provide insights into many important questions:
- Pearl Harbor
- strategy for the War in the Pacific
- Yalta and post-war planning
- Discussions with the Soviet Union
- the strategic bombing of Japan and the use of the atomic bomb
- plans for the surrender, occupation and future of Japan
- reconversion of the American economy to a civilian footing
- the post war international situation in China and in the Middle East
- Allied Control of Germany and reconstruction policies in Europe
- the Marshall Plan
- The IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Frequent meetings and discussions with Henry L Stimson (Secretary of War), Joseph C Grew (Acting Secretary of State), John L McCloy (Assistant Secretary of War), the President and the Secretary of State are recorded in Forrestal's diary notes. Some folders include extra background memoranda relevant to the diary entries - especially with regard to important meetings or providing Forrestal's own thoughts on particular topics.
The diary starts in earnest with Forrestal's trip to the Mediterranean, 4-23 August 1944, describing the visit to General Clark's Headquarters near Cecina, the allied invasion of southern France (15 August 1944), Forrestal's meeting with General Charles de Gaulle (18 August 1944) and an attached 5 page memorandum with Forrestal's comments and recollections of the conversation, followed by his return to the United States for meetings to discuss the post-war control of Germany (25 August) and a State Department Conference (29 August 1944) with Secretaries Hull, Patterson and McCloy.
Part of the entry for 25 August 1944 reads as follows:
Control of Germany
".The Secretary of War pointed out that among other things Germany was a highly industrialized nation, that it would be a practical impossibility to shift large segments of the population who depended for their existence on industrial economy back to the land; furthermore, he pointed out that the products of German industry and business were needed for the rebuilding of Europe, particularly the iron and steel from the Ruhr."
Pages 9-13 contain Forrestal's early notes on the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (31 July 1944); on page 11 he observes:
".The Fund, in effect, is merely a shock absorber. It can neither make rough roads smooth nor compensate for reckless driving. None of the delegates at Bretton Woods believed that it would solve the problems of getting payment for US goods if the US was to export goods while it blocks imports by high tariffs. But believing that the roads are certain to be rough, the delegates felt there was all the more need for shock absorbers - to save the whole world from being jarred by every thank-you-ma'am that each nation hits."
Discussions with General MacArthur about the attack on Luzon are recorded on 26 September 1944. There are also many notes relating to the special enquiry on the attack on Pearl Harbor. On 14 November 1944 Forrestal summarises some of main points:
"1. Failure to use telephone.
So-called unity of command at Oahu - failure to hold daily meetings even during days of rising tension.
Failure to evaluate lessons already learned - the Taranto attack, British experience with aircraft torpedo attacks.
Submersion of CNO in details of material to the extent that he became insensitive to the significance of events.
General skepticism throughout the Navy that an air attack by the Japanese on Pearl was within their capabilities.
On the other side, I am impressed by the following:
Usual advantage of hindsight and the difficulty in reconstructing a state of mind which affected the entire country, Washington as well as Honolulu.
The fact that this war has proved that any carrier strike when pressed home with resolution is almost impossible to deflect. Witness our carrier operations in the Pacific, particularly Admiral Mitscher's strikes in the Marianas last winter when he was picked up 24 hours before reaching his target."
Some further extracts give a flavour of the diary entries:
30 June 1945. Dinner with Lord Halifax; talk re: British elections (page 379)
"Hopkins said that England must inevitably go Socialist and that Churchill did not want the things for England that the Labor people wanted - federal housing, slum elimination, ownership of industries etc. I asked Hopkins how any country such as England could go communistic - I said England had been able to exist and subsist because she was a trading nation and that a capitalist system was essential to the existence of England ."
4 September 1945. Cabinet Luncheon.
"Lunched at the White House today. The President announced he was planning to hold Cabinet luncheons once or twice a week; that he was very anxious to see to it that the whole government was knit together as a working team and that it functioned through the Cabinet. He hoped to accommodate this by a gradual absorption of the various extracurriculum agencies as established during the war into the Cabinet posts."
Forrestal's diary entries confirm that such luncheons did become a regular feature over the next few years. They also hint that the cohesion and teamwork for which President Truman hoped were not, perhaps, always so easily to be achieved.
The next full Cabinet meeting highlighted some of the tensions and differing viewpoints on issues such as public health, national defence, the atomic bomb and the best way forward to secure a lasting peace.
7 September 1945. Cabinet.
".Mr Leo Crowley said that he had just returned from the Middle West and was sure that the country would be violently opposed to the continuation of any universal military training. He said the assumption was that we had fought a war now to get rid of war, that we had the atomic bomb and we had the San Francisco Conference and all the various affirmations of faith in the possibilities of an organization to create the foundations of world peace, and that universal training would create the inference that we didn't have faith in our own platform. To this Secretary Stimson made an eloquent rejoinder, the substance of which was that the only way we could convince the world we were serious about preventing another war was to show that we took our responsibility in that direction with great seriousness. I supported the Secretary of War's point of view and remarked that history showed that all new weapons always developed a countermeasure, beginning with what the Romans developed to conteract Hannibal's use of elephants.Mr Crowley's view continued to be, however, that no matter how much we felt as we did, the country would not support that point of view.Stimson rejoined that he did not accept that statement of cynicism about the good sense and the willingness of the nation to accept its serious responsibilities.
Public health: The President talked about public health, the lack of doctors, and the inadequacy of doctors and medical service in certain areas of the country. He said he proposed to send a message to Congress at some time on this subject which he knew would arouse the active opposition of the American Medical Association.Fred Vinson observed that doctors would not go into areas where there weren't adequate hospital facilities.that therefore a hospital building program would have to go along with any health program. The President said that the statistics of the Selective Service showed a need for taking radical steps to re-establish the health of the nation."
The Cabinet meeting of 21 September 1945 was "occupied entirely with a discussion of the atomic bomb". Succeeding entries continue to give a vigorous foretaste of the Cold War.
There are disagreements over the extent to which, if at all, any information on defense issues, weapon technologies and scientific knowledge, should be shared with other nations.
Two days earlier, Forrestal had appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee to testify on Representative Carl Vinson's bill fixing the post-war size of the Navy. Forrestal makes a forceful case:
"The United States should remain strong. Second, the Navy is a major component of that strength.In the future as in the past the key to victory and to the freedom of this country will be in the control of the seas and the skies above them...All this sounds as if I did not have confidence in the world organization for peace. I have. But that confidence can only be justified if, while these organizations are in the process of transfer from paper to living reality, all the world knows that the United States will not tolerate the disorder and the destruction of war being let loose again upon the world."
His diary continues to fill with notes of ominous 'disorder and destruction'; "situation in Poland becoming increasingly serious"; "Soviets, like Hitler, have become victory drunk and are embarking on world domination"; "Berry's dispatches from Bucharest and Harriman's from Moscow indicate that the Russians have no idea of going through with the Allied Nations statement of policy about Rumania, namely to permit the establishment of free and democratic institutions in Rumania.Steinhardt makes strong recommendations from Czechoslovakia against the complete withdrawal of American forces. He says this will be an open invitation to the Communists in the country and to Russian influence from without to take over."
Slightly later, Forrestal is even discussing complaints about the US State Department:
28 September 1945. Far East Relations.
"I had lunch today with Ambassador Hurley, just back from China.He recalled his conversation with Stalin about the Russian attitude toward China. Stalin told him (1) that the Chinese Communists were not Communists in the Russian sense of that word; (2) that Russia desired to see a strong government in China and recognized Chiang Kai-shek as most nearly able to provide such a government and would therefore support it; (3) that Russia did not desire either revolution or anarchy in China, that their own problems in Asia were far too complex and difficult to desire such a conclusion.
He said a good many of the professional staff of the State Department.had not merely been of no help but a definite hindrance to him. He said that many of the American correspondents.were communistically inclined, as well as many of the people in the State Department.who, he said, felt no obligation for the United States except to draw their pay."
A couple of extracts, two years later, give evidence of some progress and much better co-operation:
10 October 1947. Note re: Cabinet (page 1864)
"Krug stated that the survey made by Interior on American capabilities of getting deficiencies in Europe under the Marshall plan showed that the total amount required would be only a fractional amount of the national output, but would, however, say that those fractions necessarily would have a severe impact on already tight situations at home and they would particularly create problems in shipping and transportation.
Secretary Anderson complimented Krug on the ability and co-operativeness of the Department of the Interior's working team. He said it was one of the best examples he had seen on intra-government cooperation."
7 November 1947. Cabinet (pages 1914-1915)
"Cabinet this morning. Present: Marshall, Anderson, Hannegan, Snyder, Clark, Harriman.
The Secretary of State read a paper on the present international situation. Outstanding conclusions: The advance of communism has been stemmed and the Russians have been compelled to make a re-evaluation of their position. The consequences will depend to some extent on their internal economy and internal political strength. If they conclude the situation is becoming desperate, particularly internally, they may be driven by the dynamism of their own situation to precipitate civil war in Italy and France this winter. Another possibility, and a very likely one, is the stepping up of the tempo of the guerrilla activity in Greece with the possibility here of more definite aggression. Tito is an unpredictable and explosive factor in this situation because the degree of his adherence to the Politburo discipline is not known.
Marshall referred to the present status of China as one of critical instability; it is a situation with which we shall have to deal as best we can, maintaining the American interest to the best of our ability. The Middle East he referred to as another tinder box. I repeated my suggestion made several times previously, that a serious attempt be made to lift the Palestine question out of American partisan politics. I said that there had been general acceptance of the fact that domestic politics ceased at the Atlantic Ocean and that no question was more charged with danger to our security than this particular one."
A quick examination of the diary notes makes it evident that they were not dictated with textual publication in mind. They give a frank, revealing and clear assessment of events with some interesting comments on certain individuals and topics of concern. Some of the early portions of the diary include pasted-in newspaper clippings and similar memorabilia.
A number of important secret documents, originating in Forrestal's own or in other Departments, have also been included by him. He developed a habit on returning from meetings of the Cabinet, the State-War-Navy Committee and the National Security Council, of dictating a brief summary of what had been said; sometimes he had assistants take these notes and entered them rather than his own text; frequently there are his own notes of more casual conversations touching on matters of particular interest to him.
As a private record, these diaries make for a most interesting read, covering a crucial period in American and World History.