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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 178

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This is the grave of James Forrestal.

Born in 1892 in Matteawan, New York to a Irish immigrant family, Forrestal graduated from high school and began working for a series of newspapers. He started at Dartmouth in 1911 but transferred to Princeton the next year. He actually never graduated, dropping out just before he earned his degree despite his tremendous success. This summed up his life–a man of tremendous skill and ambition who achieved great success and yet was undone by his own demons. He served in the Navy during World War I and then went into finance after the war, where he did quite well. He became a big money man for the Democrats in New York and helped advance the career of Franklin Roosevelt. A very difficult man to work with, but incredibly hard-working and dedicated, when Roosevelt needed an expert organization man to help prepare for World War II, he reached to his old friend Forrestal, nominating him for the newly created position of Undersecretary of the Navy.

Forrestal served in that position for the next four years, basically in charge of mobilizing industrial production for the war. He took over control of logistics and procurement for the Navy and had FDR’s highest trust. Thus, when Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox died in 1944, Roosevelt promoted Forrestal. He would be the last man to serve in the position. He pressed for a moderate policy toward Japanese surrender that would allow the nation to save face and become a U.S. ally after the war, an obviously good decision. It was controversial at the time and he was the dove in the late Roosevelt and early Truman administration in Asia. On the other hand, he was a hard early Cold Warrior and urged Truman to take a hard line toward the Soviets. As he turned right on communism, he became a mentor to a young senator named Joseph McCarthy and that wasn’t so great as it turns out.

In 1947, Harry Truman created the position of Secretary of Defense to merge the nation’s military based departments and Truman promoted Forrestal to the job. Forrestal deserves much of the credit for the integration of the military that came the next year. Forrestal desegregated the Navy in 1944 and believed this was the right thing to do throughout the military. He also opposed the creation of Israel as a Jewish state, believing it would cause long-term damage in the Middle East by infuriating Arab nations. He was absolutely correct on this point. Instead, Forrestal wanted a federalization plan that would try to create something more equal between the diverse peoples who lived there. He was outgunned on this though, as there was tremendous pressure within the Democratic Party, particularly from wealthy Jewish donors, to make Israel a sovereign nation. Nothing bad has ever happened there since.

This made Forrestal hated by supporters of Israel at the same time that he was under attack from the famous columnist Drew Pearson for his anti-communism and hard stance against the Soviet Union. Pearson and Walter Winchell looked to bring him down. Yet he moved ahead, especially on professionalizing and standardizing military spending, moving it from the ad-hoc methods of the pre-war era to something akin to modern management styles, which is why Roosevelt had tapped him in the first place.

But Forrestal didn’t much care for Truman and he was very comfortable with the New Yorker Thomas Dewey. So they made a deal that when Dewey won, Forrestal would remain in the job. There was a big problem though. Dewey did not win. Pearson exposed this arrangement in a biting column just before the election, making Forrestal’s position increasingly untenable. Forrestal was also fighting Truman because the president, who came to political prominence as a congressman looking to trim fat from the budget, wanted to reduce defense budgets, which Forrestal strongly opposed. Forrestal also had long suffered from depression and this was coming to light too. Truman finally forced Forrestal out in March 1949.

Less than two months later, Forrestal killed himself, having jumped from the roof of the National Naval Medical Center where he was recovering from exhaustion and depression.

James Forrestal is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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