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The “diary” Of Hiram Johnson
The cantankerous Californian’s utterly candid opinions, aver thirty years, of the Presidents he knew, the senators with whom he served, and the (to him) alarming changes in the America he loved
August 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 5
January 12, 1918. … Here is an incident of how the war warps us, distorts our judgment, and destroys our sense of justice, and our ideals. Admiral [Francis] Bowles … was testifying in executive session before our Committee. He said that one of the great needs of our Navy was oil. He described the oil lands of Tampico, Mexico, and then those that he asserted were better—just south of Tampico, and he ended with the startling statement that we ought to take those oil lands. A couple of us sat up straight in an instant, and asked, “Take them—from a supposedly friendly power! Upon what ground?” And his response was, “Upon the ground of military necessity.” We replied, “That was the response of Germany when the crime of Belgium was committed.”
January 26, 1918. The difficulty with our war situation is that Wilson is living in the pages of history, utterly detached from passing events. He has taken us into the war with one thought, in my opinion, and he is continuing the war with one idea—to have history write him the greatest man of all time.
Lincoln freed a small part of our population—and that black. Wilson sees himself written by history as the savior of mankind, and as a ruler who freed all nations, and established world democracy. He has no more conception of administrative duties than a man in Kamchatka or Timbuktu; and he will not pay any attention to such duties. Nevertheless, he will permit no interference, and he resents any suggestion. I do not think it at all exaggerative to say that he regards himself exactly as Louis XIV regarded himself, and that while he doesn’t say it aloud, to himself he often repeats, “I am the state.”…
To relieve a pressing shortage of merchant ships, the government during the war set up the Emergency Fleet Corporation to put through an enormous shipbuilding program. The most spectacular part of this operation was the construction on the Delaware River of a huge shipyard at Hog Island, built at a cost of $65,000,000. The corporation turned out many ships, but by June, 1919, only forty-four per cent of its program had been finished. For much of the program, work continued on into the years of peace, and by 1923 the vast merchant fleet was offered for sale at less than ten per cent of its original cost. As the next entry shows, the whole project aroused Johnson’s deepest suspicions.
February 9, 1918. I have gradually uncovered what has been designated here as the “Hog Island fraud.” The great financiers of the nation with the Government’s money have indulged in a saturnalia of extravagance in the attempt to build a shipyard at Hog Island, near Philadelphia, that would shame J. Ruf us Wallingford.∗ And the most of these great financiers have been prating of their patriotism ever since the war commenced. Wherever they could, they have gouged the Government, and, under the guise of having the requisite organizations and ability, have put everybody connected with them upon the Government’s payroll at tremendous salaries. Because of the great names that are involved, the news agencies will not carry the story.…
∗ J. Rufus Wallingford was a popular fictional character of that era known as Get Rich Quick Wallingford, who was forever embarking on ludicrous, fantastic schemes to make a fortune.— Ed.
As I was quietly developing from witnesses the other day that Frank A. Vanderlip, Otto Kahn, J. Ogden Armour, and others, were the directors in the Hog Island fraud, [Republican senator William M.] Calder of New York leaned over to me and said, “My God! If I should ask such questions, I would be shot at sunrise.” He said he could not live politically for fifteen minutes if he dared to do what I was then doing. I told him I was independently poor.
February 16, 1918. So many things are happening in the world, and they are so very close to us, that we have really no conception of the tremendous events transpiring, and the changes daily occurring. We never are going to be quite the same Nation again. I doubt if the Republic as we have known it in the past—the Republic of our fathers—will ever return.
The Bolsheviks’ seizure of power from Alexander Kerensky’s provisional government in the second Russian revolution left Johnson with mixed feelings. The widespread disorder and civil war that followed in the wake of the October Revolution convinced him that nothing now stood in the way of Japanese expansion and aroused all of his deeply internalized fears of the “yellow” race. Still, he was unwilling to abandon the hope that he and most Americans felt when the czar was first overthrown in March, 1917, that the spread of freedom and democracy in Russia was imminent.
March 9, 1918. The Russia that we have known no longer exists, and anything like an organized government there is gone. … Japan will probably enter Siberia. Japan already has practically taken over China. Japan now has Korea, the provinces of China held by Germany, and the islands in the Pacific formerly constituting German colonies. The great yellow race is therefore given imperial dominion over the Pacific, and practically all of the lands of the Orient; and, between this yellow race and us, of California, there is no France and no England. The vision that I have of the future is one wherein we must really fight for the very existence of our kind of civilization, and for our race.