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The Wartime Cabinet
Cordell Hull’s feud with a brilliant subordinate; a trick cigar for General de Gaulle; how a Supreme Court justice is chosen; the silencing of Father Coughlin; the rage of Harold Ickes—in his autobiography, the former Attorney General describes calm and crisis among F.D. R.’s lieutenants
June 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 4
But usually the President did not want a balanced report; he wanted to be told what should be done, and how to do it. As late as January 10, 1944, he wrote me: “Your memo of January sixth is very interesting but it does not tell me what to do. Do please suggest an out, a modus vivendi , something really brilliant which will go down into history as a judgment of Solomon!” He could be very terse, exact, and firm. Whenever Congress tried to get hold of correspondence of the Chief Executive or his subordinates that for any reason he did not wish released, he was, in accordance with the tradition of his great office, adamant.
One of the most knowledgeable and pungent messages that I received from him concerned the conditions in Hawaii, where martial law had been declared immediately after Pearl Harbor.
Harold Ickes and I had sent out our representatives, with the President’s approval, to investigate what was going on. The Army ran everything—food supply and distribution, communications, traffic, hospitals and health, price control, civilian defense, liquor distribution, gasoline rationing, fiscal matters—even to a large extent the courts. General Delos Carleton Emmons, who was in command of the Hawaiian Department, styling himself “Military Governor,” established and enforced the law by issuing military orders. The resulting administration appeared to be autocratic, wasteful, and unjust. A confidential report from the FBI stated that it was common knowledge that blackout regulations were flagrantly violated by officer personnel and that cocktail hours lasted far beyond blackout hours—Pearl Harbor conditions again after a brief year! Emmons got most of his knowledge of local affairs from a small handful of powerful pineapple planters—the Big Five, as they were known. Among the populace there was deep resentment that did not come to the surface, since criticism of the local administration was suppressed by the military.
By the end of 1942 it seemed desirable that the civilian government should be reinstated. After discussing the matter with Ingram Macklin Stainbeck, Governor of the Territory, we took it up with the President, who approved our recommendation to end martial law and told us to prepare a proclamation for his signature and clear it with the Army. The Army in this case meant Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, General Emmons, and another general, Emmons’ executive officer, a stuffy, overzealous, unyielding type who had prepared an elaborate and complicated chart showing the setup. I sent it along with a confidential report to the President, as it told the story with laborious eloquence. I ended by saying that the situation had the makings of a lurid congressional investigation and enclosed a note to Grace Tully (who became the President’s secretary after “Missy” LeHand’s death), asking her to give it to him at once.
The President responded promptly and vigorously. I should talk the matter over with Secretary Stimson in person , and tell him from the President that the situation was bad and that he knew from many sources that Emmons got most of his knowledge of conditions from the Big Five. There must be a special Army and Navy investigation into violations of blackout regulations. Hawaii was a thoroughly insidious place for officers stationed there. “That statement needs no argument. There should be a constant rotation of officers and men.”
Before Pearl Harbor the President was much concerned with the activities of America First, which he thought of as substantially treasonable. “Will you speak to me about the possibility of a Grand Jury investigation of the America First Committee? It certainly ought to be looked into and I cannot get any action out of Congress.” There were too many isolationists in Congress for any such investigation, and there were no grounds to warrant a grand jury investigation—which, the President believed, would show that much of America First’s money came from Germany.
There had been a good deal of German propaganda before Pearl Harbor, but there was not much pro-German response, not nearly as much as in the First World War. In the twenty-five years between the two wars there was little German immigration; a large number of the older immigrants had died, and their sons had been quickly absorbed. But the Irish-American population, unified by Catholicism, held its immense identity. Almost all of them were Americans by naturalization or by birth, but they retained the ancient grudge against England. Their isolationism was calculated to prevent linking our fate with that of Great Britain. There it stopped.
Isolationism, as a way of American life, had deep if sometimes irrational roots, going far back into what had been a simpler but not too-distant past. What gave the word a reproachful connotation, often unjustifiably, was that many isolationists shared some of the same views as those who cherished and thrived on hatred: the Jew-baiters, the anti-English, the proGermans, and others of that ilk who at heart despised American democracy.