Some names slip into anonymity even though they were influential, patriotic and highly capable people. This can happen even when they occupy some of the most important roles in government. This is the case for the United States of America’s first Secretary of Defence, James Forrestal.
The closest most people may come to his name is the USS Forrestal, the world’s first super carrier and named in his honour, and scene of the famous near catastrophic fire in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1967. The Irony of this near catastrophe was that it was caused by sloppy carrier practices and naval budget constraints, something Forrestal himself had fought vigorously against and of which was a significant factor leading to the falling out between himself and President Truman.
James Forrestal was a dedicated public servant. He left private employment in 1940 as president of a bonds company while the US was beginning it’s build up for potential war, taking a role in organising procurement and industrialisation of naval ordinance and shipbuilding. Much credit can be attributed to Forrestal’s skills in bringing the American industrial might to the Pacific and Atlantic fleets. In 1944 he was appointed Secretary of the Navy.
Following the war, and given his clear skills, Forrestal was appointed in 1947 as the United States’ first Secretary of Defence.
Recognising the threat of Soviet expansion, Forrestal had sought funding to store surplus military equipment such as tanks and aircraft, heavy weapons and ammunition. Instead Truman’s budget priorities led to directives to convoys returning from Europe and the Pacific to dump billions of dollars worth of materiel over the side of the ships. Planes, tanks, guns, ammunition and shells sank to the bottom of the oceans.
This appalled Forrestal who rightly recognised the waste as short sighted and an insult to the workers who laboured during the war. He argued that the Soviet Union present a significant threat to US interests and that the US needed to be prepared to act as a barrier against Soviet and communist expansion. Truman viewed the Soviets as a keen ally.
With the impending creation of a Jewish state, Forrestal counselled Truman not to bend to Zionist demands for a partitioning of Palestine, favouring instead a federalist model which would not rest power with a single ethnic or religious faction over any particular composite. Forrestal argued that a partitioned Palestine would ostracise Arab states and potentially cause conflict in the region.
Threatened with campaign funding cuts from major Jewish benefactors, Truman bowed to pressure and agreed to the partitioning model. How different things could have been had Truman the courage to follow common sense instead of the smell of cash.
Immediately after creation of the partition, war erupted between Israel and its neighbours.
For his opposition to Zionist demands, Zionist columnists initiated a campaign against James Forrestal. Led by Drew Pearson, the notorious and sensationalist tabloid journalist of the era, Forrestal was smeared by unsubstantiated claims of cowardice, fraud, corruption and mental illness.
Forrestal began to notice vehicles following him, an investigation was initiated and a vehicle was stopped by police. Upon interrogation, the two occupants confirmed they were employed by a Zionist organisation to follow Forrestal and photograph his movements. They advised that it was hoped they would be able to record him visiting various Arab embassies, and that this would then be used as evidence by their backers to demonstrate Forrestal was sympathetic to anti-Zionist elements in America and the Middle East.
It is also alleged, although impossible to prove, that James Forrestal was a member of Majestic 12, a government appointed investigation team into UFO sightings and artefacts, and that he was pushing for information to be made public.
Following conflict between Forrestal and Truman on defence spending, Palestinian Partitioning, publication of National Security information and perceived disloyalty (Dewey who ran for president against Truman was so impressed by Forrestal he committed to keep him as Secretary of Defence under his administration) Truman demanded his resignation.
James Forrestal duly complied and following years of hounding, lies and stress, was admitted into Bethesda Naval Hospital for treatment of depression and mental exhaustion a week later. Forrestal’s body was found seven weeks into his treatment below an open 16th storey window. A contemporaneous report of the state of his room identified broken glass in his bed, however this was not mentioned in the subsequent report into his death. Neither was the robe sash found wrapped around his neck. Four out of five treating physicians, testified to the enquiry that they did not consider he was at risk of suicide, and tellingly was never treated by the hospital as a patiently likely to harm himself.
Suspicions around the death of Forrestal have lingered, those who say he did not voluntarily go out that window point the finger at communist agents, Majestic 12 or Zionists. If indeed Zionists were responsible, this probably represented the first assassination by the Israeli State of a senior US official. It seems improbable that such a figure would be targeted without sanctioning from the highest levels.
James Forrestal is remembered by those familiar with his methods, work ethic and dedication as one of the United States most capable and successful public servants. Unfortunately his legacy is dead, his position having been inherited by the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.