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‘Was J. Edgar Hoover Nuts?’
Radical Thoughts by Dan Carlin
© 2013 James LaFond
This podcast plumbs the American mindset of the early Cold War from 1947 thru 1963, when our grandparents lived under the threat of Armageddon. Dan begins with J. Edgar Hoover’s nightmare domestic scenario. To illustrate how crazy the cerebral life of our nation was, understand that the director of the FBI had determined that 1 American out of every 1,814 citizens was a communist. And the FBI had planned concentration camps set up to receive people who were on the ‘security index’. The FBI was planning to put 1 million Americans in concentration camps. This crackpot security index act was vetoed by Harry Truman, and still went through when he was overridden. The irony that this ‘Red Scare’ mindset in the Cold War U.S. had the government targeting people for their ideas in response to the threat of an implacable enemy [The Soviet Union] echoes our own current situation concerning ‘The War on Terror’.
The focus of Radical Thoughts is the war on American Thought by the American Government, ironically undertaken with the stated goal to safeguard American freedom. This focus is ideal for discussing certain key concepts that fascinate, frustrate and bedevil historians: viral ideas, the resistance of history to the scientific method, book burning, fear and insanity in history, perspective warping in recent history, and loss of emotive perspective in distant history. Radical Thoughts is essentially the discussion of ‘yesterday’s boogieman’ in an attempt to understand mass hysteria, and use that subject as a point of departure into comprehending the challenges faced by our ancestors, and also the factors that cloud the historian’s view.
The best portion of the episode is Dan’s rendition of the crazed fantasies of J. Edgar Hoover that fueled the first Red Scare in 1920, when he was just a 25-year-old working as the equivalent of a modern FBI analyst. Even after his boss was humiliated and vilified when the country did not come under general terrorist attack on May Day, he would eventually rise to head a later day American Gestapo. I remember as a boy, hearing the name of J. Edgar Hoover spoken of in heroic terms, the cornerstone patriot of America. I smile now to realize that this guy that was worshipped as an American icon in my childhood had already been confirmed as a certifiable nut before my Grandmother was two years old.
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