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Bryan Burrough Q&A ~ #12
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 7:49 am
ONBC: First, thank you for taking the time to answer questions for our little book club. Since Public Enemies is a story of the FBI and not just John Dillinger, as much as I love Johnny, I have always been a political junkie and interested in J. Edgar Hoover. I noticed in the book, you stuck to the files and letters by Hoover, but I wonder what other interesting tidbits on him you ran across in your investigation that were not put in the book?
Bryan Burrough: Nothing, really. I wanted to keep his portrayal "by the book" and I hope I did. In fact, I wanted to remind people how much Hoover did for American law enforcement. His positive role is often forgotten amid all the things he did wrong in later years.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:05 am
As is probably true with anyone or any situation, unfortunately you are most rememebered for what you did wrong and not for what you did "right". I thought I might loose interest in the book upon Dillinger's death, but not for a moment... I read every last page. It was almost as though another story unfolded as there was still plenty of the story left to be told.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:19 am
There was really no doubt about Hoover's motives: the desire to create a police force with integrity and educated men (albeit some with no experience, but what was the other choice - an experienced and corrupt force?) can only be applauded. That he failed in other areas, that he had an ego too big to admit mistakes is quite another thing. Even if the enemies are the ones I rooted for, Hoover's FBI were always the good guys compared to regular police - at least they tried.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:58 am
My interpretation of the scene is a bit different. To me, the motive to create a federal police force in order to circumvent more of the kinds of crimes that were taking place across state lines (ie. the Lindbergh kidnapping) came from Roosevelt. Hoover was an opportunist who brazenly claimed he could accomplish the task but who was really motivated by his own desire/need for self-aggrandizement and power.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:25 pm
I agree with Parlez on this. Hoover was an egomaniac, who saw an opportunity to gain power and prestige and he seized it. In PE we saw many of Hoover's shortcomings, i.e. his temper and jealousy of agents who were seen as the heroes of the war on crime.
This is just my opinion of course.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 3:20 pm
This thread sounds a little like our discussion of Dillinger's dual character. "Ok, so what if Hoover was an egocentric obsessive/compulsive tyrant, he did a lot of good stuff, too."
Prior to reading PE, my knowledge of J Edgar was little more than mumbled innuendo. I was fascinated by what I learned about him in PE and my towering stack of books to read now includes J Edgar Hoover the Man and His Secrets which Mr Burrough recommended at the end of PE. I am not sure what to expect .......I am actually kind of negative on the man from what I know about him at this point and it is a big book!
I do commend Mr Burrough for sticking to the facts and following the information in the files. There are plenty of sources to go to for embroidered truths and added "facts" that have a disclaimer following them. PE is an excellent reference book for those who want to know what really happened.
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 5:21 pm
I don't have the same opinion here as Mr. Burrough. I realize there are positive things Hoover did but it was the way he accomplished them that I don't agree with. I think one line from the book says it well. After stating his accomplishments of efficiency and centralization, he says...
"But his accomplishments will forever be sullied by the abuses of power- rampant illegal wiretapping, break-ins, and harassment of civil rights groups- of his later years.
I read that he was the director of the FBI for 48 years. That is far too long for anyone to hold that much power. That's why we have term limits in political offices.
Some of his methods remind me of what we think of the Gestapo. I read where several Presidents wanted to fire him but were afraid to. Something is wrong there..... Here is a paragraph from wikipedia.
In 1956, Hoover was becoming increasingly frustrated by Supreme Court decisions that limited the Justice Department's ability to prosecute Communists. At this time he formalized a covert "dirty tricks" program under the name COINTELPRO. This program remained in place until it was revealed to the public in 1971, and was the cause of some of the harshest criticism of Hoover and the FBI. COINTELPRO was first used to disrupt the Communist Party, and later such organizations such as the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s SCLC, the Ku Klux Klan, and others. Its methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planting forged documents and spreading false rumors about key members of target organizations. Some authors have charged that COINTELPRO methods also included inciting violence and arranging murders. In 1975, the activities of COINTELPRO were investigated by the Senate Church Committee and declared illegal and contrary to the Constitution
I think our rights are of the utmost importance and one of the reasons our country is supposed to be superior to others. When law enforcement infringes on civil rights, its worse than what it is protecting us from.
You may have guessed by now that this was my question. I do applaud Burrough for sticking to only the facts and it is what is great about the book. After reading the facts though, I decided that Hoover's egomania occurred much earlier than his later years. I think I might read that book about Hoover too, Nebraska. First, I have to finish "Dillinger the untold story".
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 6:37 pm
I think Hoover saw his chance and he jumped. He was an opportunist and knew how to play the political game in Washington. A lot of things came together at one time to create the need and opportunity for the creation of a national police force, Hoover saw it and seized the moment. The saying power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely could probably apply to him. He became obsessed with his power and position and he went unchecked for much too long.
Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:04 pm
gemini, I agree with you. particularly these comments:
I don't have the same opinion here as Mr. Burrough. I realize there are positive things Hoover did but it was the way he accomplished them that I don't agree with.... When law enforcement infringes on civil rights, its worse than what it is protecting us from.
Whatever Hoover did that was positive for law enforcement, the, er, lack of a moral centre, was evident from the earliest days that Mr Burrough writes of. I won't repeat the criticisms that have been made of him already, but again I agree with the comment that you quoted from the book.
I have been looking back at the book again, to try to find something positive. But what has leapt out is the bit from the epilogue about how Hoover used to refer to the Dillinger days in his old age and: "One senses in Hoover's reveries a longing for the clear-cut distinctions of good versus evil the War on Crime afforded the FBI". Well, I can see why it might have seemed that clear-cut to Hoover - everything is relative - but it just doesn't seem that simple to me, although I'm not defending the public enemies here at all.
Posted: Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:12 am
Hoover' denied the existence of organized crime for decades, and focused his agency on the Public Enemies and Communists. That willful blindness did untold harm to our society.
Stepping off soapbox now.
Posted: Mon Mar 31, 2008 9:36 am
That is an excellent point, stroch!
It seems the real public enemies were, as it were, untouchable, whilst Hoover pursued lesser criminals (who nonetheless gave him a run for his money). He then proceeded to use the media to whip up a similar frenzy for hunting down the easiest prey of all: those who didn't agree with his ideological agenda.
That's how it seems to me anyway...again, just my opinion.
Posted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 7:27 pm
I am reading about Hoover now and that is pretty much what is said about his career. He picked his (the FBI's) enemies so that there was no chance of failure of not accomplishing his goals. Other groups did most of the mundane, creditless law and order, he was able to choose what aspects the FBI would be responsible for.
I won't even go into his other major problems; it would take reading the book.
Here is a little quote about Little Bohemia from my hero Will Rogers that I thought was pretty appropriate.
He summmed it up: "Well, they had Dillinger surrounded and was all ready to shoot him when he came out, but another bunch of folks came out ahead, so they just shot them instead. Dillinger is going to accidentally get with some innocent bystanders some time, then he will get shot."
Shows how the people in his era thought about it.