I just finished my notes on the Memoirs of Cordell Hull. Thirty-one pages of notes, and that is with a narrow focus, the main issue being Japanese-American relations before World War II. The Memoirs themselves are in two volumes, 1742 pages. This is a guy who wrote tariff bills for Congress, and the prose of his memoirs is every bit as good. If you own an edition of the Memoirs, you own a first edition.
Despite being a Political Science major in college, I don't believe I took note of Cordell Hull until much later. Most famously, Hull was Franklin D. Roosevelt's Secretary of State, and though he left office before President-for-life Roosevelt died, he is America's longest-serving person to hold the office now occupied by Hillary Clinton.
If we are to believe Cordell Hull, he repeatedly warned Roosevelt and the War Department that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. Long before that, when he was a young lad back in Congress he was the point man for the modern Income Tax. He also was largely responsible for pushing the United States away from high tariffs on imports and towards free trade.
I got the sense that Hull was more important than most of the Presidents of his era. Like all Americans, I have been trained to think of our history in terms of Presidents. Congress may make the laws, but there are way to many members of Congress to even mention in a standard high school U.S. history text. How many biographies of congress members have you read? Typically, only those who later became Presidents.
Cordell Hull was from eastern Tennessee. He served in the Spanish American War. Recall that our ancestors, after having grabbed all the American Indian territories and the north half of Mexico, were not satisfied. They continued to worship their ancestral god, More. So they engineered a war and grabbed Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Cordell Hull saw no action, and so had all the patriotic benefits of volunteering without seeing the gory down side of war.
In Congress, Hull volunteers that he was an anti-social nerd who focused on the budget, tax policy, and tariff schedules. He was a progressive Democrat, but he does not ever mention the racism of his Democratic Party in Dixie as a problem. Aside from his lack of mentioning of civil rights issues, Hull comes across as a racist in innumerable ways in his Memoirs.
Cordell Hull was an early backer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hull himself was frequently put forward by others as a potential President or Vice-Presidential candidate, so his support for was critical to Roosevelt's gaining of the Democratic Party's nomination as their candidate for President in 1932.
Hull wrote a lot about international cooperation, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for creating the United Nations (even though he describes the organization as having been created to prosecute war, not for peace). When he slathers on the details, however, he reveals himself as thoroughly nationalist, and a subscriber to the idea that only Europeans have the right to colonize and exploit weaker peoples.
The rules of nationalism for Hull were simple. If the U.S. government does it, our motives are pure and whatever it is is a good thing. For instance if we keep the people of the Philippines enslaved, then it is for their benefit. They just are not ready for democracy. When Japan granted the Philippines independence during World War II, it was a heinous self-serving duplicitous Jap crime.
When the Germans rolled their armies through the neutral nations of The Netherlands and Belgium, it was a terrible international crime. When the neutral nation of Iran asked Hull for protection from Britain and Russia during World War II, Hull told them that America's allies were Good, and needed to control Iran for the good of the world. Britain and Russia then invaded Iran and installed a puppet, later to become known as the Shah of Iran. That dictator's mansion was filled with the skeletons of his enemies when the democratic Iranian Revolution finally tossed his ass out.
Amidst the platitudes you can see that while Hitler planned to conquer the world, it was America, following the plans of Hull and Roosevelt and their team, who arranged to inherit it. Roosevelt was a militarist and imperialist strategist and who had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I and who had been tutored by his war-loving uncle President Theodore Roosevelt.
Hitler was not even that much of a problem, and neither was Japan. Roosevelt and Hull used those nations to weaken our ostensible allies, the British Empire, the French Empire, and the Netherlands Empire. The U.S. could have jumped into World War II and helped kick Hitler's ass as soon as Poland was invaded, or when France was invaded, but then the British and French would have continued to rule the world.
America's economic growth spurt in the 1950's is often attributed (by leftists) to the unionization of the work force and consequent growth of the middle-class consumption economy. But it was also based on imperialism. In theory the old colonies of Europe were becoming independent, but in reality they were becoming commercial colonies of the United States as the Brits and French retreated.
Just as the Spanish and Portuguese dominated world commerce in the 1500s, the Dutch (Netherlands) dominated the world in the 1600s. The British Empire took over for the 1700s and 1800s, and took a good 50 years of the 1900s to lose the board to the United States.
Cordell Hull was a great man, but not a very good man. That is the way of most great men. He fought evil when it was German or Japanese, but embraced it when it was American or British or even French.
He was also a good liar, a prerequisite of being a good Secretary of State. Strangely, in his Memoirs he often failed to censor himself, so that he tells you what he actually did in one paragraph, and then puts a diplomatic gloss on his actions in a different paragraph. Doubtless he was lying to himself, and so did not have the perspective to realize that others would be able to tell when he was lying.