The Einstein File:
J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War
by Fred Jerome
St. Martins Press 2002
a book review Rich Gibson
Z magazine, November 2002
My students are usually surprised twice
about the fact that Albert Einstein, the world's most famous scientist
and the fellow who proposed the bomb to Roosevelt, was not invited
to work on the Manhattan project. They are surprised that Einstein
wasn't asked and they are surprised that they never noticed the
incongruity. Now, another surprise: while the Manhattan project
was riddled with Soviet spies who went undetected until the secrets
were already out, Einstein, a loyal oppositionist, was under constant
surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover's corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Fred Jerome, author of The Einstein File, Hoover's Secret War,
has the documents to prove it. Jerome, a lifelong radical, knows
what it is like. His own family was subjected to similar surveillance
in New York City when he was a youth in the 1950s.
Following path-breaking research by Richard
Alan Schwarz, a Florida professor and author of The Cold War Reference
Guide, Jerome obtained Einstein's FBI file through a series of
battles with the agency. He had the assistance of the Public Citizen
Litigation Group. He followed up with key, often revealing, interviews
with the players from all sides.
What Jerome unveils is what James Loewen
noted earlier in Lies My Teacher Told Me; history is often sanitized
and what is erased in the case of Albert Einstein is a passion
for socialist humanist politics. What Jerome offers is a multi-dimensional
view of Einstein as a fighter, going beyond his theoretical contributions
to his courageous everyday social practice.
Einstein's political theory isn't thin,
of course. Some of it has particular import today: "The flag
is a symbol of the fact that man [sic] is still a herd animal."
Einstein regretfully reconsidered his theoretical pacifism in
the face of the Nazi onslaught he escaped.
But in a period when all of North American
citizenry is being set up as an internal spy agency, a service
limited to groups like the American Legion before 2001, Einstein's
experience with the FBI is especially instructive. Hoover did
all he could to ruin Albert Einstein in the name of patriotism.
Hoover's actions, wrapped in language of the common good, damaged
masses of people.
Einstein was denied key security clearances,
bugged, followed. Hoover even thought about deporting him-hard
to do to the world's most beloved playful intellectual. As Jerome
demonstrates, Hoover mixed his anti-Semitism with anti-communism,
much like the Nazi movement where he found many of his resources,
like the rantings of Elizabeth Dilling, author of the notorious
Red Network, a compilation of fictions that Hoover used as a guide,
and Hoover's contacts with his Nazi counterpart, Heinrich Himmler,
a favored Hoover correspondent until 1939.
Hoover despised Einstein and wanted to
show him up as a spy. Einstein, after all, stood for all Hoover
loathed: internationalism, anti-racism, rationalism, openness.
Jerome has the details of how Hoover's hatred played out, not
only in documents, but also in gripping interviews with some of
the agents assigned to twist facts into indictments.
Still, what Jerome offers here is not
just the history of the effort to demonize Einstein and later
to neuter him, but a chilling history of U.S. intelligence services,
steeped in targeting those who see friendly connections between
people as a way to social progress. An era is portrayed here,
an era that is reverberating now. In passing, we encounter the
battle against Lynch Law, Paul Robeson, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman,
Dubois (America's greatest historian tried as a foreign agent),
a fairly predictable cast, but illuminated in new ways. It is
significant to be reminded that Hoover's attacks on Einstein were,
of course, personal, but the vilification took place in an epoch
when open anti-Semitism and proto-fascist pronouncements were
part of the popular discourse. The most widely circulated Catholic
newspaper in the U. S. editorialized, on anti-Semitic grounds,
for Einstein's deportation. There are amusing moments within The
Einstein File and a few annoyances. Jerome must have been a pamphleteer
at some point in his career. There are suggestions that some players
"couldn't organize their way out of a paper bag," or
"...without foreigners it is unlikely the Manhattan project
could have produced a firecracker."
Teachers will find a wealth of what might
be inadvertent material here. Einstein was always interested in
pedagogy. It won't give away the game to show two gems: "Love
is a better teacher than a sense of duty." "I am not
more gifted, just more curious." It is not surprising at
all that Einstein was prescient in social matters. Early in the
Depression he wrote that it was clear that abundance existed,
that all the necessary human connections existed, for all to lead
reasonably decent lives, yet what was absent was the intelligent
will to share. He made every effort to publicly join and support
groups that organized for his views. What is surprising is that
this well-known history was so quickly obliterated. Jerome's well-organized
and nicely referenced ambush on secrecy in The Einstein File recreates
a living Einstein, an unrelieved humble rebel finding his own
way in a new nation where he came full of hope, but quickly found
disappointment. Yet Einstein never gave in, never quit. In restoring
this part of Einstein's life, Jerome tenders reason for continued
resistance and hope.
Rich Gibson, with Wayne Ross, recently
edited a special Marxism and Education edition of the on-line
journal, Cultural Logic.
Global Secrets and Lies