Dusty Quotations


Who is J. Edgar Hoover?

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was an American law enforcement administrator who served as the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation – the FBI’s predecessor – in 1924 and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director for another 37 years until his death in 1972. Hoover built the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency than it was at its inception and instituted a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories. Hoover also established and expanded a national blacklist, referred to as the FBI Index or Index List.

Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have routinely violated the very laws the FBI was charged with enforcing, to have used the FBI to harass political dissidents, to amass secret files for blackmailing high level politicians, and to collect evidence using vigilantism and many other illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten others, including multiple sitting presidents of the United States.

J. Edgar Hoover is an example of someone whose enormous influence outlasted and outshone his fame.

The second paragraph of his Wikipedia description is wild. He had the power to intimidate and threaten sitting U.S. presidents? Can wiki say that because he actually did it? Do you, dear Reader, remember the significant reforms to the F.B.I. which occurred after Hoover left his position? No? So is that same power still now vested in the F.B.I.?

If you take all of that to heart, it calls into question who has *really* been governing the United States since the onset of the second world war. You might be happier if you do not spend much time thinking about that.

In conjunction with the quote above…

Memes aside, history and its context are important. To what degree do we make allowances for what might now be perceived to be abuses, when we consider the context of World War II and then the Cold War? How much grace should we show, in hindsight, given that we have the benefit of hindsight and the decision-makers at the time did not? If an over-powered F.B.I. was a necessary evil in one era, does that continue to be the case even as the geopolitical landscape changes? If the answer to the last question is no, then is it possible to take back power once it is surrendered? If it is impossible to reclaim power from this agency, does that change your answer as it relates to how you think about the time when it might have genuinely been a necessary evil?

Life, politics, and policy never present easy answers.