Did FDR Call Somoza or Trujillo "our son of a bitch"?
Well, my source has come through, but the trail has come to an end.
As you recall, my last word on the question of who said "he's a son of a
bitch, but he's our son of a bitch" and about whom was that Dave Forrest,
a high school student in California, had attributed it to U.S. Secretary
of State Cordell Hull, in reference to Trujillo. I found this quote in
Forrest's website project on Trujillo and immediately put all my money on
the web-literate youth against the other experts.
Well, I have an e-mail back from Forrest. Forrest got the quote from a
book by journalist Bernard Diederich entitled "Trujillo: Dath of the Goat"
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1978). There is a paragraph referring to "Cordell
Hull's quote, 'He's a son of a bitch...'". However, unfortunately,
Diederich cites no source.
Being at the Trujillo shelf of the library, I then dug up the "definitive
bio" of Trujillo (in English anyway), Robert Crassweller's "Trujillo: The
Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator" (NY: MacMillan, 1966). This book
would have been consulted by Diederich in getting the background for his
opening chapter. There I had a nasty shock. Crassweller writes:
State Department policy ... came increasingly to be identified as one of
tolerance and cooperation on the part of the United States. Secretary
of State Cordell Hull was the prime mover in this, believing as he did
that although Trujillo was an SOB, at least he was -our- SOB.
The word "our" above is in italics. Notice, however, that this is not a
direct quote! Crassweller didn't give footnotes in his work either, but
claimed in an endnote to have been given complete access to the State
Department's Dominican Republic files. What are we to make of this? Why
did Crassweller write this paragraph this way? It seems that either:
(a) There was a tradition of Cordell Hull having said this, but
Crassweller was unable to pin it down; OR
(b) Crassweller had no intention of attributing this wording to Hull. He
just pulled the idiom out of the air and used it to summarize Hull's
Frankly, I now believe that before going any farther we have to give
serious consideration to the "null hypothesis" that NOBODY said it, and
that Crassweller, by using this idiom to summarize Hull's approach, put
the quote into circulation himself.
Can anyone reject the null hypothesis by showing that the quote was
attributed to anyone before 1966??
The real "author" of the quote MIGHT have been Thaddeus Stevens. Dejanews
revealed that this quote had come up on alt.quotations (?) earlier this
year. Nobody did any better there, but one person said that Northern
reconstruction Senator Thaddeus Stevens one day came late to a discussion
of which of two office-seekers should be appointed. He asked which one
was best and an aide said that they were "both damned rascals".
said Stevens, "which one is OUR damned rascal?" Everyone since may have
been adapting this initial utterance. On the other hand, there was no
source for the Stevens quote either.
By the way, Crassweller does give the following direct quote from Hull.
This was on the occasion of Trujillo having massacred hundreds of
Haitians: "I have long considered President Trujillo as one of the
biggest men in Central and most of South America."
Crassweller also quotes a dispatch from Charles Curtis, ambassador to the
Dominican Republic in 1930, who had not yet gotten with the program:
"Trujillo is the head of a band of gangsters. .. Can't you persuade Al
Capone to offer him more money than he is making here to come to the
United States as his instructor?"
Cordell Hull's two-volume, 1800-page memoirs contain NO reference to
Trujillo. They concentrate heavily on Europe and Japan.
Well, this is probably the best I can do....
The real author of this quote may be "unknowable in principle" ;-)
On Tue, 28 Jul 1998, Louis Proyect wrote:
> Louis Paulsen has rolled up his sleeves and gotten to the bottom
> of things.
I only wish!!! :-( I have sad news to report. As you recall, the
earliest source I had found was a 1966 book by Robert D. Crassweller.
Well, I just talked to the man. He's still alive.
And he told me that: the quote had been often attributed to
Roosevelt, sometimes to Hull, had "acquired a great deal of generality,"
etc. etc., and that he had no way of really tracking it down.
In short, Crassweller, in 1966, was in the same position that we all are
now, in 1998. Basically he had heard it somewhere.
The black bird is discovered to be made of lead...