Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hoover's Masters of Deceit: A Surprising Do-It-Yourself Guide to Going Underground

A ratty paperback copy of J. Edgar Hoover's "magnum opus" and blatant propaganda tool, Masters of Deceit, subtitled "The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It", has been nestled in my bookcase for about fifty years now, ever since the prof of a freshman political science class assigned it as a "valuable textbook on the communist influence in the United States". It kind of surprised me that he would assign it, since, according to Hoover and those of his ilk, all college professors were, at a minimum, "pinkos" if not out-and-out Reds.

Anyway, I happened to run across it last night while I was looking for something else and chanced to pick it up and glance through it. Along with the expected "exposés" of the usual suspects, William Z. Foster, Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, et al., there was a chapter on how the communists target minorities, especially "the Negroes".

It seems that if anyone went out amongst the black population in the United States and did anything to point out what the blacks themselves already knew, e.g., that they were kept down economically and kept ignorant Intellectually by such things as infringement on their right to vote, or work at decent pay, or the establishment of "separate but equal" deteriorating schools and substandard textbooks, then they were "communist agitators" who should be run out of (Ni**er)town on a rail. Apparently anyone who told "the Negroes" anything, except how satisfied they should be in their menial low-pay jobs and their rat-infested firetrap shacks and their antiquated and poorly maintained schools with their outdated and torn textbooks and how happy they ought to be with massa's boot kept firmly on their necks, was nothing more than a Soviet Agent taking orders directly from The Kremlin.

But the most interesting, if not to say illuminating, chapter was one called "How the Underground Works", in which detailed descriptions appear of how the communists go underground, how they evade surveillance, how they lose suspicious cars which may be tailing them, how they change their identities and their appearance, how they use "safe houses" etc. The book devotes nearly 20 pages to this.

It's actually a do-it-yourself guide to dropping out of sight. If you did need to "go underground" (like members of the Weather Underground in the early 70s, an act made musically famous by the Talking Heads' 1989 song, Life During Wartime), Hoover's book would be a valuable detailed textbook on how to do it.

I wonder if anyone actually used it for that. I wouldn't doubt it -- the book was in print starting in 1955 and was, allegedly, a huge best-seller. Bookstores had to be full of used copies by the time 1970 rolled around. I can picture Bill Ayres or Bernadine Dorhn picking up a copy as a lark, for a chuckle at the expense of the "enemy" and for a  window into how the enemy thinks, and then being surprised and elated by the step-by-step instructions on how to go underground, avoid suspicion, shake off your surveillance and disappear.

I hope it happened. That would be the ultimate strike of bitter irony against J. Edgar Hoover.