Silberman has some useful things to say about the separation of counterintelligence from criminal units within the FBI, but unfortunately his point gets obscured and very nearly lost by his compulsion to remind us all what a Horrible Person J. Edgar Hoover was for collecting dirt on most of the politicians loose in Washington during his tenure as FBI Director. Why, even the sainted Bill Moyers was not immune to the temptations of such power, and turned out to be no less eager to abuse the Bureau than his sly and amoral boss, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
None of this is at all surprising to anyone who has more than a cursory familiarity with the FBI's history. Why Silberman feels compelled to lecture on it anew only becomes clear at the end of his piece, when he calls for the removal of Hoover's name from the FBI headquarters in Washington, presumably as an act of public penance for the sins of the late Director. This, of course, is silliness and hysterical revisionism of the first water. It ranks right up there with the deeds of imbecilic administrators and demagogic politicians who have removed the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from schools since those eminent Americans owned slaves, from which it follows that there is nothing to be learned from the lives of such sick and twisted men. Of course. Doubtless Counselor Silberman is as free from sin and wrongdoing as those educators, else we should ignore his entreaties and treat him like any other lunatic hollering in the streets of the capitol city.
More practically, whitewashing the past in this manner deprives us of what educators are fond of calling "teachable moments", in which one can impart wisdom to children of all ages. Yea, even unto the former Acting Attorney General. It seems to me that most people are well aware that everyone has flaws, our national heroes no less than the average man in the street. Abraham Lincoln is generally acknowledged to have been indifferent to the idea that the Negro should be free, and was perfectly willing to reunite our sundered nation without freeing any slaves whatsoever. Phil Sheridan used his troops to break strikes and is on record as saying that it would be better to kill the Indians out of hand rather than pen them up on reservations. Franklin Roosevelt was an adulterer, and quite at ease with having much of his political support come from rabid segregationists like Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi. Douglas MacArthur won two Medals of Honor for courage under fire and is lauded by Filipinos, Japanese and Koreans alike, but is remembered by Americans today mainly for being fired by President Truman over foreign policy matters. The list goes on and on, cluttered with philanderers, dimwits, tragic bumblers, and religious fanatics wild enough to terrify Wahhabi Muslims with their violent piety. Nonetheless we learn something from all of them, since they achieved greatness by doing great deeds in the service of our country. Likewise, while it is true that Hoover abused his power, the fact is that he built the FBI into the powerful and efficient police force that it is, one that decimated organized crime in this country and broke the great Mafia crime families. It is also a fact that the FBI under his leadership was highly effective at destroying the covert activities of the American Communist Party as well as the New Left urban guerrillas such as the Weathermen. It is for these achievements that we commemorate Hoover, not his failings, and someone like Silberman should be mature enough to realize this.