Cordell Hull. Taxes, Trade, and World Order, Oh My!

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Recently, while
re-reading Bernard Fall's excellent chronicle of the French war
in Indochina, "Street without Joy," I stumbled across
a reference on the US secretary of state, Cordell Hull. My prior
knowledge of him was from the 1970's war movie, Tora,
Tora, Tora
, where he is portrayed indignantly castigating
the Japanese diplomats following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The
details of Hull's involvement with Indochina will be explained later
— sufficient to say, my interest was piqued, and I did some online
research on him. And boy-oh-boy, talk about turning over
the proverbial rock and seeing what was underneath it! I discovered
a man who, nurtured by Wilsonian progressive philosophy and serving
under FDR, single-handedly authored some of the most oppressive
taxes and international consortiums ever inflicted on mankind. Quite
an accomplishment for a relatively shy political figure not noted
for his charisma or public speaking. But Cordell Hull possessed
a condescending moral certitude that fueled his endeavors to make
a progressive agenda a terrible reality. Reading Hull's quotes,
it is easy to discern a declarative and puritanical tone mimicking
a benevolent dictator patiently telling his subjects what is best
for them. Yet his philosophy would live on in the Cordell Hull Institute,
his name found on many memorials and buildings, and his cabin home
in Tennessee turned into a museum. There is even a Cordell Hull
Folk Festival held annually in his home state. If those who revered
his name really understood the ramifications of Mr. Cordell Hull's
37-year political career, the only memorial they would make for
him would be an effigy to hang from the highest tree.

Where's
your 1040, citizen?
For every American who struggled, sweated
and cursed while filling out a tax return to make the April 15th
deadline, this is the guy to blame. Hull authored the US income
tax laws during 1913–1916. Cordell Hull sums up his philosophy on
taxing citizens:

“Every good
citizen should be willing to devote a brief time during some one
day in the year, when necessary, to the making up of a listing
of his income for taxes to contribute to his Government, not the
scriptural tithe, but a small percentage of his net profits.”

If you, "good
citizen," need to pause reading and run to the bathroom to
throw up, I will understand. Do you suppose there are portraits
of him hanging on the walls of every IRS building, after the cult
fashion of Stalin or Mao?

Grave robbing,
en masse.
Not content with just taxing income, Hull also
sponsored the inheritance tax laws in 1916. Here's
a telling Q&A from the US treasury website
that explains
the necessity of this tax.

Question:
I want to know about the origin of the Federal estate tax. Can
you tell me when it became part of the tax code and the rationale
behind it?

Answer:
In 1916 Congress for the first time levied a tax upon the transfer
of a decedent’s net estate. The Committee on Ways and Means of
the U.S. House of Representatives explained that a new type of
tax was needed, because the “consumption taxes” in effect at that
time bore most heavily upon those least able to pay them. The
Committee further explained that the revenue system should be
more evenly and equitably balanced and “a larger portion of
our necessary revenues collected from the incomes and inheritances
of those deriving the most benefit and protection from the Government.”

The Committee
recommended an estate tax rather than an inheritance tax because
many states already imposed inheritance taxes. It felt that the
estate tax helped to form a well-balanced system of inheritance
taxation between the Federal Government and the various states
and that an estate tax could be readily administered with less
conflict than a tax based upon inherited shares.

Various changes
in the estate tax provisions of law, as well as their repeal,
have been proposed over the years, but the principle has been
retained.

This Treasury
Department response can be traced to Hulls' original quote on the
inheritance tax issue:

“I have no
disposition to tax wealth unnecessarily or unjustly, but I do
believe that the wealth of the country should bear its just share
of the burden of taxation and that it should not be permitted
to shirk that duty.”

Does the puritanical
line, "not be permitted to shirk that duty" stimulate
your gag reflex like it does mine? What Hull really means is it
doesn't pay to prosper. So a working-stiff putting in overtime to
afford braces for his kid’s teeth gets soaked for his efforts. The
more you make, the more the government need to take, so why bother?

Say what
you mean, mean what you say
. Many online references I researched
mention how Cordell Hull encouraged rearmament in the face of rising
tensions with Japan and Germany in the 1930's, and particularly
condemning the Japanese intention to invade French Indochina. But
in late June of 1940, when the French military governor of Indochina
requested the US to send 120 fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns
already paid for by the French prior to the Fall of France,
Hull agreed with Under-Secretary Welles refusal to do so. Hull in
his memoirs explains why: "…with Japan in control of key
points of Indochina, we were reluctant to sell any additional equipment
to Indochina." He expresses optimism that French Indochina
should be able to "delay and parlay and hold out against
Japanese demands…. since Japan would not dare make a military attack
at this time." This explanation contradicts itself on so
many levels. Hull first writes off Indochina because the Japanese
hold key positions for an invasion. He then lies that he does not
want to sell "additional" military material to Indochina,
when the truth was that the French were not asking to buy more,
but only delivery of goods already purchased! In the ensuing
sentence, Hull expresses the hope that the French, in their awkward
predicament, can hold against the Japanese pressure, notwithstanding
his refusal to give them the necessary bargaining chips, i.e., the
fighter planes and AA guns. Finally, his assessment that the Japanese
would not attack soon is ludicrous in view of the signs that an
invasion was imminent. As a result, French Indochina fell to Japan
in September of that year, leading to the ascent of the Ho Chi Minh
and his Communist guerrillas, who became deeply entrenched in Vietnam
society following the political vacuum that occurred after the end
of the war. It can be argued that the Japanese would have succeeded
regardless if the planes and guns were shipped, but it does not
excuse Hull's convoluted rationale trying to justify his dealings
with French Indochina.

No sanctuary
for you
! In 1939, the ocean liner SS St. Louis carrying Jewish
refugees, sought asylum in the US to escape Nazi persecution. As
Secretary of the State, Cordell Hull refused them because they had
no "return addresses" to permit them visas. I think Hull
failed to understand the concept of being a refugee means you have
no return address to go back to. The ship, also refused by South
America, Cuba, and Canada, was obliged to return back to Europe.
250 of the original 650 Jewish passengers would eventually die in
the upcoming holocaust they sought to flee.

Whose side
is he on?
In December 24, 1941, De Gaulle's Free French troops
captured two islands from the Vichy government near Newfoundland.
Cordell protested this action, and went on to insist the
pro-axis Vichy government to be reinstated! That those islands could
have proved an ongoing security threat to the Canadian and US convoys
crossing an ocean filled with prowling U-Boats never occurred to
him.

Entangling
fiscal alliances.
Hull had initially sponsored a resolution
after WW I to hold an international convention to initiate a world
trade agreement. In 1934 he pushed Congress to pass the Reciprocal
Trade Agreements Act, forerunner to the 1948 General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which would later mutate into the World
Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Thus the free market becomes bound
by artificial constraints under international political influences,
counterintuitive to the natural law of supply and demand.

Peace at
any price.
Referred to the "Father of the United Nations"
in drafting, along with his staff, the UN Charter. Receiving the
Noble Peace prize for his efforts, Hull acceptance speech included
the following remarks. Keep track of the bolded lines on Hull's
use of aggressive verbs and technical terms — I will make comment
on them shortly.

"There
is no greater responsibility resting upon peoples and governments
everywhere than to make sure that enduring peace will this
time — at long last — be established and maintained. Fortunately,
the war has brought with it not alone a stark realization of what
another war would mean to the world, but as well the creation
of an international agency through which the nations of the world
can, if they so desire, make peace a living reality. Within
a few weeks the organization for the maintenance of international
peace and security, established by the San Francisco Charter,
will be formally launched through the convocation of the first
General Assembly of the United Nations. I fully realize that the
new organization is a human rather than a perfect instrumentality
for the attainment of its great objective. As time goes on it
will, I am sure, be improved. The Charter is sufficiently flexible
to provide for growth and development, in the light of experience
and performance, but I am firmly convinced that with all its imperfections
the United Nations Organization offers the peace-loving nations
of the world, how, a fully workable mechanism, which will give
them peace, if they want peace
. To be sure, no piece of social
machinery, however well constructed, can be effective unless there
is back of it a will and a determination to make it work."

Notice the
stress on the bolded words in connection with Hull's vision of global
peace. I find it akin to the language on Communist propaganda encouraging
peasants to meet their quotas to achieve a state paradise. This
is contrary to the spiritual teachings of the Bible that peace must
first begin with the individual. Peace coerced by a political mechanism
like the UN can only resemble the peace that tyrants must feel after
their citizen's individual rights are permanently removed, and become
tractable as sheep.

I am also
puzzled by his statement "United Nations Organization offers
the peace-loving nations of the world, how, a fully workable mechanism
which will give them peace, if they want peace" If a nation
is "peace –loving" why would it need the UN to give it
something it already has? Why is there a redundant query "if
they want peace" at the end of the sentence? Obviously, the
peace-loving nation must not have the right kind of peace as defined
by the UN, and must be corrected! The following excerpt from Hull's
memoirs supports this supposition:

"I am
firmly convinced that in the world of today all nations will
be forced to the conclusion
that cooperation for law, justice,
and peace is the only alternative to a constant race in armaments
— including atomic armaments — and to other disruptive practices
that will bring the nations participating in them on either side
to a common ruin, the equivalent of universal suicide.

Again and again,
his terrible moral certitude spills out in his words, letting one
know that this is not a sincere plea or a request to prevent nuclear
Armageddon, but a demand to conform to a single government construct
to conform for the sake of peace — or else. I do not believe that
Cordell Hull was an inherently evil man. In his own way, I’m sure
he thought he had the best interests of the public in mind. His
true sin is best defined by a quote by C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies
a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may
be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber
barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s
cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be
satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment
us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

August
1, 2008

Ron
Shirtz [send him mail] is
a transplanted Californian in Northern (Not “Upstate”) New York.
His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting
at windmills, and being fashionably late.

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