L. RON HUBBARD AND THE U.S. NAVY, 1941-50
4.3 Verifying the Evidence
Corroboration is one of the greatest problems facing the historian. Evidence is steadily consumed by the ravages of time, causing increasing difficulty the further back in time one looks. A few documents have survived immense periods of time and today serve as virtually the only documentary record of the events which they chronicle - Julius Caesar's The Gallic War, for instance, or Thucidides' The Peloponnesian War. Such documents can be of great value in the absence of other sources - the only detailed descriptions of pre-Roman Britain come from Caesar, for instance. But relying on a single source also has its perils. Caesar speaks of the bloodcurdling rites of the Celtic druids, but this is now thought to have been Roman propaganda created to justify the imposition of the Pax Romana on the "barbaric" Britons. Caesar's towering reputation, however, meant that his assertions went unchallenged for centuries.
Most of what we know about L. Ron Hubbard's career in the US Navy comes from the records released by his former employers. Scientology has alleged that these records are false. If this is true, then the time and money spent by many people in obtaining and reporting on these records has been wasted. Fortunately the situation is not quite as bleak as that, as it is possible to corroborate significant portions of Hubbard's Naval career from sources outside of the US Navy, including Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard's own statements.
There is no dispute that Hubbard actually did serve in the Naval Reserve; all parties are agreed on that (virtually the only aspect of his naval service on which there is no dispute). We know from his correspondence with Senator Warren G. Magnuson that he applied for and received a commission as a Lieutenant j.g. initially working in a public relations capacity. From Hubbard's unpublished "Autobiographical notes for Peter Tompkins" (June 6, 1972) we can confirm that he went on to work for the Hydrographic Office. Hubbard stated in an 1963 interview with Australian journalists, the text of which was distributed by Scientology afterwards, that in 1941-42 he was stationed in Brisbane, Australia supposedly as "the only anti-aircraft battery" in the country. Ron The Poet (1996) similarly states that he "spent the first months of 1942 as Senior Officer Present Ashore in Brisbane, Australia."
There is no disagreement that he served on board the gunboat USS YP-422 later in 1942; this is accepted by Scientology, was recorded photographically by the US Navy and has been confirmed by former members of the ship's crew. 1 Hubbard claimed in later years that the ship's crew were convicts whom he had licked into shape. After his short tour aboard the YP-422, he went on to the Submarine Chaser Training Center in Miami, Florida preparatory to taking command of a subchaser of his own. He refers to this in a 1964 lecture, "Study: Evaluation of Information", commenting that "it was a lovely, lovely warm classroom, and I was shipped for a very short time down into the south of Florida... and, boy was I able to catch up on some sleep." During the 1984 Armstrong trial, Hubbard's presence there was confirmed under oath by one of his classmates, Thomas S. Moulton.
There is also no disagreement that Hubbard commanded the subchaser USS PC-815 in 1943. Scientology has referred to this on a variety of occasions, for instance in Ron The Poet and the internal document "Correction of False Reports in 'Scientology Unmasked', Boston Sunday Herald March 1, 1998." It is also the subject of an article in the Oregon Journal of April 22, 1943. The famous "submarine battle" is a matter of record, having featured heavily in Moulton's testimony in the Armstrong case and in various Scientology accounts produced in recent years (though the outcome of the "battle" obviously is disputed). Moulton had left the ship by the time of the unfortunate incident in the Coronados Islands, so there is no independent corroboration of this event. However, the log book of the PC-815 has been preserved in the US National Archives at College Park, Maryland. I have myself handled and examined Hubbard's original log entries, written in pencil on fairly flimsy paper. There is no sign that it has been tampered with and the activities and positions recorded in the log match exactly the evidence heard at the subsequent board of enquiry. Hardly surprising, as the log is the same document that was put before the enquiry.
Immediately after being relieved from command of the PC-815, the record shows that Hubbard reported sick at the San Diego Naval Hospital. His own statements (for example, in his 1972 Autobiographical Notes) corroborate his presence there. Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard: A Chronicle (1990) confirms his subsequent attendance at the Small Craft Training Center in San Pedro, California. Many official Scientology statements refer to his tour of duty aboard the attack cargo ship USS Algol and attendance at the School of Military Government at Princeton, New Jersey, though other than his official naval record, there appears to be no external corroboration of these postings. We do have confirmation that he was in the vicinity of New York at the time, as the writers Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson both independently refer to Hubbard's attendance at meetings in New York City in the winter of 1944. 2
Hubbard's final period as an in-patient of Oak Knoll Naval Hospital is universally referred to by Scientology; many Scientology centers appear to have wall-mounted copies of his piece "My Philosophy" in which he refers to his terrible war injuries. It is used as an example of the enormous potential benefits to be derived from use of Hubbard's mental therapies, and can fairly be described as a statement which is central to present-day Scientology belief.
So, in short, there is corroboration or acceptance by Scientology of the genuineness of virtually every major posting which is recorded in Hubbard's service record. There is such a close match, in fact, that it is hard to see how he could have found the time to fit in all the other business that he is said to have done, such as covert intelligence operations ashore on the Dutch East Indies or his command of a mysteriously un-named North Atlantic corvette.
Putting the boot on the other foot, what evidence is there to corroborate many of the disputed claims made by Scientology and Hubbard? The immediate answer is that there is none, or at least none has been presented (and there is no apparent reason for Scientology to be reticent in proving his most contentious claims). Time after time, the only source of information is Hubbard himself. For instance, there is no documentary evidence whatsoever to show that he commanded a corvette, anywhere, at any time, or that he was flown home from the South Pacific in the Secretary of the Navy's private plane. The only source for such claims is Hubbard's own personal statements. His supposed secret operations in the East Indies cannot even be directly sourced to Hubbard himself; the Church of Scientology was apparently unaware of them until Thomas Moulton told them what Hubbard told him forty years previously. 3
Many of Scientology's other claims are clearly based on supposition and innuendo rather than any concrete evidence. A prime example is their explanation of the US Navy's rejection of Hubbard's claims to have sunk up to two Japanese submarines off Oregon in 1943. According to Scientology, the affair was "hushed up" by Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher "as it would have sounded a death-knell to his hopes of regaining a decisive command." 4 No evidence whatsoever is presented to support this claim, and it is difficult to see how Scientology could know what Fletcher's motivations were.
Other claims are obviously false, or have been contradicted by Hubbard himself. Scientology claims explicitly that the USS YP-422 was a subchaser; however, on the same page it presents an official Navy photograph of the ship which shows quite obviously that it was an armed trawler. 5 Hubbard claimed to have been "crippled and blinded" in 1945, yet claimed on different occasions that he was "not very ill" and was fit enough to judo-fight three drunken petty officers into submission. 6
The Church of Scientology seems to be remarkably short of documentary evidence on Hubbard's alleged activities. For instance, it has been unable to say where, when and why Hubbard received the "21 medals and ribbons" claimed for him; his citations have never been produced. The single document which Scientology has produced in support of the medals claim is demonstrably falsified.
In short, all the evidence appears to be in favour of the official record of Hubbard's service career; there is next to no evidence in favour of the wilder claims which he and his organisation have made over the years. This is not to say that such evidence does not exist. But if that is the case, it is very strange that Scientology should not have produced it in all this time.
1 'Scientology Unmasked', Boston Herald, March 1, 1998
2 Heinlein, foreword to Godbody, Theodore Sturgeon, 1986; Williamson, Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction, 1984
3 I have not found any reference to these claims from official Scientology sources or from Hubbard himself pre-dating Moulton's testimony in 1984.
4 "Correction of False Reports in 'Scientology Unmasked', Boston Sunday Herald March 1, 1998" - internal briefing document by Church of Scientology, March 1998.
5 See L. Ron Hubbard: The Humanitarian (1996) - http://humanitarian.lronhubbard.org/respect3.htm.
6 L. Ron Hubbard: The Philosopher (1996), http://www.ronthephilosopher.org/page40.htm; tape-recorded lecture of July 23, 1951, transcribed in Research & Discovery Series, vol. 6, p.409; HCO Bulletin of November 15, 1957, in Technical Bulletins of Dianetics & Scientology, vol. 3, p.146