Heroic Stand For Freedom


By HERBERT HOOVER, Ex-President of the United States Delivered at Madison Square Garden on behalf of the people of Finland, December 21, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 219-220.

THE story of Finland is a simple story. But that story rises today to high heroism in the history of mankind. No matter what may happen, the soul of such a people cannot be crushed. Finland is a little country, carved from the bleak forests of the Far North, scarcely the size of Montana, with but four millions of people.

Yet Finland is a great nation. A nation is great not by its wealth or by its square miles. It is great by the character of its people. It is great by their industry, their education, their art, music—and their courage. It is great by their moral and spiritual standards. Greatness lies in their devotion to ideals of peace and liberty. All these measures of greatness can be expressed in one word—Finland.

For 1,200 years the Finns have lived in their beloved Northland. During these 1,200 years they have been conquered and dominated time and again. But just as often their eternal courage and their determination for freedom have regained for them their independence. And even when overrun by other nations their rugged character has held to a great measure of the rights of free men.

Finland is not a rich country. Yet the Finns have won from the forests a standard of living for a whole people almost without poverty. But they have little reserve for emergency. They are dependent upon imports for much of their food. Their exchange is largely the products of their forests.

Now they have been barbarously attacked. Their ships have been driven from the seas. They are making heroic defense against appalling hordes of savages. I have long dreaded the day of war and the use of bombing airplanes against women and children. Today we see their dread result in all its naked tragedy. Demoniac rain of fire and iron from the skies has killed women and children. Its terrors have compelled the evacuation of most of the civilian population from the towns and cities. Hundreds of thousands of women and children have been driven from their homes in the middle of northern Winter.

And now comes the news that these hundreds of thousands of evacuated women and children and old men must be moved from the eastern side of Finland over to the western side in order that they may have more safety. Unless you have seen the moving of vast numbers of refugees over threatened railways and roads, your imagination cannot rise to the suffering that comes. Already some of them have begun to reach Sweden and Norway, and they are appealing to us for help.

At the moment there is no actual shortage of food in Finland. But the thousands of destitute need funds to buy it. They need shelter. They need bedding. The sea-blockade and the destruction of their commerce will bring famine later on.

Today we ask the American people for help. We ask it that we may show the sympathy that lies within every American heart. We ask it that we may save human life and prevent suffering. Just twenty-one years ago this month the people of Finland had thrown off the Bolshevik yoke and established themselves as a free republic. A few days after they had proclaimed their freedom their delegation reached Paris, where I represented the American Government in these matters. Three stoical men of these Northland woods came to my office. In simple and direct terms they presented to me the plight of their people. It was a story of destroyed crops, of plundered and burned granaries, of stagnated imports, a people eating bread made from a mixture of the bark of trees, a heart-breaking death roll already among the weak and the children. They wanted food for a starving people. They knew the whole world was short of food and of ships to carry it.

Their earnestness was such that I replied at once that we would divert certain cargoes of food into their ports. I said it would begin to arrive in about ten days. I suggested that they could instruct their people to release all the reserves of food they had, to be eaten in the meantime. They wanted to know if I was sure that it would arrive. I assured them the ships were already on the sea for other purposes, but would be diverted at once. It is seldom that these men of the North ever show emotion. They broke then.

Often enough great emotional periods move into a relief of humor. Some few minutes after they had left they returned. They wanted to know how much it would cost. They said they were not sure that they had money enough. I explained that I did not know what the precise cost would be, but that if they could not pay my authority from the American people was to supply it anyway. They said: "We will pay. Our people will work and pay." I explained that they could take their time to pay over years if they wished.

But I added further that the American people as an act of good-will had authorized me to provide for their children without cost. And thus there arose two relief operations in Finland. The supplying of breadstuffs during the next eight months until their harvests were restored. For that the Finns obligated themselves to pay some twenty-five millions. In settlement we greatly reduced the total. And despite their present tragedy, like the Northmen that they are, they paid every installment—one of them a week ago.

The other operation was the feeding of the Finnish children. That represented the generosity and the good-will of the American people. We undertook the restoration of health to a million of famine-debilitated children in Finland through the supply of food, shelter and care. And for those millions no charge was ever made. And that was done under the volunteer administration of Finnish women. And their efficiency and their devotion is not exceeded in any race in the world.

And may I say parenthetically that America undertook the rehabilitation of children in the same manner over twenty other nations, including Russia and Germany.

And the Finns have not forgotten. Sixteen months ago I was in Finland, the invited guest of the Finnish nation. Of the many incidents of that short visit one remains as an indelible imprint that cannot be erased by time. An elderly farmer came to the hotel, stopping me on the steps, to explain that he had come some 200 miles; that he had brought for me a present; that he had had a family of nine children; that they had all grown to manhood and womanhood, strongin mind and in body; that they owed it to the American people; that during that dreadful time the children had embroidered an American flour sack with woolen yarns of their own making. He wished for me to have it. That flour sack was embroidered with the American Flag.

Just two weeks ago I received a message from old friends in Finland, wondering if it would be possible that America could come to their aid again. They asked if I would help. Their Prime Minister confirmed that wish. I inquired of the American Red Cross what activities they could undertake for the Finnish people. They informed me they would be glad to supply medicine and hospital supplies, that they could collect garments through their chapters, but that the responsibilities for the greater burden of general relief measures were beyond their field.

I have therefore organized this appeal to the American people. We have enlisted in its administration and its sponsorship thousands of men and women of every political faith, every religion, every race. It includes men and women of every rank in American life—labor, farmers, employers. It includes my old colleagues in European relief who are doing the daily toil of administration.

The Prime Minister of Finland has created a special commission of leading Finnish men and women to administer the greater problem of relief. We have already remitted the first hundred thousand dollars. We are cooperating with the Red Cross. Their beneficent service should be supported.

In a long experience I have never seen such a response of good-will. The press of the United States took the major burden of opening this fund in their columns, and there have flowed into them literally hundreds of thousands of subscrip-

tions. And there is among them a wealth of small subscriptions which evidence the sympathy of the United States. But do not think we are not anxious to have the large subscriptions. We are. And the bigger, the better.

The magnificent action of the press has saved us the expense of elaborate organization. And may I add that other supporters have undertaken to pay all of any other expense of our national appeal. Therefore, 100 cents of every dollar goes to the Finns.

For reasons that reach to the whole future of human liberty, America must not join in this European war. That involves considerations which it is not our place here to debate. But the American people can give their help to the destitute. It can lighten their road of despair.

I fully realize the pressing needs of many of our own people. I am in other quarters asking for aid to the oppressed Polish people as well. I would not wish any contributions to this fund for Finland to lessen the support of all these other needs, both at home and abroad. But in this time of our sorrow and sympathy for the plight of Finland, America should also make some sacrifices for them. Let our hearts not be hardened. Let our hands not be withheld.

And one concluding word. The forces of primitive savagery have been unloosed upon the world. The Finns are the victims of today. Every decent person in the world is praying to God tonight that these brave people shall yet be saved from this tide. And the world today witnesses one of those heroic stands for freedom of men that comes but few times in the centuries. It is a star illuminating the No Man's Land of civilization. Its glow will light the minds of men and give hope to liberty for centuries to come.