Problems that Confront Us


By HERBERT HOOVER, Ex-President of the United States

Delivered before the Pennsylvania Society of New York, December 21, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 181-183.

I AM greatly indebted for your fine courtesy and I feel a little bit in a difficult situation by the undeserved recommendation of Mr. Irwin, because it raises your expectations beyond the point that I could begin to meet.

In normal times such occasions as this should be devoted to the lighter side of life. We might blow the bubbles of satire, hyperbole and wit. We might live for an hour in a land of allegories and fairies. We might soak our souls with optimism, and go home convinced of the perfection of life and of all human progress.

But there is little to be gay about when madmen destroy in a day what it has taken the sweat and blood and tears of mankind a thousand years to erect. The stupendous sound track of this terrible moving picture drives its horrors into every home in every hour in our land.

In this tragic atmosphere your committee suggested that I might discuss some of the forces and problems developingtoday from a background of some experience of the last war.

Now that I have divorced myself from politics for the balance of my life—or have been divorced—I can devote myself to such discussion at least without partisan impulse.

A half hour permits only a few points, and I shall hold them to domestic rather than foreign phases.

The ultimate course of this world chaos is unknown to us. But however transitory our conclusions may seem, still we must constantly grope for a basis of cool judgment and sober action for our country. Believe it or not, there are always some people who learn by experience.

Parallel Phenomena Noted

Among the parallel phenomena with 1916-17 is theferocity of the discussion going on among our own people. Indeed these are times when it is difficult to appraise anddiscuss with objectivity. The gargantuan forces in motionare not military alone. Within them are social, economic and political ideas, which clamor to shape the world to come.

Again, as in the last war, we are deluged with propaganda from both sides. The real American interest is difficult to separate from these pleadings. But of more importance, the actual events arouse our emotions and our sympathies and our sense of outrage. Emotion without the temper of reason breeds intolerance. Intolerance breeds intellectual tyranny. From it we get declamation, not honest debate. We are afflicted with slogans: "war mongers," "appeasers," "pacifists," and what not.

Slogans are no basis for deciding the fate of our country. They do not make for national unity in time of danger.

Certainly it is a sign of a dangerously irresponsible mind in a nation when patriotic men are fiercely denounced as being the tools of Great Britain or the tools of Germany. And by way of pointed illustration I refer to two men— single minded men in their devotion to our country. They are William Allen White and Colonel Charles Lindbergh—both of whom have long since earned the gratitude and confidence of the American people.

The transcendent right of Americans, and their duty, is to express their position on war and peace. It is the greatest issue that can come to any nation.

For my part I want no single step taken relating to war that is not given tune for public debate. As Congress has the final responsibility to declare war it should also debate and pass upon every step that may lead in that direction.

Preparedness Now Urged

Our immediate and imperative task today is to concentrate upon preparedness. Our defenses must be so strong that dictators singly or in combination must be convinced that is is impossible for them to cross these oceans. And we wish our industries to function for Britain, China and Greece.

The enormous preparedness program we have undertaken amounts in some ways to as great an effort as war itself. Many of its problems of economic organization are war problems.

It is so large an effort that it demands complete national unity. And a pertinent place for unity is in labor relations. In the last war employers and employes in essential war industries tactically waived the right of lockout and strike in favor of arbitration. It should be done again. We learned some bitter lessons on the method of organization of munitions and supplies in the last war. The principal one was that production could best me had by the mobilized cooperation of industry, not by force. Indeed that was one reason we came back to democratic processes more easily after the last war than any other country engaged in it.

But we learned that there must be responsible, single-handed leadership, not the indecision of boards. The President's announcement this morning was indeed a step in the direction of better organization.

Finance of today's preparedness program will be far more difficult than in the last war. Prior to that time we were paying only 7 per cent of our national income in taxes. Prior to this preparedness program we were paying 21 per cent. Prior to 1917 our national debt was only 1 1/2 billions; prior to this burden it was already 43 billions. With this background, if we are to avoid inflation we have got to pay many more taxes. We must place more of the government borrowing directly upon the savings of the people and not by inflation of bank deposits. The ultimate end of inflation is revolution and today's fashion in revolution is national socialism.

Points to Dual Burden

The necessity already to establish priorities for arms materials is the infallible sign that arms are beginning to trench into the other needs of the country. Thus we are face to face with how to carry the burden of arms without decreasing the standard of living.

There is involved in all this a problem of prices of manufactured goods. The moment we have extensive priorities for war materials we shall have scarcity in those lines of goods. Out of scarcity will come rises in prices. No law or other restraint has ever been able to fully control prices, no matter how rigorously applied.

The only real answer is to avoid scarcity. Increased prices of manufactured goods may not be so material to the higher-paid groups. But it inevitably increases the cost of living to the white-collared, the unskilled unemployed, and the farmers, who do not gain from the preparedness program.

In the last war we had an unlimited market for the farmer. This war is having the reverse effect of further stifling his market. He cannot stand higher prices for manufactured goods and pay taxes.

And there is involved in all this also a preparedness for economic defense in the world to come.

Whatever the conclusion of this war may be, it is certain there will be a hideously impoverished world. It will be a world largely without international credit, with unstable currencies, with little capital for development of backward countries. We shall be confronted with militant, govern-mentally organized competition.

There are some who hold that the solution of all these problems of production, prices, taxes, standard of living and future competition is longer daily hours and lower wages for manufacturing labor.

I support an entirely different alternative. That is to definitely organize increase of our industrial efficiency and productivity.

Mr. Knudsen properly said that the key to immediate increase of production of munitions was to get our machinery working three shifts six days a week.

"Problem Wider Than That"

But the problem is wider even than that. Along the road of increased efficiency we can secure at least a contribution to remedy each of these complex difficulties.

That seems like a pretty wholesale panacea. Nevertheless it is to some degree possible. But if we do it we must at once pour in any money needed for a program of greatly expanded scientific research and invention. From that can come new discoveries and new methods in the saving of materials and labor.

We must bring our plant and equipment out of its present slump of obsolescence. We must eliminate more industrial waste motion and more waste of materials and men. We must apply every labor-saving device. We must remove every sort of restriction by both capital and labor which impedes or penalizes the use of better methods and better machines. We must maintain free competition so that lower costs will be passed on to the consumer at lower prices. And we must have a constructive tax system. We must have removal of unnecessary governmental restrictions which encumber production and lessen the initiative of men.

With sufficient increase of industrial efficiency we could lower costs, lower prices, increase consumption and increase production. We could relieve the strain of priorities. We could take up some of the slack of unemployment. We could maintain our standard of living. We could prepare for the competition to come.

These methods do not mean more speed-up or pressure upon individual workers. They do not mean longer daily hours or lower wages. They mean that we work our machines and our heads harder, and that we do it cooperatively, organized on a nation-wide basis."

Intellectual Defense Needed

Now there are problems that are much wider in front of us than economics. There is a problem of intellectual defense against encroachment of Nazi or Fascist ideas.

There are new forces behind this war that were not present in the last war. There is within it a revolt against a civilization which has been based upon liberty and religious faith.

These revolutionary ideologies are more than just dictatorships with Napoleonic ambitions. They are militant to implant their mystical social and economic order upon other nations. And I gather from their extensive remarks that they do not like democracy in any form. There is little fear that these ideas will substantially penetrate the American people by propaganda. Their few adherents are of course a disturbing public nuisance.

There is, however, another danger to us in these ideas from an entirely different quarter. A fact is that the Nazi and Fascist economic systems are a resurrection of the methods of organization which were born in all nations engaged in the last World War. That was the first war where the energies of the whole civil population were drastically mobilized to fight. Industry, agriculture and labor alike were regimented and forced into action. A great degree of dictatorship had to be yielded in order to administer these forces. And intellectual life and civil liberty were at least indirectly shackled to the war machine.

Economic dictation and the mobilization of armies cannot succeed without some sacrifice of civil liberty. And in the last war this was the necessity of the self-governing peoples as well as the monarchies. All of which was some part of what we now call fascism. It is the tragic jeopardy of democracy that if it would go to war it must adopt some part of the very systems which we abhor.

Therefore one of the problems of democracies preparing for defense or war is to safeguard against the impairment of civil liberty and representative government. That is not without difficulty in the midst of impatience and intolerance at the slow processes of democracy.

Likewise, a democracy which goes to war must look forward to how it will come back to full life again after war is over.

It is easier to regiment a people than to unregiment them. They can be deprived of their liberties by an ukase, a command or an administrative order. It is a long and painful climb back to freedom. We found it was tough enough after the last war.

The necessities of war organization even in democracies create vested personal power, vested economic interests, vested habits and vested ideas which it may be impossible to throw off a second time. For democracy is still suffering from the debts and dislocations of the last war. It is suffering from the older difficulty of trying to adjust the clashes of the industrial revolution with our original revolution ofpolitical liberty. It is involved in social problems which drive for solution even in war.

And regeneration through free speech will be greatly silenced by the intolerance of war psychosis.

Moreover, after this war is over it is certain that the forces pressing for economic dictatorship will be strong. These pressures are inevitable from the aftermath of poverty, economic disorder and suffering which we know from our last experience will haunt peace when it comes.

There are other and tremendous problems which force themselves upon us from this present world war.

The leaders of both our political parties have pledged themselves to keep us out of this world war unless we are attacked. They have pledged themselves to extend aid to Britain short of joining in war, and within the law. I believe the country approves of these policies. But it will not be easy to determine where the boundaries are. And yet these boundaries of action must be determined soon in the interest of national unity.

Plight of the Defeated Cited

And there are the gigantic problems of food, of famine, of pestilence in the defeated democracies. They confront the world today on even a far greater scale than they did in the last war.

Governments may deprecate, some cartoonists may sneer, some columnists may argue. But the hard, inexorable, stark fact is that before the next harvest millions of innocent children, women and men in Belgium and the other occupied democracies will be faced with complete starvation and disease. That fact cannot be dismissed. Nor can remedy be found overnight after these hideous calamities are upon us. They require months for organization. It is not my purpose to discuss that question here. But a great body of Americans will continue to search for a method of their saving. And there need be no feeding of Germans in that action.

And there is another phase of this war in which the experience of the last war rises to haunt us. When it is all over, what then?

Lord Lothian in his last impressive address wisely remarked that these world evils "grew out of the despair * * * from long years of war, defeat, inflation, revolutionary propaganda * * * unemployment and frustation."

What sort of organization is this world to have if all this is not to be repeated on even a vastly wider scale? Can America find the answer?

These are but part of the problems which confront us. One thing is certain. This war will come to an end some time. If civilization is to survive its aftermaths this nation must hold itself strong not only in economic and social life but in national unity and spiritual determination.

Upon us lies the burdens of clear thinking, of justice, of righteous conduct. We are not free agents who can jog along in our comforts and conveniences without a thought to the future of mankind. Otherwise that future may overwhelm us.

Destiny has so ordered the course of events that much of the world's hope lies ultimately in our hands. We are the ultimate hope and sanctuary of human liberty.