The Question of Peace


By HERBERT HOOVER, Former President of the United States

Delivered March 28, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 405-408.

I HAVE been asked to speak to you and through you to a large group of young people on some of the moral and spiritual problems which now confront our country. Any discussion of them in these days involves questions of war and of the peace to come. And now they are the transcendent problems before youth.

Today we are pledged to give Britain the tools of war and our full economic aid. That is settled and done. Our national duty is to unite in making a good job of it. And to do it with goodwill.

The action of Congress has, however, enormously changed the shape of things. The aid to Britain combined with our own preparedness program forces us a long way into a war economy.

Apart from these steps, our indignation at gigantic wrong to the democracies; the repugnance of free men for the whole totalitarian ideology; the steady impact of foreign propaganda; the constant agitation of a minority of our own citizens for all-out war—all press upon us the mental and spiritual attitudes of war.

In a fog of emotions and appeals we are fast driving into the psychosis of war.

"Three Positive Appointments"

Whether we take the final fateful step or not, we have already made three positive appointments with destiny.

One is that we will sit at the world's peace table. Another is that we face the problems of war emotions and war psychosis. The other is that we shall meet the financial, economic and social aftermath of a war.

America yearns for peace in the world. The freedom of men comes only in peace. It diminishes in war. The abolition of poverty and want comes only in peace. Poverty and want increase in war.

Yet the world does not know, and we do not know, how world peace can be made and maintained. The world does not know, and we do not know, how in the face of steady world impoverishment we are to abolish want.

We do not see our way. Today, over these questions, we are frustrated, confused, unhappy and fearful.

Our unity of ideas extends only to a resolve to defend ourselves and a fervent wish that the struggling democracies shall win.

My purpose here is not to offer you a panacea for these confusions and problems. I wish to stimulate your thinking. For now is the time to think hard and think fast. We cannot wait until the appointments with destiny are upon us.

Experience of World War

We joined in an exactly parallel war twenty-five years ago for the same purposes and under the same impulses. Even with victory, we failed to get either military, economic or spiritual peace.

The failures of the last war to achieve peace root not only at Versailles but also in the forces generated in the war itself. They rooted deeper than that. They rooted in age-old hates and in the fires of imperialism.

But we can get some light and some guidance from the experience and failures of that war and that peace-making.

It is over twenty-two years since that World War ended. The youth of America today does not know of that war from its own experiences.

I am perhaps one of the few living Americans who had full opportunity from high places to see intimately the moving tragedy of the last World War.

I saw it from its beginnings in 1914 all the way down through the long years which have not yet ended. I saw it not only in its visible ghastliness but I lived with the invisible forces which moved in its causes and its consequences.

My country and foreign countries have honored me greatly over these years. There is nothing more in office or honor that the world could give to me. I can therefore add objectively to those experiences. I favored our entry into the last war so that I speak as neither a pacifist nor a militarist but rather as an analyst.

If we would see what the moral and spiritual forces are that we have to meet, we must consider the nature of total war.

The World War was the first total war of modern history. It was the first great war after the mechanical age. Prior to that time wars were more nearly contests between armies and navies.

Civilian life proceeded with little interruption except near the actual scene of battle. The armed men represented a small part of the whole population. Their equipment was comparatively simple. Its preparation involved the energies of only a small part of industry.

That last world war was the first time that the complete energy of the whole civil population on both sides was mobilized to fight and provide materials. It was total war.

Perhaps the most striking difference of total war from the old wars was that formerly armed men fought only against armed men. There were certain chivalries and sportsmanships. There was a real desire to keep women, children and non-combatant men apart from its shocks.

In total war the basis has shifted in large measure from war between armed men to war by armed men upon civilians.

In the last war for the first time systematic and organized terrorization and killing of civilians became a part of this strategy. Cities, villages and homes were ruthlessly burned. Unarmed seamen and innocent passengers were drowned without a chance. Fire and explosives were rained on women and children from the skies.

Three times a day among 300 million people wherever a family gathered to eat they had less because of the enemy. Nowhere in Europe were people free of fear for their lives on land or sea.

Emotions of the Civilians

In the course of that total war there developed in the civil population on both sides three fierce and total emotions. These were hate, intolerance and a spirit of exalting crusade.

From the sufferings of civilians blazed first indignation,and finally a fanatic hate. It enveloped the minds of every man, woman and child.

And this hate was not directed solely to leaders of nations; it was poured upon every individual of the enemy nation. Soldiers fighting on the front held far less hate than civilians at home.

The second of these emotions from that total war was total intolerance. National unity was essential in the face of total national danger. But impatience at discussion rose rapidly to rabid intolerance.

In the democracies part of that intolerance ran quickly to the suppression of free speech and free press. The democratic governments had no need to impose restraints on free expression.

The crowd howled down the most objective statement, the most constructive criticism. They denounced it as the paid voice of the enemy. And intolerance went further. It persecuted inoffensive citizens.

The third great emotion of that war was a crusade of ideologies, of philosophies of government and of life.

The ideology of Germany was much the same pattern as the one now in use. It was not so well perfected in phrases and method as this one. But they used most of the slogans we now hear.

On our side we went to war to defeat "might makes right" and "the enslavement of the individual to the State." We said we would make the "world safe for democracy." It was to be "a war to end war."

We said that the end of war was that enemy nations must change their way of life to freedom and democracy and peace. The most sublime passions of our people were summoned in action and sacrifice for this purpose.

Operation of Propaganda

All these emotions were stirred on both sides of the conflict by the total power of government. That total war gave birth to governmentally organized propaganda. The hates of the people, their courage, and their aspirations could not be allowed to lag in the face of reverses and suffering.

The atrocities and total wickedness of the enemy had to be constantly illustrated. All governments, including our own, engaged in it.

The heads of those bureaus in most governments have written their confessions with pride in the lies they invented. Every government justified to itself that total emotion is essential to win total war.

To show how deeply these total emotions dominate total war, I may recall that after this had gone on for over two years in the last war President Wilson endeavored to bring about a negotiated peace.

His representatives sought my views on its practicality. I felt that hope of negotiated peace was futile. The civilians on both sides cried out in hate and suffering for vengeance and crushing victory.

I advised that no statesman or leader dared propose the necessary compromises which must be the basis of negotiated peace. And this proved to be the case.

And, incidentally, I may observe another effect of these impelling emotions in total war between nations of large resources. Such war can apparently end only by exhaustion or revolution on one side or the other. And the victor in this race of exhaustion is only one lap behind the vanquished.

Once total war is joined it apparently can have no intermediate stops.

Imposing of Controls

There are economic necessities in total war that create vast social aftermaths. The World War of twenty-five years

ago was the first time the freedoms of business, labor and agriculture were suspended. Industry had to be expanded to meet war production. It had to be constricted in its service to civilian living.

To direct these activities dictatorial authority had to be lodged in the government. In the democracies we used soft phrases to cover these coercions. We talked of cooperation, voluntary action, but underneath we had to show "or else." The government increased production both by going into business itself and by government dictation to private owners as to what they must do.

Whatever the fine phrases were in which we wrapped these actions, the cold fact was that government in business was Socialism, and government dictation to private owners was Fascism.

The word fascism had not then been invented. The freedom of labor and the freedom of the farmer were driven a long way down that blind alley. Where people attempted to stand on their so-called rights, propaganda, intolerances and penalties of law were directed to drive them to cover. Taxes which expropriated savings, pressure loans and inflation were necessary. All that is the method of Fascism.

Is it to be the tragic jeopardy of democracy that if it would go to war it must adopt the very systems which we abhor?

Defeat of Peace Hopes

One of the emotional and intellectual currents of the last total war was a constant striving to find formulas for peace that would make total war impossible again. The people of the democracies wanted armies and navies reduced if not abolished. They were resolute that some method must be found for justice between nations.

A thousand ideas came forth. Thousands of meetings, speeches, conferences debated these lofty ideas. We had a daily reiteration of our high aims. Indeed within them was the hope of a better world.

With all these ideas and these emotions we went to the peace table. But hate sat at that table. Statesmen were not free agents. The victorious peoples demanded revenge and reparations for their wrongs and sufferings.

The men who represented England and France at that conference had just been elected on the slogans of "Hang the Kaiser," "Pay every cent," "Revenge," "Reduce them to impotence forever."

The allied leaders were consciously or unconsciously dominated by the bitterness of their people. They had to get their treaties approved at home.

Reason could not be restored in the face of total emotion and total suffering. And although our American suffering were far less than the others, yet we were slow to demobilize our war hates.

Hate Outlasting Victory

I recollect having had the temerity a few days after the surrender of the Germans at the Armistice to say we must at once take down the food blockade on their women and children.

You would perhaps be surprised if you read the universal condemnation I received, not only in the Allied countries, but in America. They demanded more starvation after the war was over. Starvation is the mother of generations of hate.

Also remember Sherman's march to the sea. It has bred hate in our own Southern States for eighty years.

From all this the lesson is that hate, once aroused by the suffering of civil populations, outlasts even victory.

After the last total war the consequence was a treaty which in part sowed the dragon's teeth of the present war.

President Wilson and his men sought valiantly to moderate it. The world hoped for a while that through the high-minded formula of the League of Nations the failures of the peace could be remedied when hates died. But the hates and fears lived on.

Collapse of the Vanquished

Then came the aftermath of that total war.

Experience proved that liberty, freedom and democracy could not be imposed on nations by battle. All over Europe nations did come to the mourner's bench and appeared to be converted, but soon were backsliders.

Indeed, it was proved that intellectual ideas rooted in a thousand years of racial history cannot be uprooted with a machine gun.

Every nation was impoverished. There were millions of maimed and orphaned. Millions of homes and tons of ships were destroyed.

War production had to cease, industry was dislocated, millions of men had to be demobilized. Unemployment and its thousands of miseries were inevitable.

The victorious governments which had some financial strength left carried through these burdens.

The vanquished governments could not do so. Their unemployment, starvation and a thousand miseries bred revolution. They staved off the day of economic retribution for a few years by financial legerdemain.

But finally the former enemy countries collapsed and dragged even the victors into bitter depression. In the defeated nations the people in renewed misery demanded the existing system be turned out, whatever it was.

In those countries the man on the soapbox had the solution of all ills. His phrases contained only one idea in many formulas—to take away from those who still had something. And in the chaos of agony came the man on horseback. The treadmill of the world started all over again.

"Government in Business"

And at home it was a difficult task for the democracies to demobilize their war-time regimes. It is easier to regiment a people than to unregiment them. Great vested interests and vested habits were created which pressed for perpetuity.

Millions held government jobs. The thousands of people in authority were reluctant to give up power. Factories had thrived on government orders. Farmers liked the government prices. It was only the resolution of President Wilson and the men immediately around him who forced what we now call Fascism to retreat.

Nevertheless our government remained in many kinds of business. And of more vital importance, the ideas of war Fascism remained.

When in later years confronted with difficulties, the people demanded that the government resume these war methods. We saw many of them reappear in soft phrases to make them look like democracy.

All this is but a bare skeleton of the last total war. It takes no account of the millions who died.

In the present war pressure of starvation and air attack are far more diabolic than compassion is far weaker than even last time.

Facing the Next Peace Table

Today, whether America joins in all-out war or not, we are faced with the same gigantic problems.

The great sacrifices which America will make are motivated by the hope of real and permanent peace.

And I urge upon youth that you study again these experiences for the light which they give upon our course for the future.

We will sit again at that peace table whenever it comes about. Hate will again also sit at the peace table.

The ghastly failures in peace-making and in economic life after the last total war may be excused on the ground that those who led the world were groping in the dark without the lamp of experience. We have had that experience. And these failures rise now with great questions that must be answered.

And in the study of these questions, let me suggest you examine the causes of failure of the Treaty of Versailles. You will find that a large part of them were failure to allay hate, failure of economic peace, failure to give opportunity of proper elbow room and of growth to the aspirations of peoples. It failed to secure disarmament and to prevent world inflation and bankruptcy.

Peace must come from the prosperity and the hearts of men. It cannot be held for long by machine guns.

Tests of a World Role

The immediate questions which arise are these:

Are we giving aid simply to assure the independence ofBritain and the others who are fighting against aggression?

Or are we extending our view to remaking the world?

How are we going to hold down destructive hate that makes constructive peace so difficult?

How are we to keep alight compassion for the injured and starving?

How are we going to settle the relations of the twenty races in Europe?

How are we going to secure that liberty and freedom and democracy be accepted by those races whose whole racial instincts rebel against it? Are we going to police the world?

How are we going to save a world ravaged by famine and pestilence?

How are we going to restore economic prosperity to an impoverished world?

How are we going to assure the proper elbow room for growing people?

How are we going to find refuge for the oppressed?

Future of the United States

And here in America—

How are we going to hold down intolerance during this period which makes free speech and free press impotent to correct wrong and to develop constructive debate?

With far more difficulties than last time, how are we going to demobilize our war socialism and fascism in America and restore freedom again to men?

With far more exhausted resources than last time how are we going to provide for our own employment and economic recovery after this war?

In fact, how are we going to make a peace that will be a permanent peace?

These questions must be answered. Some of them need answers today. The others cannot be dismissed on the ground they must await the outcome of the war. There will be no time then.

The answers are vital to the moral, spiritual and economic welfare of our youth. They will determine your whole lives. And to that end American youth should begin to think now, for it is you who are involved.

What America Might Do

We cannot expect the British people in their desperation to devote much thought to these ends.

America, however, today stands a certain distance apart from that scene. We do not have the distraction, suffering and the engrossment closer to the battlefields.

I am one who prays with all my being that America's sons should not be sent to this war. If God grants that we become no more deeply involved than we are today we may be able to bring a more constructive and warning voice to the peace table.

If our moral reservoirs are not drained by the full passions of war we may bring sanity and compassion. If our;economic resources are still partly intact, we may be able to contribute something to restore another and better world.

If our faith in democracy is held high amid the storms of war economy we may yet keep the lamp of liberty alight.

Whether the fates determine that we step fully into this war or not, these same questions must be answered. I bid you to think and think fast.

For our common purpose is that our country move in the moral, the spiritual and the social paths that will keep it unimpaired in its freedoms, powerful and impregnable.