A Call to Reason
SHALL WE STUMBLE ON TO THE NIGHT OF CHAOS?
By HERBERT HOOVER, Former President of the United States
Delivered over N.B.C., June 29, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 580-584
SIX weeks ago I made a statement to the American people upon the relation of the United States to this war.
That address has received large approval. It has naturally been disliked by the extremists. That is the psychosis of war. That disease has two outstanding symptoms. Those who catch it lose their reason in the fever of emotion. And in that fever intolerance rises to a pitch where it seeks to frighten men from free speech by defamation.
Since making that address four momentous events have happened which greatly change the shape of things. They must be incorporated in American thinking. There is the war between Hitler and Stalin. There is the final proof that in certain vital circumstances air power is ascendant over sea power. There are the provocative actions in the sinking of the Robin Moor. Propaganda of fear or hate to force us into war has been intensified. It comes from foreign sources, from Cabinet officers and American organizations. They urge step after step of executive action which would drag us into undeclared war.
There are those who argue that we are already in this war. The Constitution of the United States provides that Congress has the sole authority to declare war. It is equally their responsibility to see that this country does not go to war until they have authorized it.
The only reason for not submitting the matter to the Congress would be that Congress could not be trusted. Or that the people, through them, should not be allowed a voice. No President in a democracy should take that responsibility, for there will be no unity of spirit in an executive war. If Congress decides to go to war, then we willingly give all and we willingly surrender all our freedom necessary to win that war. And until Congress shall by Constitutional action declare war, no man in America may demand the end of debate on this issue of peace or war.
In these six weeks, opposition against joining in this war has grown stronger in the American people. Yet we have moved officially nearer to war. And let me say at once that President Roosevelt has held steadfast to his promises not to send "our Army, Navy or air forces to right in foreign lands outside America except in case of attack." We have not yet taken the irretrievable step into war by firing a gun.
The arguments given for our joining in this war during the last weeks have crystallized into seven categories. The first is that it would more greatly aid Britain if we go into the shooting stage of the war than for us to remain as an arsenal. The second is that Hitler means to attack the Americas and we should attack first. The third is that the American mission of freedom requires we destroy these totalitarian ideologies and impose the four freedoms on othernations. The fourth is that a free America cannot live in the same world with dictatorships. The fifth is that our economic future will be destroyed. The sixth is that the sinking of the Robin Moor constitutes an attack on the United States which requires war. And the seventh is that we must go to war to impose permanent peace on the world.
The American people should weigh wars just as they would weigh any other issue. They should weigh them on the realistic scales of benefits and losses both material and spiritual.
No man can tell what the kaleidoscopic changes in this appalling situation may be. We must constantly reappraise its dangers. The constant question is what we should do now. But there are certain courses of practical statesmanship; there are certain eternal principles to which we must adhere. There are certain consequences to America and civilization which we must ever keep before our eyes.
I shall speak again without emphasizing the emotion that arises within me when the whole destiny of my country is imperiled. I can hope to appeal only to reasoning people. And it is cold reason, not eloquence, that America needs today.
I shall first weigh the problem of aid to Britain before I deal with the other arguments.
Thinks Britain Would Get Less
In my last address I insisted that we could give Britain more aid if we stayed out of the war. I suggested that until our production increases we should scrape the bottom of the barrel. That would be more than she now receives. I stated that if we join the war we must retain a larger part of our production for our own immediate defense. Thus Britain would get less than she does now.
To prevent these supplies being sunk I proposed we hand over to Britain the same convoy warships that we would use if we joined the war. If she operated them, it would do her as much good as if we do it.
The recommendations were based upon just plain mathematics of what would get the most supplies to Britain, not emotional dialectics.
The bomber planes which Britain wants so badly are flown over the Atlantic and therefore are not sunk by submarines. The figures now disclosed by the Maritime Commission, the government departments, the Red Cross, all of them show that less than 4 per cent of the supplies shipped from American ports to Britain have been sunk.
These percentages of loss could become very much larger and still the net supplies to Britain would be greater by our staying out of war.
Furthermore, many of these ships are being sunk from theair. No amount of American naval protection could stop that.
There is also the problem of Japan. We must not forget that she is under contract to Hitler to attack us if we join in this war. For her to enter would be a disaster to Britain in two ways. She would cover the seven seas with raiders sinking more British supplies. And we would need at once to retain all the air power and ships we can produce to protect our own coasts and to drive her off the seas.
In view of these disclosures and these reasons, the answer to those who argue that it would aid Britain for us to join this war is that it would do her more harm than good.
Praises British Defense
Let me add a word upon Britain's magnificent defense to those who say Britain is lost. She has not lost a square foot of her empire. She has managed to maintain an extraordinary portion of her exports of manufactured goods over the seven seas with all the labor and raw materials that implies. She still draws a large part of her food supplies by long voyages to the Southern Hemisphere. She has apparently not found the need to concentrate her lifeline on North America which was done to economize shipping in the last war. She is by no means in the extremity of a siege. The war between Hitler and Stalin relieves her of immediate pressures.
Before I apply the weights of realism to the other arguments for our joining this war we must take account of military developments in the war itself. They profoundly affect America's relation to this war.
It is more than ever evident that there has been a shift in the relative strength of military power just as revolutionary as was the invention of gun powder to armored knights of old.
Comparatively small mechanized armies are now dominant over fortifications and mass armies. Air power has now demonstrated its superiority over sea power in certain circumstances.
During the last six weeks the Bismarck, a first class battleship, was first crippled from the air. In the Battle of Crete the British were forced to withdraw their naval forces in the face of air attacks from nearby land bases, with the loss of four cruisers and several destroyers. Other warships have been put out of action in the last month from the air by both British and Germans.
One result of this shift has been to assure a sort of zone around the shores of nations where bombing airplanes render attack by naval vessels very much more difficult and often impossible. The shift has added greatly to the powers of American defense.
Hitler today occupies or controls all the Continent of Europe outside Russia. Unlike the last war, there is no arena of land operations. His whole strength would need to be met on the beach somewhere. And he controls every mile of the beach.
Japan is still under agreement to attack us if we join the war. She becomes far more potent to destroy our interests in the Pacific the moment we become engaged in the Atlantic.
It is too early to forecast the military consequences of the inclusion of Russia in the war. It does not seem likely that it will bring the end any nearer.
Can America Be Conquered?
With these weights we can examine the second argument for joining this war. That argument is that Hitler will eventually make a military conquest of the Western Hemisphere and we had better attack first. There are two questions here. First, can America be conquered, and second, can we conquer the Axis?
The Atlantic Ocean is still 3,000 miles wide. For either the United States or Germany to gain victory gigantic armadas of warships and transports must be set afloat. Enormous armies must be transported all at once and ready for attack on the beach on either side. Neither enough warships nor transports exist today to do that from either side. It would take ten years to prepare. These armadas could be protected by air power only in the first part of their journey. And then naval power becomes effective. When they get closer to the shore air power comes into action. And it is now demonstrated that enough air power is almost complete defense against surface ships. And after that there must be the battle on the beach. England can prevent Hitler's crossing even twenty-five miles of water.
Those who assert that the Germans might capture and use the British Navy against us must now recognize that the proved vulnerability of warships from bombing planes removes most of that argument.
There is no important military man who tells me that we and Britain combined could short of long years prepare, transport and land enough men or machines in Europe to overcome Axis land and air power. And not a military man of substance believes the Axis could do it to us.
Japan 6,000 Miles Off
There is here also the element of Japan. She is 6,000 miles away from continental United States and conclusive grip at each other's throat is even more improbable.
Even with the development of long-range planes, the Germans or Japanese cannot make an effective air attack upon us. They could do some terrorization. But that does not win wars. Certainly after the exhaustion of this war the Nazis are not coming for a long time. If we are prepared they won't think of coming.
In any event the answer to the argument that we may be conquered by the Axis is simply that, if we prepare, America cannot be brought to subjection by any combination of military power.
As relative military power stands today, there appears no method of bringing this war to a conclusion except by years and years of destruction and exhaustion. Sea power is ineffective through blockade to bring conclusion because Hitler has supplies of food and raw materials or is on the way to get them. Britain has the seven seas open. Armies cannot be effectively landed across water against air power. The defenses against daylight attack preclude the destruction of munitions works and thus manufacture goes on. The night air raids reduce cities to rubble and kill civilians but that does not bring the war to conclusion. The end of stalemate becomes part a question of morale and stamina.
If we enter such a war we only increase the moral and economic wastage of the world. If we stay out, we preserve much for the reconstruction of the world.
And in considering all the possibilities if we go to war, we must contemplate that the British might not be able to hold out during the long years that this war would need go on. Then we would be left with no possibility of bringing the war to conclusion except by a compromise peace.
The third argument of those who would have us join in this war is that we must destroy the whole dictator ideology and impose the four freedoms on other nations.
That is, we must go to war to impose the ideas of democracy against the ideals of despotism. That is an ideological war. It is an ancient holy war. We may weigh it in both the scales of American idealism and the scales of realistic practicality.
What of Russia?
la the last seven days that call to sacrifice American boys for an ideal has been made as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. For now we find ourselves promising aid to Stalin and his militant Communist conspiracy against the whole democratic ideals of the world. Collaboration between Britain and Russia will bring them military values, but it makes the whole argument of our joining the war to bring the four freedoms to mankind a gargantuan jest. We had better refresh our memories a little.
Four American Presidents and four Secretaries of State beginning with Woodrow Wilson refused to have anything to do with Soviet Russia on the ground of morals and democratic ideals. They even refused diplomatic recognition. They did so because here is one of the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history. It destroyed every semblance of human rights and human liberty; it is a militant destroyer of the worship of God. It brutally executes millions of innocent people without the semblance of justice. It has enslaved the rest. Moreover, it has violated every international covenant; it has carried on a world conspiracy against all democracy, including the United States. And do I need to prove that it continued doing this down to seven days ago?
When Russia was recognized by the United States in 1933, the Soviets entered into a solemn agreement that they would refrain from any propaganda, any organization or in any way whatsoever to injure the tranquility, prosperity, order or security in any part of the United States.
Seven years later, the Dies committee reported unanimously and specifically that the Communist party in the United States is a Moscow conspiracy, masked as a political party; that its activities constitute a violation of the treaty of recognition; that under instructions from Moscow the Communists had violated the law of the United States; that throughout the entire time they had been supplied with funds from Moscow for activities against the American people and the American government. The Dies committee only confirmed what most Americans already know. Is the word of Stalin any better than the word of Hitler?
On August 22, 1939, Stalin entered into an agreement with Hitler through which there should be joint onslaught on the democracies of the world. Nine days later Stalin attacked the Poles jointly with Hitler and destroyed the freedom of a great and democratic people. Fourteen days later Stalin destroyed the independence of democratic Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Ninety days later on came the unprovoked attack by Russia on democratic Finland. Is that not aggression and is not every case a hideous violation of treaties and international law?
Stalin has taken advantage of the very freedoms of democracy to destroy them with the most potent Fifth Column in all history. He contributed to the destruction of France. He has daily implanted class hate in America and a stealthy war against our institutions.
Cites Defense Strikes
In these last weeks it is declared not only by public officials but by labor leaders themselves that the strikes which hamstring the defense of the United States have been Communist conspiracies. Thus Russia has continued her mission of destroying our democracy down to last week.
We know also Hitler's hideous record of brutality, of aggression and as a destroyer of democracies. Truly Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, France and the others are dreadful monuments. But I am talking of Stalin at this moment.
One of the real compensations America received for our enormous sacrifices in the last war was from the large part we played in establishing the democracies of Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We nursed them in their infancy. We spent hundreds of millions to help them grow to manhood. Does America feel quite right about aiding Stalin to hold his enslavement of them? That is where power politics has carried us. No doubt we will make good our promise to aid Russia. But the ideological war to bring the four freedoms to the world died spiritually when we made that promise.
If we go further and join the war and we win, then we have won for Stalin the grip of Communism on Russia and more opportunity for it to extend in the world. We should at least cease to tell our sons that they would be giving their lives to restore democracy and freedom to the world.
Now let us explore the practical side of an ideological war. I agree that the world would be vastly better if the whole totalitarian idea were extirpated. But those who still cling to this as the mission of America should ask realistically how much of a job it is. Especially in the face of this revolution in military weapons and this actual military situation.
Such a war means that Hitler must be defeated. It means Mussolini must be defeated. It means the War Party in Japan must be defeated. It means that Turkey, Spain and Portugal must be defeated. It means that unless Hitler first disposes of Stalin we must defeat him also. Does any sane person believe that by military means we can defeat two-thirds of the military power of the whole world in even years and years? It would be another Children's Crusade.
Ideas and Guns
We cannot slay an idea or an ideology with machine guns. Ideas live in men's minds in spite of military defeat. They live until they have proved themselves right or wrong. These ideas are evil. And evil ideas contain the germs of their own defeat.
Hitler's real weakness would be in peace. His invasions have won not the loyalty but the undying hate of two-thirds of the people under his control. They have known self-government and liberty for centuries. They are people of great spiritual and intellectual resistance. They cannot revolt in arms against tanks and planes but they will never accept a new order based on slavery. And these aggressions have won the fear and hate of all the rest of the world. Conquest always dies of indigestion.
The whole Nazi ideology and the Nazi economic system are based upon coercion of the individual, the group or the class. Those coercions can be held in preparing for war or during war. They cannot be held in peace. Even if Hitler got peace the Nazi system will begin to go to pieces. Therefore we do not need to despair that these evil ideologies will continue forever on this earth.
And there is the fourth argument that America and the Western Hemisphere cannot live with despotism in Europe. It would not be pleasant, but it can be done. The strong men of this republic carried this democracy in the weakness of its infancy through a whole world of complete dictatorship, a world of imperialism, a world of aggression. Have we less stamina, less courage than they?
And there is the fifth argument that if dictatorships continue in the world our economic life will be strangled and die. I have expounded this subject at great length elsewhere. I may say here that this country is 93 per cent self-contained. While I do not relish it and do not believe in any event it will be needed, if it is indeed, then we can make it 97 per cent self-contained. And the cost of it would be less over twenty years than one year of war.
I suppose even totalitarian Europe would want to trade. At worst we would have to set up defenses so that they do not take advantage of us. But totalitarianism will die of its own false principles, and that storm will pass.
Some groups seek to represent the incident of German sinking of the Robin Moor as a casus belli. If that ship had started for a German port with that cargo Britain would have rightly seized her as contraband, according to Britain's own definition of contraband. If British captors could not have taken her to port then under international law they would have the right to sink her. There is no freedom of the seas in trading with any belligerent. The difference here is the brutal treatment of the passengers and crew, who, although finally saved, were left in jeopardy by the Germans. That was an outrageous violation of international law and humanity. The President is right to protest violently. But an incident of this kind standing alone is not reason for a calm nation to go to war. It can get satisfaction by patience.
The seventh category of arguments is that we must join in this war to impose permanent peace on the world. Suppose we join the war. Suppose we have victory over Hitler. Suppose we should march down the Unter den Linden. What happens then? It is possible to say right now what would happen.
Within a week after Germany is defeated each one of twenty nations in Europe will necessarily declare its national independence. Each one will set up a government of its own. Within another week each will begin to organize an army. They will occupy their utmost boundaries. In order to get revenue and to protect jobs for their own people, each one will again set up its tariff walls. And these nations will at once coagulate into groups and combinations for power politics, intent on increasing their strength at the peace table. There will be reparations and territory to divide.
All this is what happened before the Peace Conference in 1919, and it will automatically happen again. Moreover, many nations will have suffered greatly. Hate and revenge will sit at that Peace Table again.
No responsible statesman on the democratic side has yet stated how or by what plan this inevitable result of victory is to be moulded into permanent peace. We asked to go in blind as to the ultimate purpose of this war.
If we stay out and retain our economic and moral resources we will be able to contribute to the rehabilitation of the world, and we may be able to make an affirmative contribution to a method to end war and bring about a better world.
And what happens in the United States during and after a war that must take years and years even if it were won? We must at once establish further centralization of authority amounting to practical dictatorship in the United States. We will disguise its name, but total war cannot be won without it. We must bring about unity by force. We must regiment industry and labor. Intellectual life and civil liberty must be shackled to the war machine.
The necessities of war organization require vast taking over and operation of industry by the government. War organization creates vested personal power, vested economic interests, vested habits and vested ideas. We have a taste of all this already in organizing preparedness only.
It is easier to regiment a people than to unregiment them. They can be deprived of their liberties by an ukase, a command, or by administrative order. It is a long and painful climb back to freedom. Does any American believe that these vast powers vested in government will be restored to the people if we join the world war?
When we came out of that last war our national debt was about 10 per cent of our national wealth. Instead of that we will have a debt equal to 50 per cent of our national wealth if we ever go into this one. The only answer is to inflate wages and prices by huge amounts in order to make it bearable. That would rob every present life insurance policy, every savings bank deposit, every college endowment of its buying power. That would be the ruin of the saving classes in the United States. No such event has ever happened in history without moral degeneration and the wreck of the whole form of government.
After this war is over it is certain that the forces pressing for continued economic dictatorship would be stronger than ever.
Lord Lothian in his last impressive address wisely remarked as to the dictatorships in Europe that these world evils "grew out of the despair . . . from long years of war, inflation . . . unemployment and frustration." What profit to us is it to destroy totalitarianism abroad and create it at home?
There is a reason for keeping out of this war that the proponents of war constantly ignore. We are not prepared. A cool-headed people would first prepare themselves before they rush to battle. We do not yet have 50,000 mechanized troops. Our planes could repel attacks on this side of the Atlantic but most of them are obsolete for fighting in Europe. And we would likely be fighting a two-ocean war with a one-ocean navy. Can we not listen to the experience of France and England in launching unprepared war?
The administration of our preparedness program is not yet efficiently organized. Over a year ago I expressed the hope that we start such organization with the experience we gained in the last war. I recommended that some capable citizen be placed with full responsibility for our whole armament program. That has not yet been done. We are still confused in a mass of committees, boards and commissions.
If anything calls for us to keep out of war now, it is just this unpreparedness. And we should arm to the teeth. When we are armed, then the voice of America will be heard and it will listened to.
Now what sort of conclusions does this all add up to? For the situation as it stands today we should hold to our undertaking to be only the arsenal and engage in no shooting. But watch and arm. The reasons are:
Because we can be of more service to Britain if we stay out of this war.
Because these two continents, the one that Hitler now commands or would even command with Japan in, and the other which the United States possesses, are unable to reach each other's throat—that war can be ended only after long, long years of exhausting strain.
And the end of exhaustion may be compromise peace; it certainly means misery, poverty, frustration and possibly revolution.
Because the moment we begin shooting in the Atlantic then Japan is under obligation to begin shooting at our interests in the Pacific—if she carries out her contract with Hitler. She cannot win, but it is usual to build up one's reserves before taking on two wars.
Because we cannot impose the four freedoms unless we can win military victory over not only Hitler and Mussolini, but Stalin, Matsuoka, Franco and several others. Joining in a war alongside Stalin to impose freedom is a travesty.
Because even supposing there were victory over Germany, there is no declared war aim or method that assures thebringing of permanent peace to the hates and diverse interests of Europe.
Because, of necessity, we shall be compelled to set up practical dictatorship in America, We shall be compelled to go on with it for years after the war is over. Freedom would return to America, but this generation would not see it again.
Because we are only partly prepared.
Because if we prepare, as we must prepare, there need be no fear in the American heart that the Axis one and all will ever conquer this hemisphere. The whole shift in these weapons of war adds to our defensive strength.
No man can see what the future may bring. Whatever that future may be, only one defeat can come to America. We have no need to fear military defeat if we are prepared. Our only defeat would be if we lost our own national freedoms and our potency for good in the world.
There is no course we can pursue amid these stupendous dangers that is perfect, or without risks or that may not require change. But let me propose for reasoning people a course for us at this time which avoids the most destructive forces and holds fast to the most constructive forces. And that program is nether defeatist nor isolationist nor interventionist.
1. Give every aid we can to Britain and China, but do not put the American flag or American boys in the zone of war.
2. Arm to the teeth for defense of the Western Hemisphere and cease to talk and to provoke war until we are armed.
3. Uphold Congress steadily in assuming the responsibility to determine peace or war.
4. Stop this notion of ideological war to impose the four freedoms on other nations by military force and against their will.
5. Devote ourselves to improving the four freedoms within our borders that the light of their success may stir the people of the world to their adoption.
6. We can hope a peace table will assemble some day whether it be the result of stalemate or victory. The world will be glad to have America sit in at the peace table.
When the day comes the other nations will be sufficiently exhausted to listen to the military, economic and moral powers of the United States. And with these reserves unexhausted, at that moment, and that moment only, can the United States promote a just and permanent peace.
7. We should go to that peace conference without the hates which come with war. We should go with a plan thought out and matured. We should prepare a new concept of human relations that will give the world some hope of permanent peace.
Here in America today is the only remaining sanctuary of freedom, the last oasis of civilization and the last reserve of moral and economic strength. If we are wise these values can be made to serve all mankind.
My countrymen, we have marched into the twilight of a world war. Should we not stop here and build our defense while we can still see? Shall we stumble on into the night of chaos?