Herbert Hoover on the Outbreak of the European War

This past September marked the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, an event that shocked many who felt that civilization had moved beyond such barbarous means.  Herbert Hoover offered this trenchant commentary to a San Francisco audience, September 1st 1939:

This is one of the saddest weeks that has come to humanity in a hundred years.  A senseless war seems inevitably forced upon hundreds of millions of people.  The whole world prays for a miracle that might save it.  For war means the killing of millions of the best and most courageous of men who might contribute to human progress.   It means the killing and starvation of millions of women and children.  It means another quarter century of impoverishment to the whole world.

It will likely be a long war.  It is possible that the brave people of Poland may be overrun in a few months.  But there seems to be no point of access from which overwhelming attack can be delivered from the British and French on one side and the Germans on the other, which might end the war.  It is likely to be a war of slow attrition, and the fate of Poland will depend upon its ending.

The land defense of France and England, their greatly superior naval strength, their manpower and resources, their resolution, make it certain that they can defend themselves.  It is true that the vast fleets of airplanes on both sides introduce a new and uncertain factor.  But there is nothing which proves that even superiority in airplanes can win a war.  And while assurances have been given that there will be no bombing of women and children, there may come a time of desperation when all restraints go the winds.  It is likely to be the most barbarous war that we have ever known.

This situation in the world today is not the act of the German people.  It is the act of a group who hold them in subjection.  The whole Nazi system is repugnant to the American people.  The most of American sympathies will be with the democracies.  But whatever our sympathies are, we cannot solve the problems of Europe.

America must keep out of this war.  The President and Congress should be supported in their every effort to keep us out.  We can keep out if we have the resolute national will to do so.  We can be of more service to Europe and to humanity if we preserve the vitality and strength of the United States for use in the period of peace which must sometime come.  And we must keep out if we are to preserve for civilization the foundations of democracy and free men.

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