Harold H. Fisher’s Letter of Condolence on the death of Herbert Hoover

Hoover and friends at his 75th birthday celebration, Stanford University.
Left to right: Harold Fisher, Ray Lyman Wilbur, Edgar Rickard, Herbert Hoover. (HHPL-M image 31-1949-37)

The death of former President Herbert Hoover on October 20, 1964 elicited condolences from world leaders and ordinary people.  Some of the most moving letters to Hoover’s sons came from individuals who worked closely with Hoover in his many humanitarian relief efforts.  One such individual was Harold H. Fisher who was the primary historian of the American Relief Administration and whose The Famine in Soviet Russia documented the heroic efforts of the ARA in this region from 1921 to 1923. Fisher wrote:

                Like the many others who admired your father and are under great obligation to him, I send the sincere sympathy of my wife and myself to you and other members of his family. 

                All who knew him and all who honored him for what he did and stood for must regret that he has passed from the scene, but with this regret there is the consolation that he lived long enough to feel the warmth of affection, admiration, and gratitude of thousands of citizens of his own and other countries.  He lived long enough to glimpse the verdict of history on his career.

                The verdicts of history are never unanimous, but in the long run a kind of consensus, a prevailing estimate comes into being among historians who render the verdict.  That verdict is not based on words–neither the words of affectionate admirers nor the misrepresentations of criticisms of detractors.  ‘Words,’ Ray Lyman Wilbur wrote in this connection, ‘never stand up against ‘facts.’  The facts in this case are not material monuments; they are the many policies and institutions originated and activated by your father to cope with new problems or new forms of old problems—policies and institutions originated and activated by your father to cope with new problems or new forms of old problems—policies and institutions which are still in operation under one name or another in domestic or international affairs.

                As one who has lived long enough to observe, to read a lot, and to write a little about the movement of history in this century, I am sure that your father’s extraordinary ability to diagnose new socio-political problems, to make a plan for dealing with them and to direct the execution of that plan will give him a unique place in our history. Since he and the others involved were all human, not every one of his plans worked as he hoped it would.  It will not enhance his place in history for his friends to imply that his places achieved less than he hoped only because of the stupidity or malice of others.  The final score of wins and losses is so impressive that the record needs no embroidery to ensure a true verdict.

                This remarkable ability of your father’s is illustrated in the way he dealt with three groups of problems that I particularly remember.  One group concerned the saving of human lives, the preservation of public order, and the exchange of knowledge and skills, included such institutions and operations as the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the American Relief Administration, the European Children’s Fund, the Technical Advisers, the Food Draft Program, Finnish Relief, and the Belgian American Educational Foundation.  All of these functions are still being performed.

                Another group was largely educational involving the collection, preservation, and utilization of source materials on social, economic and political matters about which your father insisted on the importance of ‘investigation before action.’ In this group are the Hoover Library, the Food Research Institute, and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford, and the National Research Committee for the study of social trends.

                The third group, which dealt with national social problems, includes a large number of committees and conferences on such matters as child health and protection, costs of medical care, housing and home ownership, liquidation of industrial disputes, elimination of waste in industry and raising living standards, utilization of the St. Lawrence and the Colorado rivers, reorganization of government administration, national planning of public works, and the establishment of a combination of public ownership and private use by broadcasters of radio channels subject to regulation in the public interest.  This also provided for the rights of individual amateurs, the ‘hams.’

                These are some of the ways originated and developed by your father for dealing with problems of our times which are still in use.  They are well known to you, but in these times of change and stress and controversy, these unsensational but enduring contributions to our ways of life are easily overlooked.  But I find comfort in thinking of them as reflecting characteristic aspects of the genius of a great man whom I had the privilege of knowing.  I also find comfort in recalling, as I do very often, a paragraph in your father’s Commencement address at Stanford in 1936.

                ‘Democracy,’ he said, ’will not function without free debate. Every experiment, every proposal or method is a compromise in judgment as to the weight which must be attached to the different factors or forces, involved in it.  Their relative importance cannot be shaped except upon the anvil of debate.  There is no genuine debate unless there is tolerance and intellectual honesty.  The whole social order must be critically and constantly examined.  But criticism is of no value which either ignores the good of the old or the value of the new.  Propaganda which partially presents facts is not debate.  Its use under government authority is a pollution of free press and free thought.  It is a violation of the spirit of the Bill of Rights.  Calling names is not debate.  It is a confession of defeat by logic and fact.  It is more—it is the infallible sign of intellectual dishonesty.’

One thought on “Harold H. Fisher’s Letter of Condolence on the death of Herbert Hoover

  1. Thank you Tom. Those words are true even today as we face the country’s political differences.
    Mary Bywater Cross

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