When asked about the possibility of writing a book outlining the most significant blunders of statesmen, Hoover replied
…I am going to tell you what should be the first chapter….When Roosevelt put America in to help Russia as Hitler invaded Russia in June, 1941. We should have let those two bastards annihilate themselves.
Thus begins the editor’s introduction to “Freedom Betrayed”, Herbert Hoover’s writings and recollections of U.S. policy during the time when he left office until the early 1950s. The editor makes clear that Hoover was not an isolationist, a label Hoover seemed anxious to avoid. The editor describes Hoover as an anti-interventionist. It is an interesting distinction, and one that strikes me as funny given how a certain Ron Paul today is constantly badgered about this distinction – important for diplomats, but nonsensical to those who enjoy war.
He seems to have come to this anti-interventionist views because of what he saw as the “baneful domestic lessons from the recent Great War”, where
“…the victors suffer almost equally with the vanquished” in economic misery and “spiritual degradation….Those who would have us again go to war to save democracy might give a little thought to the likelihood that we would come out of any such struggle a despotism ourselves.”
I will admit I am not the most well-read of the history of presidents in the progressive era, but other than President Carter, I cannot imagine any other president in that time saying such a thing with credibility.
Hoover spent seven weeks on a trip to Europe coinciding with Germany’s annexation of Austria. During this trip he met with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Hoover told the prime minister that another world war would probably destroy the British Empire. Additionally Hoover believed that Germany had no significant designs in the west, that if “given a certain freedom,” Germany would not cause trouble in Western Europe.
“Western civilization will be infinitely better off if the Germans fight in the east instead of the west. It would be a disaster if the western Democracies were dragged down by a war the end result of which would be to save the cruel Russian despotism.” According to Hoover, Chamberlain agreed completely with his guest’s “hunch.”
Hoover believed America should stay out of this coming war.
Americans should “harden our resolves” to “keep out of other people’s wars,” and we should convince Europe “that this is our policy.” “We should have none of it. If the world is to keep the peace, then we must keep peace with dictatorships as well as with popular governments. The forms of government which other people pass through in working out their destinies is not our business. We can never herd the world into the paths of righteousness with the dogs of war.”
If only such words were spoken and understood today.
Hoover also believed that the best act in the service America could undertake is to remain an example to the world by staying out of war. And in the coming war, if it stayed out, America had nothing to fear from the totalitarian regimes of Germany, Italy, and Japan, as America had the protection of the two large oceans. Speaking of the fascist regimes
“I am confident that if the lamp of liberty can be kept alight [at home] these ideologies will yet die of their own falsity. To think that Germany, Italy, Russia, or Japan “or all of them together” had “the remotest idea” of attacking the Western Hemisphere was, in Hoover’s words, “sheer hysteria.”
Hoover sees the primary blunder of Britain in the guarantee of Poland, jointly offered with France.
“They cannot in any circumstance protect Poland from invasion by Hitler. It is simply throwing the body of Western Civilization in front of Hitler’s steam-roller which is on its way to Russia.”
Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of the United States becoming involved again in a foreign war, certain of Hoover’s warnings proved out:
- The war cost Britain its empire
- The war handed half of Europe to the dark night of Soviet communism
- The war cost further erosion of freedom in America
- If it was not known at the time, it has been demonstrated since then that the axis powers had little if any desire and even less ability to mount a successful attack or invasion of the United States.
As far as Hoover was concerned, the United States (and Britain) had no business entering the war and not only gained nothing from it but lost much in life, wealth, and liberty by doing so.
So far, I can say I agree with Hoover’s version of history!