Herbert Hoover photo

Armistice Day Address.

November 11, 1929

My fellow countrymen:

Eleven years have gone by since the day of the armistice, when the guns ceased firing. It was a day of thanksgiving that marked the ending of the shambles of the trenches. For us it will be remembered always as a day of pride; pride in the memory of those who suffered and of those who made the last sacrifice of life in that great cause; pride in the proven valour of our Army and Navy; pride in the greatness of our national strength; pride in the high purpose for which we entered the war; and pride that we neither wanted nor got from it anything of profit for ourselves. Those stirring memories will always remain, and on each Armistice Day will glow again.

From the war we have two paramount obligations. We owe to those who suffered and yet lived an obligation of national assistance, each [p.372] according to his need. We owe it to the dead that we redeem our promise that their sacrifice would help bring peace to the world. The Nation will discharge its obligations.

The men who fought know the real meaning and dreadfulness of war. No man came from that furnace a swashbuckling militarist. Those who saw its realities and its backwash in the sacrifice of women and children are not the men who glorify war. They are the men who pray for peace for their children. But they rightly demand that peace be had without the sacrifice of our independence or of those principles of justice without which civilization must fail.

Such a sacrifice of freedom and justice is the one calamity greater than war. The task of statesmen is to build a road to peace which avoids both of these calamities. This road requires preparedness for defense; it equally requires preparedness for peace.

The world today is comparatively at peace. The outlook for a peaceable future is more bright than for half a century past. Yet after all it is an armed peace. The men under arms including active reserves in the world are almost 30 million in number, or nearly 10 million more than before the Great War. Due to the Washington Arms Conference and the destruction of the German navy, the combatant ships in the world show some decrease since the war. But aircraft and other instruments of destruction are far more potent than they were even in the Great War. There are fears, distrusts, and smoldering injuries among nations which are the tinder of war. Nor does a single quarter of a century during all the ages of human experience warrant the assumption that war will not occur again.

Gloomy as this picture may be, yet we can say with truth that the world is becoming more genuinely inclined to peace; that the forces of imperial domination and aggression, of fear and suspicion are dying down; that they are being replaced with the desire for security and peaceful development. The old objectives of tortuous diplomacy are being replaced with frank and open relations directed to peace. There is no more significant step in this progress than the solemn covenant that civilized nations have now entered, to renounce war and to settle [p.373] disputes by pacific means. It is this realignment of the mind of the world that gives the hope of peace.

But peace is not a static thing. To maintain peace is as dynamic in its requirements as is the conduct of war. We can not say "Let there be peace" and go about other business. Nor are the methods by which peace is to be maintained and war prevented to be established by slogans or by abstract phrases or by academic theory. Progress toward peace can be attained only as a result of realistic practical daily conduct amongst nations. It can be the result only of a frank recognition of forces which may disturb peace. For instance, we must realize that our industrial life, our employment, our comfort, and our culture depend greatly upon our interchange of goods and ideas with other nations. We must realize that this interchange cannot be carried on unless our citizens are flung into every quarter of the globe and the citizens of every other nation are represented in our country.

We must realize that some of them will get into trouble somewhere. Certainly their troubles will multiply if other nations are at war. We have an obligation and every other nation has an obligation to see to the protection of their lives, and that justice is done to them so long as they comply with the laws of the countries in which they reside. From all these relationships frictions and controversies will arise daily.

By our undertaking under the Kellogg Pact, to use only pacific means to settle such controversies as these, we have again reaffirmed the doctrine enunciated by that farsighted statesman, Mr. Elihu Root, in his famous declaration at Rio de Janeiro in 1907. At that time he announced that we would not use war or warlike means to enforce or collect upon private business contracts. It is our settled policy.

But there are other more deep-seated and more dangerous forces which produce friction and controversy than these eruptions over the rights of citizens. We must realize that there are many unsolved problems of boundaries between nations. There are peoples aspiring to a greater measure of self-government. There are the fears of invasion and domination bequeathed to all humanity from its former wars. There are a host of age-old controversies whose specters haunt the world, which at any time may touch the springs of fear and ill will.

We must frankly accept the fact, therefore, that we and all the nations of the world will be involved, for all future time, in small or great controversies and frictions arising out of all of these multiple causes. In these controversies lurks the subtle danger that national temper at any moment may become a heat and that emotion may rise to the flaming point. Therefore, peace must be the result of unceasing endeavor.

I have said that recently we have covenanted with other civilized nations not only to renounce war as an instrument of national policy but also we have agreed that we shall settle all controversies by pacific means. But the machinery for pacific settlement of disputes among nations is, as yet, inadequate. We need to strengthen our own provisions for it. Our State Department is the first of these means. It must be strengthened and supported as the great arm of our Government, dedicated to the organization of peace. We need further to extend our treaties with other countries providing methods for reference of controversies to conference, to inquiry as to fact, or to arbitration, or to judicial determination. We have need to define the rules of conduct of nations and to formulate an authoritative system of international law. We have need under proper reservations to support the World Court in order that we may secure judicial determination of certain types of controversies and build up precedents which add to the body of international law. By these agencies we relegate a thousand frictions to orderly processes of settlement and by deliberation in action we prevent their development into national inflammation.

We are also interested that other nations shall settle by pacific means the controversies arising between them. From every selfish point of view the preservation of peace among other nations is of interest to the United States. In such wars we are in constant danger of entanglement because of interference with the widespread activities of our citizens. But of far more importance than this, our ideals and our hopes are for the progress of justice through the entire world. We desire to see all humanity relieved of the hideous blight of war and of the cruelties and injustices that lead to war. We are interested in all methods that can be devised to assure the settlement of all controversies between nations.

There are today two roads to that end. The European nations have, by the covenant of the League of Nations, agreed that if nations fail to settle their differences peaceably then force should be applied by other nations to compel them to be reasonable. We have refused to travel this road. We are confident that at least in the Western Hemisphere public opinion will suffice to check violence. This is the road we propose to travel. What we urgently need in this direction is a further development of methods for reference of unsettled controversies to joint inquiry by the parties assisted by friendly nations, in order that action may be stayed and that the aggressor may be subjected to the searchlight of public opinion.

And we have another task equally great as the settlement of incidental controversies. We must, where opportunity offers, work steadfastly to remove the deeper causes and frictions which lead to disputes and ill will. One of those causes is competition in armament. In order to stir a nation to the expenditures and burdens of increased armament, some danger and some enemy must be envisaged. Fears and distrust must be used as a goad to stir the Nation forward to competitive effort. No one denies that the maintenance of great armament is a burden upon the backs of all who toil. The expenditure for it curtails vast projects of human betterment which governments might undertake. Every man under arms means that some other man must bear an extra burden somewhere. But a greater cost is the ill will resulting from rivalry between nations in construction of armaments.

It is first and foremost to rid ourselves of this danger that I have again initiated naval negotiations. I have full confidence in the success of the conference which will assemble next January. In setting up this conference we have already agreed with Great Britain that there shall be a parity in naval strength between us. I am in hopes that there will be a serious reduction in navies as a relief to the economic burdens of all peoples. And I believe that men and women throughout the world demand such reduction. We must reduce and limit warships by agreement only. I have no faith in the reduction of armaments by example alone.

Until such time as nations can build the agencies of pacific settlement on stronger foundations; until fear, the most dangerous of all [p.376] national emotions, has been proved groundless by long proof of international honesty; until the power of world public opinion as a restraint of aggression has had many years of test, there will not have been established that confidence which warrants the abandonment of preparedness for defense among nations. To do so may invite war.

I am for adequate preparedness as a guaranty that no foreign soldier shall ever step upon the soil of our country.

Our Nation has said with millions of voices that we desire only defense. That is the effect of the covenant we have entered into, not to use war as an instrument of national policy. No American will arise today and say that we wish one gun or one armed man beyond that necessary for the defense of our people. To do so would create distrust in other nations, and also would be an invitation to war. Proper defense requires military strength relative to that of other nations. We will reduce our naval strength in proportion to any other. Having said that, it only remains for the others to say how low they will go. It can not be too low for us.

There is another of these age-old controversies which stir men's minds and their fears. That is the so-called freedom of the seas. In reality in our day it is simply the rights of private citizens to trade in time of war, for there is today complete freedom of the seas in times of peace. If the world succeeds in establishing peaceful methods of settlement of controversies, the whole question of trading rights in time of war becomes a purely academic discussion. Peace is its final solution.

But I am going to have the temerity to put forward an idea which might break through the involved legal questions and age-old interpretations of right and wrong by a practical step which would solve a large part of the intrinsic problem. It would act as a preventive as well as a limitation of war. I offer it only for the consideration of the world. I have not made it a governmental proposition to any nation and do not do so now. I know that any wide departure from accepted ideas requires long and searching examination. No idea can be perfected except upon the anvil of debate. This is not a proposition for the forthcoming naval conference, as that session is for a definite purpose, and this proposal will not be injected into it.

For many years, and born of a poignant personal experience, I have held that food ships should be made free of any interference in times of war. I would place all vessels laden solely with food supplies on the same footing as hospital ships. The time has come when we should remove starvation of women and children from the weapons of warfare.

The rapid growth of industrial civilization during the past half century has created in many countries populations far in excess of their domestic food supply and thus steadily weakened their natural defenses. As a consequence, protection for overseas or imported supplies has been one of the most impelling causes of increasing naval armaments and military alliances. Again, in countries which produce surplus food their economic stability is also to a considerable degree dependent upon keeping open the avenues of their trade in the export of such surplus, and this again stimulates armament on their part to protect such outlets.

Thus, the fear of an interruption in seaborne food supplies has powerfully tended toward naval development in both importing and exporting nations. In all important wars of recent years, to cut off or to protect such supplies has formed a large element in the strategy of all combatants. We cannot condemn any one nation; almost all who have been engaged in war have participated in it. The world must sooner or later recognize this as one of the underlying causes of its armed situation, but, far beyond this, starvation should be rejected among the weapons of warfare.

To those who doubt the practicability of the idea, and who insist that agreements are futile for the purpose of controlling conduct in war, I may point out that the Belgian Relief Commission delivered more than 2,000 shiploads of food through two rings of blockade and did it under neutral guarantees continuously during the whole World War. The protection of food movements in time of war would constitute a most important contribution to the rights of all parties, whether neutrals or belligerents, and would greatly tend toward lessening the pressure for naval strength. Foodstuffs comprise about 25 percent of the commerce of the world but would constitute a much more important portion of the trade likely to be interfered with by a blockade.

Men of good will throughout the world are working earnestly and honestly to perfect the equipment and preparedness for peace. But there is something high above and infinitely more powerful than the work of all ambassadors and ministers, something far more powerful than treaties and the machinery of arbitration and conciliation and judicial decision, something more vital than even our covenants to abolish war, something more mighty than armies and navies in defense.

That is to build the spirit of good will and friendliness, to create respect and confidence, to stimulate esteem between peoples--this is the far greatest guaranty of peace. In that atmosphere, all controversies become but passing incidents of the day. Nor does this friendliness, respect, and esteem come to nations who behave weakly or supinely. It comes to those who are strong but who use their strength not in arrogance or injustice. It is through these means that we establish the sincerity, the justice, and the dignity of a great people. That is a new vision of diplomacy that is dawning in the world.

The colossal power of the United States overshadows scores of freedom-loving nations. Their defense against us is a moral defense. To give to them confidence that with the high moral sense of the American people this defense is more powerful than all armies or navies, is a sacred duty which lies upon us.

It has been my cherished hope to organize positively the foreign relations of the United States on this high foundation and to do it in reality, not simply in diplomatic phrases. The establishment of that relationship is vastly more important than the mere settlement of the details of any of our chronic international problems. In such pure air and in that alone can both sides with frankness and candor present their points of view and either find just formulas for settlement, or, alternatively, agree to disagree until time finds a solution. We have in recent years heard a vast chatter of enmity and criticism both within and without our borders where there is no real enmity and no conflict of vital interest and no unsolvable controversy.

It is a homely parallel but equally true that relations between nations are much like relations between individuals. Questions which arise [p.379] between friends are settled as the passing incidents of a day. The very same questions between men who distrust and suspect each other may lead to enmity and conflict.

It was in this endeavor that I visited the Presidents of the South American Republics. That is why I welcomed the visit of the Prime Minister of Great Britain to the United States.

All these men have talked of their problems in a spirit charged with the gravest responsibility, not only for our own relations but for the peace and safety of the world. We have thought out loud together, as men cannot think in diplomatic notes. We made no commitments. We drove no discussion to final conclusion. We explored the areas of possible constructive action and possible controversy. We examined the pitfalls of international relations frankly and openly. With this wider understanding of mutual difficulties and aspirations we can each in our own sphere better contribute to broaden good will, to assist those forces which make for peace in the world, to curb those forces which make for distrust. Thereby do we secure the imponderable yet transcendent spiritual gains which come from successful organization of peace and confidence in peace. That is why I have endeavored to meet the leaders of their nations, for I have no fear that we are not able to impress every country with the single-minded good will which lies in the American heart.

Note: The President spoke at 8:30 p.m. in the Washington Auditorium, at ceremonies sponsored by the American Legion. His address was broadcast. The President was introduced to the audience of several thousand by Maj. Osee L. Bodenhamer, national commander of the American Legion. After delivering his address, he broke with custom by remaining to hear Major Bodenhamer's address.

As printed above, this item follows an advance text issued by the White House.

Herbert Hoover, Armistice Day Address. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208524

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