Herbert Hoover photo

Memorial Day Address at Arlington National Cemetery

May 30, 1929

Fellow countrymen:

Over the years since the Civil War the Grand Army of the Republic have conducted this sacred ceremony in memoriam of those who died in service of their country. The ranks of their living comrades have been steadily thinned with time. But other wars have reaped their harvest of sacrifice and these dead too lie buried here. Their living comrades now join in conduct of this memorial, that it may be carried forward when the noble men who today represent the last [p.163] of the Grand Army shall have joined those already in the Great Beyond.

This sacred occasion has impelled our Presidents to express their aspirations in furtherance of peace. No more appropriate tribute can be paid to our heroic dead than to stand in the presence of their resting places and pledge renewed effort that these sacrifices shall not be claimed again.

Today, as never before in peace, new life-destroying instrumentalities and new systems of warfare are being added to those that even so recently spread death and desolation over the whole continent of Europe. Despite those lessons every government continues to increase and perfect its armament. And while this progress is being made in the development of the science of warfare, the serious question arises--are we making equal progress in devising ways and means to avoid those frightful fruits of men's failures that have blotted with blood so many chapters of the world's history ?

There is a great hope, for since this day a year ago, a solemn declaration has been proposed by America to the world and has been signed by 40 nations. It states that they

"Solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another." They

"Agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means." That is a declaration that springs from the aspirations and hearts of men and women throughout the world. It is a solemn covenant to which the great nations of the world have bound themselves.

But notwithstanding this noble assurance, preparedness for war still advances steadily in every land. As a result the pessimist calls this covenant a pious expression of foreign offices, a trick of statesmen on the [p.164] hopes of humanity, for which we and other nations will be held responsible without reserve. With this view I cannot agree.

But, if this agreement is to fulfill its high purpose, we and other nations must accept its consequences; we must clothe faith and idealism with action. That action must march with the inexorable tread of commonsense and realism to accomplishment.

If this declaration really represents the aspirations of peoples; if this covenant be genuine proof that the world has renounced war as an instrument of national policy, it means at once an abandonment of the aggressive use of arms by every signatory nation and becomes a sincere declaration that all armament hereafter shall be used only for defense. Consequently, if we are honest we must reconsider our own naval armament and the armaments of the world in the light of their defensive and not their aggressive use. Our Navy is the first and in the world sense the only important factor in our national preparedness. It is a powerful part of the arms of the world.

To make ready for defense is a primary obligation upon every statesman and adequate preparedness is an assurance against aggression. But if we are to earnestly predicate our views upon renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy, if we are to set standards that naval strength is purely for defense and not for aggression, then the strength in fighting ships required by nations is but relative to that of other powers. All nations assent to this--that defensive needs of navies are relative. Moreover, other nations concede our contention for parity. With these principles before us our problem is to secure agreement among nations that we shall march together toward reductions in naval equipment.

Despite the declarations of the Kellogg Pact, every important country has since the signing of that agreement been engaged in strengthening its naval arm. We are still borne on the tide of competitive building. Fear and suspicion disappear but slowly from the world. Democracies can only be led to undertake the burdens of increasing naval construction by continued appeal to fear, by constant envisaging of possible conflict, by stimulated imaginings of national dangers, by glorification [p.165] of war. Fear and suspicion will never slacken unless we can halt competitive construction of arms. They will never disappear unless we can turn this tide toward actual reduction.

But to arrive at any agreement through which we can, marching in company with our brother nations, secure reduction of armament, we must find a rational yardstick with which to make reasonable comparisons of their naval units with ours and thus maintain an agreed relativity. So far the world has failed to find such a yardstick. To say that such a measure cannot be found is the counsel of despair, it is a challenge to the naval authorities of the world, it is the condemnation of the world to the Sisyphean toil of competitive armaments.

The present administration of the United States has undertaken to approach this vital problem with a new program. We feel that it is useless for us to talk of the limitation of arms if such limitations are to be set so high as virtually to be an incitement to increase armament. The idea of limitation of arms has served a useful purpose. It made possible conferences in which the facts about national aspirations could be discussed frankly in an atmosphere of friendliness and conciliation. Likewise the facts of the technical problems involved and the relative values of varying national needs have been clarified by patient comparison of expert opinions.

But still the net result has been the building of more fighting ships. Therefore, we believe the time has come when we must know whether the pact we have signed is real, whether we are condemned to further and more extensive programs of naval construction. Limitation upward is not now our goal, but actual reduction of existing commitments to lowered levels.

Such a program, if it be achieved, is fraught with endless blessings. The smaller the armed force of the world, the less will armed force be left in the minds of men as an instrument of national policy. The smaller the armed forces of the world, the less will be the number of men withdrawn from the creative and productive labors. Thus we shall relieve the toilers of the nations of the deadening burden of unproductive expenditures, and above all, we shall deliver them from [p.166] the greatest of human calamities--fear. We shall breathe an air cleared of poison, of destructive thought, and of potential war.

But the pact that we have signed by which we renounce war as an instrument of national policy, by which we agree to settle all conflicts, of whatever nature, by pacific means, implies more than the reduction of arms to a basis of simple defense. It implies that nations will conduct their daily intercourse in keeping with the spirit of that agreement. It implies that we shall endeavor to develop those instrumentalities of peaceful adjustment that will enable us to remove disputes from the field of emotion to the field of calm and judicial consideration.

It is fitting that we should give our minds to these subjects on this occasion; that we should give voice to these deepest aspirations of the American people, in this place. These dead whom we have gathered here today to honor, these valiant and unselfish souls who gave life itself in service of their ideals, evoke from us the most solemn mood of consecration. They died that peace should be established. Our obligation is to see it maintained. Nothing less than our resolve to give ourselves with equal courage to the ideal of our day will serve to manifest our gratitude for their sacrifices, our undying memory of their deeds, our emulation of their glorious example.

Note: The President spoke at the annual memorial exercises at 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 30, 1929.

Herbert Hoover, Memorial Day Address at Arlington National Cemetery Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210203

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives