Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview
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3
The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover

Hoover will be known as the greatest innocent bystander in history . . . a brave man fighting valiantly, futilely, to the end.

-- William Allen White, 1932

As early as December 1930 Hoover claimed that "the major forces of the depression now lie outside of the United States." His statement may at that moment have been overly self-protective and premature, but events soon gave the president's words the chill ring of prophecy, as shock waves from the collapsing international economic system smote the United States with lethal wallop. Until early 1931, midway through his presidency, Hoover had been aggressive and self-confident, a frontline fighter taking vigorous offensive against the economic crises. Now international events remorselessly pushed him back onto the defensive. His overriding goals became damage control and even national economic self-preservation. In late 1931 he starkly announced: "We are now faced with the problem, not of saving Germany or Britain, but of saving ourselves."1

From the spring of 1931 onward, this became Hoover's constant theme: that the calamity's deepest sources originated beyond American shores. From this time, too, it began to be clear that this depression was not just another cyclic valley but a historic watershed, something vastly greater in scale and more portentous in its implications than anything that had gone before. An unprecedented event, it must have extraordinary causes. Hoover found them in the most momentous episode of the century. It was now that he began to elaborate the thesis with which he

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1
Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression, 1929-1941 ( New York: Macmillan, 1952) 59, 90.

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