Hoover and World War II
Hal Elliott Wert
For Herbert Hoover, a man of peace, the coming of World War II held out the promise of rescue from public and political oblivion. In the late 1930s, as the ongoing European and Far Eastern international crises received frontpage newspaper coverage, Hoover positioned himself to be useful in the area of refugee assistance. A trip to Europe in the spring of 1938 reminded the American people of Hoover’s previous experience in feeding millions of hungry Europeans during and after World War I.
Hoover traveled to a dozen European capitals and received numerous medals and honorary degrees; all of his visits were reported widely.495 Unfortunately, this positive press was offset somewhat when Hoover visited Adolf Hitler and later accepted lavish entertainment from Hermann Goering at Karinhall, a Teutonic-style hunting lodge outside Berlin.496 To many potential voters the cloud of doubt surrounding Hoover was not altered by his European foray; his popularity in the United States did not rebound as he might have hoped.
But Hoover refused to heed these signals. Buoyed by his European reception, he returned to California and put together an organization, dubbed “Republican Circles,” that espoused his political ideas, and he continued his head-on assault against FDR and the New Deal. He was certain that the flawed international system created at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 would flounder and that the world would plunge once more into war. The Great Humanitarian knew that he would be needed again.497
The long-awaited opportunity presented itself when Germany invaded Poland, on September 1, 1939. Hoover proclaimed the outbreak of war “one of the saddest weeks that has come to humanity in one hundred years.” Poland’s need for assistance was great, and it was clear that little aid would be forthcoming from Poland’s allies, Great Britain and France.498 The Polish crisis was a potential threat to the Roosevelt administration’s