Cliff May

Hoover also believed that with Hitler’s invasion of Russia, “the two dictators of the world’s two great aggressor nations were locked in a death struggle. If left alone, these evil spirits were destined, sooner or later, to exhaust each other.” That, he maintained, is what Roosevelt should have allowed to happen.

In a speech that was radio-broadcast nationally on June 29, Hoover reminded listeners that less than “two years ago, Stalin entered into an agreement with Hitler through which there should be joint onslaught on the democracies of the world. Nine days later Stalin attacked the Poles jointly with Hitler and destroyed the freedom of a great and democratic people. Fourteen days later Stalin destroyed the independence of democratic Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Ninety days later on came the unprovoked attack by Russia on democratic Finland.”

To ignore this record and treat Stalin as an ally, Hoover argued, could only lead to one outcome: tightening “the grip of communism on Russia, the enslavement of nations, and more opportunity for it to extend in the world. . . . To align American ideals alongside Stalin will be as great a violation of everything American as to align ourselves with Hitler.” Roosevelt’s errors, in Hoover’s view, were compounded by the concessions Roosevelt made to Stalin at Tehran and Yalta.

The flaw in Hoover’s argument, it seems to me: Hitler turned his weapons east rather than west not because he was more covetous of Stalingrad than of London, and not only because there was more Lebensraum, “living space,” in Eurasia than in the British Isles. Rather, Hitler desperately needed oil for his tanks, ships, and planes. Oil was abundant in Soviet Central Asia — not in England, Scotland, and Wales. Had Hitler succeeded in capturing Baku, the heart of the Soviet oil industry, he would have become stronger than ever — and then, undoubtedly, he would have turned his aggressive attentions to Britain and the Americas.

Hoover was correct in this: World War II lifted the Nazi jackboot from the throats of Eastern Europe only to replace it with the Soviet jackboot for decades to come. Wrong, however, was his prediction that, “if we get involved in this struggle we, too, will be exhausted and feeble.” In fact, the US emerged from World War II more powerful and, before long, more prosperous than it had ever been.

It was not inevitable that America would prevail over Nazism, fascism, and, eventually, Communism. It is not inevitable that America will prevail over totalitarianism in its 21st-century forms — not a kampf but a jihad; not Aryan racial supremacism but Islamic religious supremacism; not a Führer but a Supreme Leader; not dictatorships of the proletariat but clerical dictatorships.

What we should know — and what Hoover’s magnum opus reinforces — is that vigorous debate is essential. Those who call themselves our enemies have ideologies, strategies, and goals. We need to understand them. If we refuse to seriously attempt that — because we want to be “politically correct” and multiculturally sensitive, or because it is comforting to believe we are only confronting “extremism” and grievances that can be addressed through diplomacy — we will contribute to our own decline and downfall.

We need to think also about our vital interests and highest values, and develop strategies to defend them. Does anyone believe our political leaders — either those in power or those in opposition — are making progress in this regard? Hoover worked on his “magnum opus” for 20 years because he believed in the power of ideas. Can you imagine any former American president alive today doing the same?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.