The Irish Playwright’s Statement on President Herbert Hoover and the Hoover Doctrine

Signed by George Bernard Shaw

Item: 20860
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SHAW, GEORGE BERNARD. (1856-1950). Irish author and critic known for his plays Saint Joan and Pygmalion. AMs Unsigned. 1/5p. 4to. [London, December 4, 1929. To Henry Losti Russell.] Shaw’s response to a typed question inquiring “What do you think of President Hoover’s Armistice Day suggestion that food ships should be treated as hospital ships during wars which has come to be known in the United States as ‘The Hoover Doctrine’ to ban war by starvation?”

President Hoover seems to forget how hospital ships were treated during the late war. They will be treated similarly during the next one.”

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw began his writing career on April 21, 1894, when his play Arms and the Man, which explores the futility of war, opened to great acclaim in London. His foremost international success, it represented “the true beginning of [his] recognition as a popular dramatist,” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Likened by some to Shakespeare, Shaw combined satire, comedy and social criticism in his more than 50 plays. His famous stage works include Saint Joan (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925), Man and Superman and Pygmalion, the inspiration for the popular musical My Fair Lady.

World War I prompted Shaw to abandon the creation of socially critical drama, and instead write criticism about the horrors of the period. During the war Shaw published a controversial pamphlet, Common Sense about the War, suggesting that both Great Britain and the Allies were as responsible as the Germans committing atrocities, and argued for negotiation and peace. He also gave numerous anti-war speeches that provoked much domestic criticism. In 1928, Shaw authored The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, and by the 1930s he had self-identified as a communist. Shaw’s strong opinions on the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I and his published comments on these matters likely led to the frequent soliciting of his opinion.

Herbert Hoover

A Quaker and a mining engineer, Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) gained international attention during World War I while overseeing the United States Food Administration, which distributed food and supplies to Europe. Acting as a neutral negotiator, Hoover supervised the distribution of food to Belgian and French civilians suffering under the German occupation. After the war, despite French and British resistance, Hoover continued to provide food aid that included German civilians. In total, he is credited with saving 10 million lives. In 1921, President Harding appointed him secretary of commerce where he promoted studies that led to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway. During his presidency, from 1929 to 1933, Hoover witnessed the stock market crash and the hardships of the Great Depression, for which he was blamed. Preaching an unsuccessful philosophy of “rugged individualism,” he was soundly defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Ironically, throughout the 1930s, “he opposed every substantive measure for depression relief, including attacking ‘radical influences’ in Washington,” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Shaw is commenting specifically on Hoover’s Washington speech of November 11, 1929, on the eleventh anniversary of the armistice, in which he supported the necessity of an “armed peace” and stated, “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… 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 good 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.” Shaw slyly observes that many hospital ships were attacked during the war.

Normal letter folds and in very good condition.

The Irish Playwright’s Statement on President Herbert Hoover and the Hoover Doctrine

Signed by George Bernard Shaw

$350 • item #20860

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