Stanford University and War

Playing with Google this morning, I came across an article I wrote for the Stanford Daily of  November 28, 2001.  I extract the following passage, since it describes a little known episode at Stanford: President Herbert Hoover, a peace-loving Quaker, had vigorously supported Woodrow Wilson in his unsuccessful campaign to get the United States to join the League of Nations. He was still fighting the good fight for peace when an event at Stanford hit him like a bombshell. His dislike of militarism had been evident during a public argument about rowdy student behavior at Stanford. There was a proposal to name a military man as University president so that discipline could be enforced, as at some other American universities. Hoover strongly opposed the idea, so Stanford maintained its record of having civilian academics as presidents.

He was presumably at odds with his older brother Theodore, who had made a fortune in mining in Australia, come to Stanford, and been made dean of engineering. His ideas must have been different from those of his younger brother, since he was a strong backer of the ROTC on campus. Here is an extract from his syllabus for Mining and Metallurgy 101: “The human race develops by war, and succeeds in war in proportion to its use of metals; races perish in peace. Culture i increased by invention of new weapons. The pacifist errs in assuming that peace is desirable. Emerson said everything we have must be paid for. We Americans are living in unpaid luxury and must pay in the future by blood and hard work.” Strange words for the syllabus of a technical course. He sounded like a spokesman for the military-industrial complex at a time when dictators allied with the military were taking over various countries.

Was there talk of a military government? Stanford students had long feared that Stanford would have one, and, on May 15, 1930, The Daily published the above quotation, describing Theodore Hoover’s views as “a shocking manifestation of militarism on a campus where men and women are supposed to think in terms of humanity.” The student editor, Robert Speers, demanded that the School of Engineering (i.e., Theodore Hoover) “wipe out this statement at once. ”The result was a national uproar. Theodore Hoover angrily defended himself, accusing Speers of “flagrant violation” of the inviolability of the classroom. A group of engineering students attempted unsuccessfully to kidnap Speers. President Hoover was embarrassed, and Ray Lyman Wilbur, his close friend and Secretary of the Interior, issued a statement essentially supporting Theodore Hoover’s charge against Speers.

The acting president of the University, Robert E. Swain, dutifully echoed Wilbur’s statement and implied that Speers could be expelled from the university. Speers retorted that he had acted in good faith and that the quotation was taken from a published syllabus. Swain then urged Theodore Hoover to avoid further comment. The incident scared many faculty members who “retreated into a shell of prudent reticence.”

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 12, 2005