Shattered Peace: The Road to World War II

The Hoover Institution has recently unveiled its newest exhibition, entitled “Shattered Peace: The Road to World War II.” The exhibition is a fascinating collection of letters, photographs, propaganda posters, and other memorabilia from events around the globe in the mid to late 1930s. According to the promotional material, the exhibition “illustrates the diplomatic failures and the military actions that paved the way to World War II, highlighting the plight of civilians and the personal stories of witnesses.” All of the items on display are from the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, revealing the incredible depth and immeasurable value of that collection.

The exhibition is organized chronologically, starting with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and ending with the Katyn Massacre in 1940. In between are displays with artifacts and eyewitness accounts from such disparate events as the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the Anschluss that incorporated Austria into the German Reich. Each section contains various treasures, including the decoded final message from the Polish ambassador in Moscow in 1939 and Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s personal photo album of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact.

The exhibition also takes care to highlight the plight of the individual during all these events. Photographs show a young girl mourning her older sister, killed mere minutes earlier in an air raid. A father, returning home from the battlefield, runs into his daughter’s eager embrace. And personal testimony relates the horror of the Nanking Massacre. Alongside these heart-wrenching images and stories, prominently displayed, are Nazi, Soviet, and Japanese propaganda posters, fliers, and mobilization orders.

Multimedia is included in the exhibition as well. Television screens throughout the pavilion show historical footage as well as relevant interviews with Hoover research fellows, and on a corner table sit several CD players containing historical audio recordings. These recordings include a version of the Horst-Wessel-Lied (the Nazi national anthem), international appeals for help by the Polish leadership after the Nazi invasion, and wartime broadcasts from Edward R. Murrow.

For many Americans, World War II began with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Yet, as this exhibit shows, the conflict truly began long before then. Nicholas Siekierski, Assistant Archivist for Exhibits and Outreach for the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, explains that the main goal in putting together the exhibition was to “illuminate a period of history that is largely unfamiliar to many people, especially Americans.” Remembering and learning from this history will be crucial if a calamity on the scale of World War II is to be avoided in the future. Exhibitions like this one are a crucial part of that effort.

The exhibition is free and open to the public every Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. It will be open until May 27, 2009.

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