American Accomplishments: Food Aid Preventing Starvation and Famine--World War I


Figure 1.--These French nursery school girls are being fed with American food aid (March 1918). They are some of the millions of Europeans saved by America during the War. the destruction of the War and diversion of resources a well as the conscription of farm workers significntly reducded Europan food production. Only American food relief prevented famine and mass starvation. Source: Red Cross

American food aid began in a major way with food shipments to Europe World War I (1914-18). The first recipient was German occupied Belgium. The Germans seized the Blgian civilian food supply. Starvation was only prevented by massive American Food Relief. Herbert Hoover became a revered figure in his non-stop efforts to save lives. A system for this was not in place. It began as an unprecedented private humnitarian effort. As the aid effort expanded, The american Red Cross came to play a major role. American Relief often worked through the Red Cross. A huge numbers of committees, church groups, organizations launched efforts to collect money and supplies or European relif. Most had no contacts or offices in Europe or any way of getting what they collected to Europe. The Red Cross played a major role in both coordinating the volunteer effort and getting the neeed supplies to Europe. This was because Red Cross efforts to assist as a neutral, such as offering abulance servives meant that the Red Cross estanlished an infrastructure network in Europe. This of coure expanded massively when Americ entered the war (1917). At first it was food and supplies collected by private grouos. Eventually the need proved so great that Governmental action was required. The U.S. Food Administration provided the much larger quantities rquired. Unfirtunately Russia proved impossible to aid because if the difficulties of shipping food and suppolies and Central Powers opposition. America would eventually supply vital relef aid to virtually all of Europe.

American Committee


Herbert Hoover

It is said of Herbert Hoover that no one in history saved the lives of more European children. Some Americans might have added during the 1930s that few people did less to save the lives of American children during the Depression. One week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday in London, Germany declared war on France (1914). The American Consul General in London asked Hoover to help get stranded tourists home. Hoover's committee in 6 weeks helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States. Then Hoover turned to a far more daunting task, how to feed Belgium, which had attacked France through neutral Belgium and overrun most of the country. When the United States entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration (1917). Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. Europe had been devestated by the War. The desestation and the battlefield losses significantly affected agricultural production. After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia (1921). When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" This was the greatest exercise in international relief in world history. Had it not been for American food aid after the War, millions mostly children would have starved throughout Europe.

Belgian Relief

Herbert Hoover after assisting Americans stranded in Europe at the onset of world War I, helped organize the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) (October 1914). The purpose was to provide food relief for occupied Belgium and Belgian refugees. The CRB fed millions of people in Belgium and occupied northern France (1914-18). Americans raised money, obtained food, shipped the food past the British naval blockade and prwling German submarines, and supervised the distribution of the food by the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation. The CRB shipped 5.7 million tons of food to Belgium, much of it was flour. The flour was packaged in cotton bags by American mills. In addition to the flour itself, the CRB also monitored by the CRB since cotton could be used in the manufacture of German ammunition. The empty flour sacks were distributed to professional schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and artists. When the United States entered the war, Belgian relief was turned over to the Comité Hispanico-Hollandais. This had figurehead directors (the king of Spain and the queen of Holland). Hoover continued to actually oversee the effort to aid Belgium and the food continued to come from America. The CRB continued to function through 1919. Some 2.5 million tons of food worth $300 million fed some 10 million people in Belgium and France, about 7 million of that total were Belgians. This is an extrodinary figure give that that the 1914 population of Belgium was only about 7.5 million people. The American effort was an exceptional, unpresedented indertaking and 'constituted a superb accomplishment, technically, morally, and practically'. [Burner]

Private Efforts

A range of private and government fforts addressed the food issue. Some states began to act even before the Federal Government took action. Wisconsin, an important farm state, in particular led the way. Wisconsin was the first state to organize both state and county-level Councils of Defense tasked with educating the public about the War and the sacrifices that would be required. Wisconsin's State Council of Defense took on the task of addressing the food problem that was developing in 1917. The Wisconsin Council was led by Magnus Swenson. He came out with a number of innovative ideas. He promoted promoting food conservation through the cultivation of home gardens and institution of meatless and wheatless days. After President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to lead the new United States Food Administration, Hoover was impressed with Swenson's pioneering efforts. He adopted many of Swenson's policies and appointed Swenson Wisconsin state Food Administrator.

Red Cross

Germany launched World War I by invading neutral Belgium (1914). The Red Cross dispatched a Mercy Ship to Europe with medical staff and supplies. Home Service for the military begins its work with help to U.S. troops along the southern border of the during a series of Mexican raids on civilian in towns along the border (1916). America after the Kaiser resumed unrestricted submarine warfare declared war on Germany (April 1917). President Woodrow Wilson appoints a War Council to guide operations of the Red Cross during the War (May 1917). There was a massive outpouring of patriotic feeling as America entered World War I. The number of local chapters rapidly increased from 107 (1914) to 3,864 (1918). Membership expanded incrediblybfrom 17,000 to over 20 million adult and 11 million Junior Red Cross members. The public contributed $400 million in funds and material to support Red Cross programs, including those for American and Allied forces and civilian refugees. The Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the military. Additional Red Cross nurses volunteered at the end of the War to fight the worldwide influenza epidemic (1918). As part of the effort to support the War, a group of educators and American Red Cross officials developed a plan for a partnership between schools and the Red Cross. President Wilson officially announced the formation of the Junior Red Cross--JRC (September 15, 1917). The President asked American youth, "Is not this perhaps the chance for which you have been looking to give your time and efforts in some measure to meet our national needs ...?" Youth could join the new JRC for only 25-cents a year. The response was overwhelming, 8 million students joined the JRC that first year and membership reached 11 million in 1919.

U.S. Food Administration (USFA: 1917-19)

When the United States entered the War, President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to the post of United States Food Administrator (1917). Food had become a weapon in World War I and no country produced more food than America. Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. America had to produce the food needed by the new large army America was building as well as for Allied armies and civilians. Hoover designed a voluntary program. He called it food conservation, but many Americans took to calling it "Hooverizing." Various promotions were devised, such as wheatless Wednesdays and meatless Mondays. Hoover was convinced that Americans would cooperate voluntarily to support the boys overseas. He did not want a mandatory program and Government regulated rationing. The idea was that American civilains would have to modify their eating habits volunatarily so that more food was availablde for shipment overseas. The American housewive was urged to conserve food and eliminate waste. Signs and posters appeared in workplaces and public areas with the slogan "Food Will Win the War". Hoover managed to voluntarily reduce domestic food consumption 15 percent without rationing. Hoover guaranteed the farmer a "fair price" and there was an overseas market for all that could be produced. American food exports trippled. Not only did America help feed the Allies, but the shipments created surplus stores of food that helped prevent a post-war famine in Europe. America after the War not only helped her Allies, but the former Central Powers countries as well as Soviet Russia.

American Relief Administration (ARA: 1919-23)

With the end of the war, the United states wound down the United states Food Administration (USFA). Europe was, however, in crisis. The war had damged and dirupted the continents economy. This included the agricultural sector. Europe was not producing enough food to feed its people. Europeans were going hungary and facing famine on a collosal scale. This was not only the industrial countries that imported food before the War, but the agicultural countries that had a food surplus before the War and exported food. Here Polnd and Russia were in particularly desperate states. As a result, the United States created a successor agency to the USFA with the sole purpose of saving starving Europeans. The sucessor organization to deal with post-War relief was the the American Relief Administration (ARA) (February 1919). USFA Director Herbert Hoover was put in charge of the new effort. The ARA inherited the USFA staff with extenive relief experience. The ARA was funded by both the U.S. Congress and private donations. The ARA set about opened missions in Europe. The ARA opend missions in both Allied countries as well as the former Central Powers, the enemy countries during the war. The ARA even tried to open an office in Bolshevik Russia. Bolshevik Russia was a state which from the beginning was dedicated to destroying the capitalist United States. Even so the ARA odffered to aid the Russian people as a humanitarian effot (1919-20). The Bolsheviks despite the desperate need of the Russian people at first refused, demanding total control over any food relief efforts. They could not believe that the United States, the great capitalist power would be so insane as to aid a country devoted on destroying America and capitalism. The plight of the srarbing Russian masses was simply dismissed. Wjile the ARA was unabke to help the Rusian people, it did launch a massive effort to aid the rest of Europe. The primary goal of the ARA was to provide food relief, but it actually did much more providing warm clothing, blankets, medical aid, relocation services, and much more. Hoover placed a special focus on saving the children. The ARA was invisioned as a short-term effort lasting a few months. Hoover who went to Europe in 1919, however, saw immediately that a longer term effort was desperately needed. Tragically for the Russian peoole, millions perished durung a horible winter famine (1920-21). Only after respected author Maxim Gorky personally petitioned Vladimir Lenin to allow America to establish a relief effirt did the situation change in Russia nd tge Bolsheviks relent. ARA European Director Walter Lyman Brown and Soviet assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov finally reached an agreement for an ARA Russian mission (Summer 1921). Only because of this did millions of Russians survive the winter. In all American relief efforts saved some 350 million during and after World War I.

European Relief Council (ERC)/American Relief Administration European Children's Fund (ARAECF)

The European Relief Council (ERC) can confuse modern readers. It was not a European effort to save children. It could not be--Europe did not have the food needed to feed the hungary. The ERC was an American effort to feed hungary Europeans--mostly children. The ERC was also called the Caucasian Assistance Council. It was founded in America mostly through the effort ARA Administrator Herbert Hoover about 2 years after World War I (September 27, 1920). Nine American charitable organizations came together to save European children. Although 2 years had passed since the Armistice, European agriculture had not yet recoverd. The American Relief Administration (ARA) was dealing with the most pressing emergencies resulting from World War I. Hoover could see that the needs of millions of European children were not being met. He wanted a private effort to diectly result the persistence of food shortages, especially the fact that children were starving. The organizations partiipating were: the American Friends Service Committee, American Red Cross, ARA, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Knights of Columbus, National Catholic Welfare Council, Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Notice how important the religious community was. Hoover comvinced these groups that helping endangered children in central and eastern Europe was the higest [riority relif need. It was vital to get food to them until the next harvest was brought in. Hoover's ARA estimmted that 3.5 million children were in distress and could starve. The result that the American public contributed to the greatest humanitarisn undertaking in human history. Support committees were organized in cties throughout the country. The effort became known as the Hoover Drive. They collected $29.5 million. The ARA received $15.7 million and the American Red Cross $10 million. It was he largest contribution to the Red Cross. The ARA was converted into the American Relief Administration European Children's Fund (ARAECF, July 1919). Despite the enormous scope and achievements of the ERC/ ARAECF, it is almost unknown today. Left-ing critics of america who can list every conceivble American infraction, can not sme this and mnyother American efforts that savec people on the tens of millions. And if you do aan iternet search, reports published by the ERC come up, but virtully no cites describing this unprecedented action.

Sources

Burner, David. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (1979).







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Created: 11:02 PM 10/28/2015
Last updated: 12:10 AM 3/31/2016