World War I: Biographies--Herbert Hoover


Figure 1.--Here Hoover is after World War II with some European children that his charities assisted. The photograph looks to have been taken in Poland or Germany. One boy looks to have a Hitler Youth belt buckle and knife. A reader writes, "A Hitler Jugend buckle and knife, yes, maybe, though none of his clothing point in that direction. Note the boy to the extreme left. He certainly is wearing a nuniform of sorts." [HBC note: I doubt if boys wore their HJ shirts with the badges after occupation. Perhaps this could not bare to part with his knife.] Source: Corbis-Bettmann

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.

World War I

The Hoovers in 1914 were living comfortably in London. One week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday , Germany declared war on France (August 1914). The American Consul General in London asked Hoover to help get stranded tourists home. American tourists poured into London trying to get on liners back to America. Many were stranded in London and without accomodations. In some cases their money was running out. Hoover helped form and then headed the Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance to American Travellers. This committee eventually accommodated over 120,000 stranded Americans. They loaned money for living expenses, helped book passage on ships, and until their departure arranged for food and lodging in England. Within 6 weeks, the Committe had arranged to get the A,ericans back to te States. The Committe loaned out over $1 million and amazingly all but a trifling $300 was repaid. Most of these Americans were relativelt well off individuals, but soon Hoover turned his attention to Europeans in much more desperate need.

German Offensive

The German stategy was based on the Schlieffen Plan, conceived by Count Alfred von Schlieffen, Chief of the Great General Staff (1905). It called for a quick victory over the French by avoiding the strogly fortified border. Rather the Germans launced their attack through neutral Belgium. King Albert I had told the Kaiser before the War, "Belgium is a country, not a road map." The tiny Belgian Army choose to resist the Germans. The gallant Belgians led by King Albert I managed to slow the Germans up sufficently to allow the British Expoditinary Force (BEF) to rush accross the Channel and help the French stop the Germans before they reached Paris. The Germans did succeed, however, in occupying almost all of Belgium, except for the southwest corner.

Belgium

Then Hoover turned to a far more daunting task, how to feed Belgium, which although neutral had been invaded and overrun by the Germans. The Germans had anticipated a quick victory over the French in the West. When the War bogged down into static trench warfare, food supplies soon dwindled. The German Army seized Belgian food supplies for its men. At home Germany did not have a food surplus and was unwillikng to send food the Belgian civilains, especially as they had sides with the French. Belgium before the War imported large quantities of food, but The Allied naval blockade now prevented food from reaching Germany and Germany occupied areas. Thus a humanitarian disaster was unfolding in Belgium of epic proprtions. The Belgians managed to get a guarantee from the Germans that they would not interfere with food shipments brought into Belgium by a Belgian Relief Committee (CRB). The British, however, were dubious about the German guarantte, woried that the food might be used to feed German soldies. Delegations from various Belgian cities came to London pleading for permission to bring food through the blockade. After consulting with Walter Hines Page, the American Ambassador, and Emile Francqui, a Belgian Banker, Hoover decided to make the task of feeding Belgium his own personal crusade. He worked through the Committee for Relief of Belgium. It was a daunting undertaking. He needed to find and pay for food to feed 10 million people. Shipping and transporting that quantity of food required a major logistical undertaking involving ships, trains, and trucks. Distribution was a major concern. He had to ensure that the food was equitably distributed in Belgium and that the German Army did not take any of it. And hde had to guarantee to the British that the food would not fall into German hands. Somehow Hoover managed to pull it off. Here is great strngths as an a practical organizer and his sence of morality made this achievement possible. Hoover accepted no salary or remuneration of any kinds and many of his colleagues working on the CRB did likewise. Hoover appealed for support from all over the world, but it was in America that the public responded overweal an America volunteer staff in Belgium as neurtral Americans were more acceptable to the Germans as well as the Allies. The CRB over 4 years fed 11 million people in Belgium and northern France (the Germans had also overrun part of northern France. Hoover collected more than $1 billion to finace the CRB--mostly from America. The task was unpresedented. It was the first major relief undertaking of such dimmensions. It was also a learning experience. The CRB found that young children needed a special diet to prevent disease. Doctors invented a special cookie containing all the essential foods needed for young, growing children. This was provided to 2.5 million Belgian children daily along with milk and a stew. The American people supported the effort with almost missionary zeal. States dispatched special "state food ships" to Belgium. Along with the food came clothing. Hoover insisted that an accounting firm manage the CRB books so that no one could ever charge that any of the money had been misspent or embelzed. Amazingly the final saccountijg showed that not only had the money been carefully spent, less than 0.5 percent had gone for administrative purposes. For this effort alone, Hoover has to be considered one of the great heroes of World War I.

U.S. Food Administration

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.

European Food Production

Europe had been devestated by the War. Not only cities, but farms had been destoyed and livestock plunderc or slaughtered. The desestation and the battlefield losses significantly affected agricultural production throughout Europe. Adding to the problem, many countries could not afford to import needed food supplies..

American Relief Administration

After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration (ARC). President Wilson at the end of the War, dispatedhed Hoover to Europe to assess the quantity of food needed to prevent starvation. ARC proved to be the primcipal source of food for 300 million people in 21 countries in Europe and the Middle East. Hoover wanted to provide food relief to Germany as well as other countries. Conditions in Germany were especially severe brecause of the Allied blockade. Foot riots in 1918 have been a major reason for the fall of the Kaiser's Givernment. Hoover argued that a generation of stunted bodies and deformed minds would be a poor foundation on which to rebuild Europe. Many months were lost before the Allies would agree to allow the Germans to be included in the relief program. The Amerivan effort 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.

ARA European Children's Fund

The Government-funded ARA officially ceased operations June 30, 1919. Hoove sawm however, that European children would suffere greatly without continued food programs. Hre set up he ARA European Children's Fund as a private charity. The Fund provided food aid to children through Summer 1921. The Fund was financed by American private contributions and the sale of Food Draft Packets. This was how CARE packages originated.

Russia

The ARA after World war I had offered Russia food relief in 1919, despite the Bolsehvick takeover. The Bolshevicks rejected the offer because of the terms involved. The ARA insisted that an American overseer was to be in charge of all food stations to ensure that the food was not distributed on a political or religious basis. World war I in Russia, however, was followed by the terrible Civil War in which 10-15 million people may have been killed (1918-20). Most of the dead were civilians, most dieing from disease and starvation. The country was devestated. The Bolsehvicks changed their minds about the American food offer (1921). Faced with a severe famine as a result of their Civil War and a severe drought, the Bolshevicks accepted the American terms. 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!"

World War II

Hoover during World War II declined to work with the Roosevelt Administration on war relief. Roosevelt offered him a position, but such was his personal bitterness, he rejected it. Hoover did, however, participate in private charities that after the War assisted needy European children. While he was unwilling to work in any capacity with the Roosevelt Administration, he later was to accept an assisngment from President Truman to study government reorganization.

Reader Comments

A European teader wites, "This is an important HBC page and an act of compassion that cannot often enough be remembered. I do not think that many young Europeans know much about this."








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Created: October 23, 2003
Last updated: 4:45 PM 10/23/2007