Hoover fed Belgium during WWI

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Hoover fed Belgium during WWI

In 1914, Herbert Hoover formed the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which is recognized as one of the greatest relief efforts in world history.
In 1914, Herbert Hoover formed the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which is recognized as one of the greatest relief efforts in world history.

Many Americans view Herbert Hoover as a failed President, his administration tarnished by the Great Depression. Belgians, however, have a different opinion.

One hundred years ago, Hoover formed the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which shipped millions of tons of food to prevent Belgium from national starvation during World War I. Unlike his reputation in American history, many Belgians consider Hoover a national savior.

“It’s incredible what Hoover was able to do,” said Thomas Schwartz , curator of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. “He’s still revered by many in Belgium.”

Though Belgium had declared neutrality as early as 1837, Germany opened an invasion on Aug. 4, 1914 and overran the country by mid-month. Over three-fourths of the Belgian food supply was imported, which was soon cut off, and the occupying German forces requisitioned much of the rest. By the fall of 1914, starvation was a threat to some 9 million people in Belgium and areas of northern France also occupied by Belgians.

Hoover, who had accumulated millions as a successful international mining engineer, was in Europe at the outbreak of war along with tens of thousands of stranded Americans, as travel was restricted and credit lines were cancelled. Sensing the need, Hoover organized efforts to raise money and supplies, as well as passage, for 120,000 overseas Americans.

Impressed, a delegation including the U.S. Ambassador to the Unit ed Kingdom, William Hines Page, approached Hoover to lead a Belgian relief effort. “It was serendipity,” said Schwartz of Hoover’s start in Belgian aid. “Hoover was in London at the start of the war to represent the Pan-Pacific exposition, and his great work attracted attention.”

On Oct. 20, 1914, Hoover formed the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), which is recognized as one of the greatest relief efforts in world history. He brought along a circle of friends and associates, many of them engineers, to undertake the mammoth task of feeding virtually an entire nation.

“Hoover did this with considerable risk to himself,” remarked Schwartz. “His personal safety, his business interests, and his fortune were all in jeopardy. Hoover certainly had a lot to lose.” Hoover never accepted a salary as head of the CRB.

Raising money to buy food was at the top of the list, and Hoover solicited donations from various countries and private citizens worldw ide.Within a few weeks, some $2 million had been collected, and after six weeks, Hoover reported that “we had delivered some 60,000 tons of food from overseas.”

The CRB also faced substantial diplomatic issues.Leaders of the United Kingdom, particularly First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, were reticent to assist Belgium, fearing that relief would prevent the Belgian people from rising against their occupiers.Churchill also believed that Germans would intercept the food relief.

Hoover met with German authorities in Berlin and somehow managed to receive a written guarantee that relief food would not be requisitioned by the German armies.Germany also promised freedom of movement in Belgium, as well as safe delivery for the food into Belgium through neighboring Holland. This achievement swayed the British, whose donations averaged $5 million a month thereafter.

“Under Hoover, the CRB was a sort of nation-state,” said Schwartz. “It had its own fl ag, its own navy of ships, and operated almost like a separate entity.”

The food was sent into Rotterdam, using specific naval routes offered by Germany.Once there, the cargo was transferred to canal boats and taken to leading Belgian cities. Then, the goods were distributed to one of nearly 1,200 local distribution points, using over 50,000 Belgian volunteers.

Daily rations were composed of bread, bacon, lard, rice, dried beans or peas, potatoes, brown sugar, and a cereal resembling corn flakes.The 1,800-calorie daily diets cost the CRB an average of eight cents per person per day.

Food was milled within Belgium, and the flour sacks became a symbol of the effort. “The people of Belgium would decorate the sacks by embroidering or painting them,” commented Schwartz. “Then they would return them, as a sort of thank-you card.”The Hoover museum in West Branch holds around 300 of the colorfully decorated sacks.

The effort not only fed the Belgian pop ulation, but provided clothing and medical supplies. Economic recovery was also a priority. The internationally acclaimed Belgian lace industry, which ground to a standstill during wartime, was revived through the efforts of the CRB, putting some 40,000 women back to work.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, the neutrality of the CRB was at stake, and operations were transferred to the Spanish ambassador.Under Hoover’s direction, some 5.2 million metric tons of food were shipped to Belgium.

“That figure is just astounding,” remarked Schwartz. “Just think about how much food that is.It’s incredible to think about.”

During the existence of the CRB, some $800 million was expended, though overhead costs were kept to a meager one-half of one percent.At its end in 1919, the CRB had $35 million in leftover funds, part of which Hoover used to establish two cultural foundations, including the Belgian-American Educational Foundation, which still ex ists.

Honors for Hoover poured in across Belgium, but he declined all of them, declaring that “accomplishment is all that counts.”However, he did accept Belgian King Albert’s unprecedented designation as a “Friend of Belgium.”

Hoover subsequently served as U.S. food administrator, encouraging Americans to voluntarily reduce food consumption amid domestic shortages. He promoted “meatless Mondays” and “wheatless Wednesdays,” and the term “Hooverize” became synonymous with self-imposed rationing. He also served as director of the American Relief Administration, which continued international food distribution.

Hoover was elected President in 1928, a year before the onset of the Great Depression. In contrast to his work in Belgium, he has been frequently criticized for refusing to implement government relief programs to stem the tide of the downturn.He was also lambasted for the Bonus Army fiasco of 1932, when he ordered the armed removal of an encampment of World War I veterans in Washington seeking immediate payment of a promised war bonus.

As a result, many consider Hoover among America’s worst Presidents. Defeated for re-election in a landslide in 1932, Hoover chaired relief efforts for Poland, Finland, and Belgium during World War II.He died on Oct. 20, 1964 â€" fifty years to the day of the establishment of the CRB.

“Hoover’s work with the CRB is a tremendous story,” concluded Schwartz. “His accomplishments are overshadowed by the Great Depression, but what he did before and after his Presidency is remarkable.”

TOM EMERY, of Carlinville, is a freelance writer and historical researcher. He can be reached at 217-710-8392 or ilcivilwar@yahoo.com.

'); // ORIGAMI AD $("#inline-ad").html(''); // BIG BOX AD } else { $("#first-ad").html(''); // BIG BOX AD }Source: Google News Belgium | Netizen 24 Belgium

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