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Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson
The great tragedy of the twenty-eighth President as witnessed by his loyal lieutenant, the thirty-first
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
We sat for hours poring over the document. A summary of our views is worthy of record. The first question was: “How can the feeble German Republic endure if the Allies reimpose the food blockade to force its signature?” At this time our organization was struggling desperately against the world’s shortage of food to prevent acute starvation in Germany. The delay in getting food to the Germans, by continuing the blockade for four months despite the promise made at the time of the Armistice, had drained almost the last remnants of breadstuffs and fats from their farms. The supplies which we could command with the shipping available were already below the need, and there was much suffering among the German workers. The situation was so bad that, in order to save the children of Germany, we had to channel a considerable part of the food supplies to this pitifully undernourished multitude, which added to the privation of their elders.
We were in a daily race against the spread of Communism (the Spartacists), which was steadily weakening the new German Republic under Ebert and Scheidemann, who, while they had no hesitation in using machine guns, were in fact using the food we supplied as their major weapon in maintaining order. The Communists had periodically seized various cities and provinces after the Armistice and had been suppressed in a sea of blood. Only a month before, the Spartacist Government of the Ruhr had been overthrown by bloody action. Twice Bavaria had gone Spartacist, and the last time had been only seven days before. Despite all this, the Big Four had overridden the President and decided to reimpose the blockade until the Germans signed on the dotted line. My staff and I asked ourselves how many days of starvation the German Government could endure before it went over to Communism or to military dictatorship.
Even if the German Republic did not succumb to Communism or militarism, we feared that the separation of segments of the German people on her east and west borders would make Germany a poisonous breeding ground for unification movements. The Treaty would reduce the population from about 90,000,000 to about 60,000,000 under the Reich. We recalled that, in the past, European statesmen had periodically dismembered Germany and had lived to see it unified in the explosion of war.
We canvassed the consequences of the transfer of segments of other races to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania. Some of these nations were already virtually at war over their boundaries.
Along with these doubts, we were completely agreed that the provisions for monetary and commodity reparations required from Germany would bring quick disaster. We were certain that the claims for damages without some fixed sum within her capacity to pay would stifle her ability and incentive to maintain production. We believed the initial reparations payment of five billion dollars in cash, coal, machinery, tools and ships would strip Germany of working capital. This alone would prevent her from regaining industrial productivity from which reparations could be paid. Our calculations, for instance, showed that Germany’s possible coal supply would be cut nearly in half by her loss of Alsace-Lorraine, the Saar and parts of Silesia. The Germans would have no fuel for household use if they were to keep their industries going.
We examined the question of mandates and the elements of positive empire building among the mandatories. We believed the repression of freedom movements in the Arab States would yield only trouble. The great injury to China, by assigning the German titles in the Shantung Province to Japan, would keep Asia in a turmoil.
We were all staunchly for the Covenant of the League but had fears of the outcome of Article X and the coercion provisions.
My colleagues and I were of the opinion that the Germans, when they had their say, would no doubt point out with truth that the Treaty was far removed from the President’s “basis of peace,” upon which they had surrendered. They would probably indicate every loophole in the Treaty with vigor and would no doubt ask for more than they deserved. Those of my group who knew the members of the German Ministry were convinced that the Germans could not sign the Treaty as it stood and survive politically at home.
We believed that, if the Germans did sign without substantial relaxation in terms, there could be no real recovery in Germany and the Treaty would sooner or later need to be revised. On the other hand, we believed that, if they signed on the proposed terms, the economic degeneration in the rest of the world would be checked. Its signing should end the killing of men; it would end the blockade and the black lists; it would restore many technical treaties upon which international commerce revolved; it would tend to reduce the vast unemployment over the world; it would bring new hope to the rest of the world.
However, my colleagues and I concluded that the first thing to do was to use our influence, however minor, to improve the Treaty.
[ On several occasions, and in a long memorandum, Mr. Hoover urged the President to demand modifications. He suggested among other things that the British, suffering a change of heart, might support him .]