Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


[ In Paris a thousand problems descended upon the President. The administrative detail was exhausting in itself, and to this could be added the steady pressure of daily decisions required to handle the political eruptions taking place all over Europe .]

Troubles with the Communists

One of the side problems which drained the President’s vitality during the Armistice was the activities of the Communists, who were busy spreading revolution over Central and Eastern Europe through Russian agents, financed by captured Czarist gold. …

Communist Russia was a specter which wandered into the Peace Conference almost daily. There was no unity among the Big Four on how to deal with it.

On January 16, 1919, the Allies invited the Soviet Government to send representatives to a conference at Prinkipo, an island in the Sea of Marmora off the Turkish coast. The Communists toyed with the idea but demanded advance agreements. Several unofficial Americans visited Moscow and came back with various ideas for the President on how to make peace with the Soviet Government. All the offers by Communists to negotiate contained impossible advance stipulations.

During the Armistice all of the Allied and Associated Powers were involved in supporting attacks by “White” armies against the Soviet Government. In Siberia, the United States and Japan were supporting the White Army of General Kolchak. From the Black Sea, the British and French were supporting the White Armies of Generals Denikin and Wrangel. The Allies, including the United States, had taken Murmansk on the Arctic to prevent large stores of munitions, sent to aid the Kerensky regime, from reaching the Communists. Later the British supported a White Army under General Yudenich in an attack directed at Petrograd from the Northern Baltic.

The British and French exerted great pressure on Mr. Wilson for Americans to join in a general attack on Communist Russia. General Foch drew up plans for such an attack. Winston Churchill, representing the British Cabinet, appeared before the Big Four on February 14, 1919, and demanded a united invasion of Russia. The President’s attitude toward Churchill’s proposal is indicated by a telegram from the George Washington during the first journey home. It is given in the Swem Papers [journal of Charles L. Swem, the President’s private secretary] as follows:

January 19, 1919


Am greatly surprised by Churchill’s recent suggestion. I distinctly understood Lloyd George to say that there could be no thought of military action and what I said at the hurried meeting Friday afternoon was meant only to convey the idea that I would not take any hasty separate action myself but would not be in favor of any course which would not mean the earliest practicable withdrawal of military forces. It would be fatal to be led further into the Russian chaos.

Not only was the President opposed to American participation in such a plan, but General Tasker Bliss [ex-Army Chief of Staff, a Peace Commission member], on February 26, circulated a strong note among the American Delegation opposing any such intervention. I agreed with General Bliss.


On March 26, after the President’s return to Paris, he asked for a memorandum on my information and opinion on the Soviet problem. After I had drawn up the memorandum, it occurred to me that something constructive might actually be done about the problem.

I stated that I had the most serious doubt that outside forces could do other than infinite harm, for any great wave of emotion must ferment and spread under repression, and I continued:

We have also to … [consider], what would actually happen if we undertook military intervention. We should probably be involved in years of police duty, and our first act would probably in the nature of things make us a party with the Allies to re-establishing the reactionary classes. It also requires consideration as to whether or not our people at home would stand for our providing power by which such reactionaries held their position. Furthermore, we become a junior in this partnership of four. It is therefore inevitable that we would find ourselves subordinated and even committed to policies against our convictions.


In all these lights, I have the following suggestions:

First: We cannot even remotely recognize this murderous tyranny without stimulating actionist radicalism in every country in Europe and without transgressing … every National ideal of our own.

Second: That some Neutral of international reputation for probity and ability should be allowed to create a second Belgian Relief Commission for Russia. He should ask the Northern Neutrals, who are especially interested both politically and financially in the restoration of better conditions in Russia, to give to him diplomatic, financial and transportation support; … He should be told that we will raise no obstructions and that we would even help his humanitarian task if he gets assurances that the Bolsheviki will cease all militant action across certain defined boundaries and cease their subsidizing of disturbances abroad …

The President welcomed my plan because it would keep the Allied militarists in Paris busy debating for some time, and also because, if it succeeded, it would be of great value in saving human life and bringing stability to Europe.