Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


I was asked to draft such an instruction, which I did with zest, and presented it at the afternoon session. There was some hesitation about adopting it for fear that it was too direct and that the Archduke would defy the Big Four. I suggested that he could be given the impression that the Allies had armies of several million men and that his Rumanian military support was a weak reed. Finally, rather than act through the Allied Commission of four generals which the Big Four had established in Budapest, I was directed to send the telegram over my organization wires to Captain Gregory, who was then in Budapest, for delivery in person, with such verbal instructions as might expedite matters.

On the following day, August 23,1 received over our telegraph system a reply from Captain Gregory, expressed in the effective American slang in conformity with en clair language:

Archie on the carpet at 7 P.M.

Went through the hoop at 7:05 P.M.

We translated the message into proper terms and sent it to the Council then in session. When the messenger handed it to Premier Clemenceau, he also showed him the original telegram. Clemenceau at one time had been a reporter on a New York newspaper and had no difficulty understanding it. He claimed it for his own as a “memento of the war.”

An angry queen brought down the curtain on this episode. After I reached New York in mid-September 1919, a 1,200-word letter reached me from the Queen of Rumania. The letter was written wholly in longhand and the ink itself spluttered her indignation over the report which I had furnished the Big Four about the actions of the Rumanians in Budapest. Today the letter is a collector’s item.


The food blockade of Europe

An immense added burden was inflicted upon President Wilson through continuance of the blockade on Central and Eastern Europe, whose 300,000,ooo people were struggling to live and get on their feet.

Article XXI of the Armistice Agreement provided that: The existing blockade conditions set up by the Allied and Associated Powers are to remain unchanged.

The stated reasons for this provision were to maintain political control of the Continent until peace was made.

I had obtained through the President the following slight modification of this article: The Allies and the United States contemplate the provisioning of Germany during the Armistice as shall be found necessary.

The entire American group in Paris, from the President down, considered a rigid blockade utter folly because it created unemployment, prevented economic recovery and fertilized Communism.

The idea of a blockade to force a political objective or to punish by starvation was a horror to most Americans. Until we arrived in Europe, it had never occurred to any of us that the wartime blockade of food, medical supplies and clothing would be continued against the neutrals and the newly liberated countries or in violation of the indirect promise made to Germany.

Soon after my arrival in Europe in November, I sent members of my staff to Germany to investigate the situation. These men found that the food shortage was worse after the Armistice than before; that the new Republic could neither keep the farmers from hoarding food nor hold in check the bootlegging of food to those who could pay; and that their rationing was breaking down. Worse still, my men reported a general reduction in the weight of the population, actual starvation in the lower-income groups in the cities and such debilitation of millions of children that only stunted minds and stunted bodies could result. A mass of statistics was collected to confirm these conditions.

My staff also reported that the Republic was growing weaker from Spartacist” uprisings; that machine guns were firing in the streets of several cities; and that there was real danger of a revolution on one side from the militarists and on the other from the Spartacists (Communists), both working on the emotions of the hungry people.

… Despite the promise made in the Armistice Agreement, and despite every American effort, the food blockade on Germany was continued for four months after the Armistice. I deal with this subject somewhat extensively as it demonstrates not only an additional worry for the President but also the wide divergence between the American and Allied points of view.

This four months’ delay of food to Germany was a most insensate, wicked action. People can take philosophically the hardships of war. When the fighting is over, they begin to bury the past as part of the fight. But when they lay down their arms and surrender in the belief that they may have food for their women and children, and then find that this instrument of attack upon them is maintained—then hate but slowly dies.

It was a crime in statesmanship against civilization as a whole. It sowed dragon’s teeth of war which two decades later again enveloped most of mankind. But no one who reads the documents and records of the time will ever charge that crime against President Wilson and America. Yet we in the United States have had to suffer from this infection of revenge and bitterness which for a generation poisoned international life.