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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
The British gradually came around to the American point of view, but the French continued their obstructionist tactics. Although this obstruction was both exasperating and destructive of the possibilities of ultimate world peace, I often wondered what the attitudes of the American people would be if they had been twice, within the recollection of the living, invaded by a more powerful, ruthless, destroying, plundering enemy. Would we then have been willing to make sacrifices in the hope that our invaders could be brought to co-operate in building peace for mankind? However, in this case, it seemed to us Americans that the course was clear—that we must build on the one hope of supporting the new Republic of Germany. The only alternative was Carthage. …
At the first meeting, on January 12, of the Supreme Allied Council of Supply and Relief I proposed that, subject to the Germans handing over the refugee ships [German merchant ships that had taken refuge in neutral ports at the time of the surrender; it had been proposed that these be used to carry relief supplies], they should receive an installment of 200,000 tons of breadstuffs and 70,000 tons of fat products, with further supplies later. No action resulted and Vance McCormick [a member of the President’s Committee of Economic Advisers] and I, supported by General Bliss, urged upon the President when he returned to Paris that these matters should receive immediate attention. The President arranged for a hearing before the Council of Ten on January 13.
At the meeting I sat in a small chair behind the President’s right shoulder. Vance was behind him to the left. Allied officials likewise sat in chairs behind their Prime Ministers. In order to coach our champions in the debate, we had to poke our heads out from behind. This conducting of a synthetic debate by the bobbing of heads was a little difficult. However, the President made a strong presentation.
Such conferences were held periodically during January and without results, owing to the obstructionist tactics sometimes of the British and always of the French, under one excuse or another.
On the evening of March 7, Prime Minister Lloyd George asked me to see him to discuss the situation. With him was General Plumer, Commander of the British Occupation Army in Germany. General Plumer was in a state of emotion rare for a British soldier. He announced to me in tragic tones that Germany must have food. That was no news to me. What he said later on, however, was helpful. He said that the rank and file of his army were sick and discontented and wanted to go home because they just could not stand the sight of hordes of skinny and bloated children pawing over the offal from British cantonments. His soldiers were actually depriving themselves to feed these kids. Plumer added that the country was going Bolshevist. I supported all his arguments.
After Plumer left, Lloyd George demanded to know why I did not send in food. He said that I had been appointed to that job and that the Council had authorized it on January 13. Not often do I lose my temper. But this was too much. I was also weary from constant obstructionism by day and constant work by night. In my explosion I reviewed the British lack of co-operation since I had arrived in Europe, the ruin which would have come to our farmers by the repudiation of contracts and the reimposition of the blockade on December 31. I stated that we had in consequence been forced to store hundreds o thousands of tons of food in neutral ports, much of it highly perishable. I pointed out that the British Navy, since the Armistice, had viciously prevented the Germans from fishing in the Baltic, which had been one of their food sources all during the war. I recited a list of cities in Germany which had already gone Communist (Spartacist). I handed him a telegram from our staff representative stating that machine guns were chattering in Berlin streets at that very moment. I added a few points about starving women and children after a nation had surrendered in order to get food for them, and added that no honest man could read the promises of the Armistice without a blush. I said that the Germans had not had a ton of food in the four months since that promise. I recalled that during these months I had been warning of the steady advance of the Communists among a hungry people and of the weakening of the new German representative government. I expressed my opinion that the Allies were on the point of having nothing better to make peace out of in Germany than they had in Communist Russia.
Lloyd George was a humane and overworked man. He had been helpful to me on many vital occasions over the previous four years. I immediately regretted this outbreak, apologized for it and was about to leave when, to my surprise, he mildly inquired if I would deliver “parts of that speech” to the Council of Ten. I said that I would be delighted to do so, but that it would carry much more weight if it came from him. He asked if I would give him some notes on what had happened and what I proposed, which I did on the spot. When I returned to my room and put on paper what I had said, I promptly came to the conclusion that most of my explosion must be eliminated and so I prepared some notes in softer terms. …
The American attack on the blockade as a whole did not let up for a moment until the Peace Treaty was signed. Minor relaxations were obtained, but any comprehensive major action was either opposed or delayed by the French. The net effect was not only the stifling of production, but the steady economic degeneration of Europe.