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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
A third of a century since his defeat and death, most of the passion that surrounded Woodrow Wilson in life is spent. Nearly all his friends and contemporaries have left the scene, and a world resounding to fresh agonies catches only echoes of the crusade that failed and of the opportunity cast aside at the close of the “war to end wars.” But the figure of the crusader himself, the unlikely St. George in silk hat and pincenez, the Presbyterian moralist wrestling with a backsliding world, remains ever interesting, a hero suited to Shakespearean tragedy, the center of an ever-mounting literature.
Of all the new books about him, none can match in basic importance the one excerpted here, The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson , by Herbert Hoover. Save for Wilson himself, who wrote a biography of Washington, no other President of the United States has written a book about another. Unlike Mr. Churchill in England, very few American Presidents have ventured far into history or any other form of literature save for the publication of their papers, speeches, and autobiographies. But Mr. Hoover has had more than the advantage of sharing the burdens of the same great office with his subject; both as Food Administrator and as unofficial adviser, he worked for him. On many occasions, Mr. Hoover sat at Wilson’s side, in private and at the conference table, during the war and the peacemaking, the period with which his book is concerned. Most importantly, he shared Wilson’s ideals and aspirations and saw them, after endless, man-killing struggles, dashed in large part to earth. Mr. Hoover writes not only with the grace born of simplicity, wide experience, and clear organization, but also with humor and sympathy. His is a remarkable work which illuminates with a fresh light the tragic figure whose presence must still haunt every statesmen’s conference table and every meeting at the “summit” until some kind of lasting peace descends upon this battered planet.
President Wilson, in the memories of thinking men, is the only enduring leader of those statesmen who conducted the First World War and its aftermath of peacemaking. I served under him in those times. I was a witness to the ordeal and tragedy of Woodrow Wilson. I had some background and a point of vantage from which to evaluate his endeavor to serve mankind.
It may be recalled that for eighteen years before the First World War I had been an administrative engineer, managing large industries in Russia, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Mexico and the United States. These projects required for their successful conduct some knowledge of their governments, their economics and their history. My relations with their peoples were not as a tourist or a diplomat. I participated in their daily life and work.
With the coming of the First World War, I directed the relief of 10,000,000 people in Belgium and Northern France who were victims of occupation by the German Army and were blockaded by the Allies. To accomplish this purpose I had to obtain agreements with the Germans for protection of our supplies, and with the British and French for permission to pass through their blockade. The administration of this huge enterprise required frequent contact with the British, French and German Prime Ministers and their military authorities. And in that period I had need for support from President Wilson and members of his Cabinet.
Shortly after we entered the war in April 1917,1 was appointed United States Food Administrator, acting directly under President Wilson. I served on the President’s American War Council throughout our participation in the war.
During the peacemaking, and some time after, I administered the Relief and Reconstruction of Europe directly under the President, but on behalf of all the victorious governments. That work required an organization in more than thirty countries with constant dealings with the prime ministers and high officials of each of the governments in Europe. Our organization included about 4.000 able Americans and many more thousands of local assistants.
Because this organization was the best equipped to furnish information useful to the peacemakers in Paris and had the only telegraph system connecting those countries, during the Armistice I was called to many sessions of the Council of Ten and the later created Supreme Council, colloquially called the “Big Four.” I served on many political missions on their behalf apart from my regular job. And during the Peace Conference I served on President Wilson’s Committee of Economic Advisers.
Why do I recite all this? Because I hope the reader will believe that I am informed and hope he will credit me with objectivity in analysis of President Wilson’s high endeavors, his evangelistic idealism, his successes, his difficulties, the purpose of his compromises and the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.
With thirty-nine years of contacts with world affairs since that treaty, and the aid of the mass of subsequent information and disclosures, I can possibly contribute to an understanding of the gigantic tragedy which enveloped Woodrow Wilson and the whole world.
As I have gone over thousands of musty papers in my files, memories have sprung vividly to life and often have attested the amount of error and misrepresentation in what has been written about Woodrow Wilson.
My association with him was such that I necessarily formed convictions as to his philosophy of life, his character and his abilities which have deepened during these four decades. My appraisal of him is based solely on my own experiences with him and my knowledge of the forces with which he had to deal.