Wednesday, September 22, 2010

President Herbert Hoover

From what I have heard I think Herbert Hoover must be one of the most unpopular presidents the United States has ever had. This was somewhat surprising for me since Hoover is one name from American history I had at least heard before and I associated with positive feelings. If President Hoover is not popular in the United States he should still be popular in Belgium where he did considerable work to help the people (before he was elected president) during the most severe days of our history in the Great War. Some people think it was the reputation Hoover gained as an impartial, getting-things-done, humanitarian during this work was what helped put him into the position of becoming President of the United States. His accomplishments are impressive.

As soon as the world war began Herbert Hoover helped get 120,000 Americans (tourists, students, businessmen etc) out of Europe where they were in danger. He also organized 500 volunteers to bring food, clothes, tickets for overseas transportation and money to the refugees. While he was doing this Mr. Hoover was aghast by the plight of the poor Belgians. The kingdom had been overrun, the heroic army under King Albert only hanging on to a small corner of the territory national. Naturally the Germans took all the resources for themselves in the occupied zone and there was a terrible food shortage that caused very much suffering for the people of Belgium. Into this situation Mr. Hoover stepped in to help. He launched a civilian relief effort such as the world had never seen before under the organization of the Committee for Relief in Belgium or CRB.

The chairman of the CRB was Emile Francqui but Hoover was the real driving force of the effort as the chief of operations. Almost like a sovereign entity the CRB had its own flag, navy, factories, mills and railroads all geared to bringing help to the suffering Belgians. Their efforts combined with government grants and generous donations from people (mostly Americans) gave the CRB an amazing (for that time) budget of eleven million dollars a month! Mr. Hoover won fame around the world as he worked 14-hour days to see more than 2.5 million tons of food sent to 9 million Belgian victims of the war. He had to deal with numerous problems such as German submarines sinking his ships, but also the British blockade which proved to be a cause of great frustration as they wanted nothing to go to the continent that the Germans could possibly get their hands on. Hoover, working out of London, crossed the channel himself to meet with German leaders to persuade them to allow food shipments for the Belgians into the country.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917 the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson put Hoover in charge of the U.S. Food Administration where he helped save food at home so that what was needed could go to the brave soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force. After the war was over Hoover was put in charge of the American Relief Administration to send food to the millions of starving people in Central Europe, victims of both the overreaching needs of their own governments, the ravages of war and the British blockade of Europe. Once again Hoover clashed with the British allies as he wanted to send food to the starving people of Germany while the British blockade remained in effect even after the Germans had signed the armistice. Hoover saw the starving women and children and this, combined with the problems the British had given him in getting food to occupied Belgium, meant that Hoover never had a very cordial relationship with the British Empire. Nonetheless, he finally did send food to Germany as well as Russia which upset many people but Hoover said, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!”

I do not know about the politics of Hoover or what he did right or wrong as President of the United States but he certainly seems to me a great humanitarian and should be remembered fondly, particularly for the Belgians, because of all of his efforts to help the helpless, feed the hungry, even opposing his own allies if necessary because he saw no ethnicities, parties or flags when he saw suffering people. I think there is a park named after him somewhere but regardless of that, when today we so much talk about our problems with each other and the negative things maybe we should at least remember someone like President Hoover who did so much good for so many people and give some thanks for that, from one country to another.


  1. Oh yes, he was a horrible president in the US, although it was nice to read the comments you wrote here. He failed to help the US recover after the stock market crash, and in part due to his bad policies, the US entered into the Great Depression. He is most often viewed as one of the worst presidents in US History

  2. Sometimes good men can make very big mistakes. Perhaps that is the case here. I do not know what his US policies were but he seemed a very good man with his help for the Belgians, not ignoring the faults of his own side and even reaching out to help the enemies of his own country. That makes me think his good intentions were genuine.