By September 1914 there was a proliferation of funding groups and organisations in Britain and America to support Belgium and Belgian refugees, and a considerable amount of money had been raised. Channelling food and basic essentials through war zones required the agreement of both neutral and belligerent governments; no easy task. The American Legation in Brussels willingly represented British subjects and British interests in occupied Belgium and maintained a proper but friendly relationship with the German civil administration. It was the obvious conduit for negotiations on food imports.

Hugh Gibson, Secretary to the American Legation in Belgium.

The first U.S. diplomat involved was Hugh Gibson, Secretary to the American legation in Belgium.  He arrived in London carrying messages of support for the Belgian Comite Central to Walter Page, the American Ambassador to Britain. By 6 October the diplomatic wheels were beginning to turn. Although the British government agreed that supplies of foodstuffs might be sent to Brussels through the good auspices of the American legation, approval for such an immense responsibility had not been granted by Washington. Indeed the US Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, had yet to have it confirmed from Berlin that the German authorities would give their approval. [1] It was all very well for the German and Belgian authorities to agree a local understanding, but its delivery demanded inter-government approval at the highest level. The proposal hung in the balance, tempting providence. While it would undoubtedly bring rich pickings, that was never the prime reason for Belgian Relief. Nor was it why the British government agreed to the deal. Every decision approved by the Secret Elite had a very clear objective; to prolong the war and crush Germany.

Take care not to fall into the habit of believing all that is written in official histories. They generally slip into convenient plausibility. In this instance, the notion that Herbert Hoover just happened to be available to give his time and effort for the good of the Belgian people, is fantasy. Hoover had never visited Belgium, but he had a long history connecting him to Belgian banks and Belgian investors in the Far East. In raising the necessary capital to facilitate the fraudulent take-over of the Kaiping mines in 1901, Hoover had turned to Belgian bankers and persuaded them to invest heavily. When he returned to China to finalise the fraud it was in the company of the Belgian aristocrat, Chevalier de Wouters. [2] Though they were both criticised for acting in bad faith by Mr Justice Joyce at the High Court of Justice in 1905, [3] they continued to thrive in malpractice and manipulation. Hoover had also been associated with Emile Francqui, one of the richest men in Belgium, in the corrupt Chinese venture and was intrinsically connected by him to Belgian banks and investments. Hoover’s interest in Belgium was not chance.

Herbert Hoover manoeuvred into position to control Relief for Belgium.

What is the truth behind Herbert Hoover’s take-over of Belgian Relief? According to Tracy Kittredge’s history (which Hoover later ordered destroyed) Millard Shaler, an American engineer residing in Brussels, traveled to London and approached Hoover on 26 September requesting his help. [4] However, according to Shaler’s own account in his book ‘Development of the Relief Movement’, it was a British Committee interested in the Belgian refugees which first approached Hoover for his assistance. [5] Now who could that have been? Who was involved with the ‘British Committee’ which approached Herbert Hoover? Shaler’s revelation is exceedingly important because it links Hoover and his consequent take-over of Belgian Relief with an unidentified interest group in Britain; a group whose standing empowered Herbert Hoover to move forward with their support and blessing.

Why Hoover? He was the perfect fit. Unscrupulous, greedy, a ruthless exploiter of men and opportunities, he was utterly devoid of humanitarian sympathies. Knowing as he did, that the scam would prolong the war and all of the misery that followed, Hoover had the complete confidence of the Secret Elite. He was supposed to be neutral but his whole history was that of a rampant anglophile who had built his success inside the British Empire and been richly rewarded. Hoover had lived so long in London ‘that he had fairly intimate relations with many men close to the British Government.’ [6] He knew the top men in Britain, and he knew how to railroad an organisation and turn it into his own. His life’s work had been built on such bully-boy tactics, whether the victims were farmers in the mid-west of the United States, miners in Australia, Chinese officials in Kaiping, Chinese ‘coolies’ sold into slavery in the gold mines of South Africa, [7] or fellow Americans in London who had already organised relief for their stranded compatriots. [8] He used the same lies, the same half-truths, the same access to media exposure and the same patronage to get his way. The generally accepted story of how he achieved this ‘acquisition’, and that is the most accurate term to describe his take-over of Belgian Relief, has been drawn from official documents as recorded by his great friends Hugh Gibson, Millard Shaler and Edgar Rickard, former editor of the Mining Engineer, men whose later success was bound to Hoover’s coat tails.

Chosen for this task by the London elites who deliberately  caused the war, he visited Ambassador Page on 10 October to seek diplomatic support for providing food for Belgium. [9] Please remember that virtually all of the ‘evidence’ comes from Hoover, his close associates, and approved members of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium when he was unquestionably in charge of it. Two years later, when the Americans were attempting to rewrite the record and claim precedence over the original Belgian Comite National, Edgar Rickard stated that Hoover had conferred with Ambassador Page in London as early as 4 October. Not so. Time and again, records relating to Herbert Hoover were altered or ‘lost’, always to the benefit of the American ‘humanitarian’.

Even Hoover’s official biographer, George Nash, concluded that any claim that Hoover was involved prior to 6 October is at best un-corroborated. [10] Everyone agreed that Hoover was responsible for driving forward the Belgian Relief plans, whatever that actually meant, in October 1914. Not so. No one man could ever have managed such a gargantuan task. The Secret Elite ensured that he controlled their venture, its organisation and its finance, but he operated through their trans-Atlantic tentacles, their banks, their shipping, their businesses. In 1916, Ambassador Page put in writing to Hoover that the Belgian Relief effort came ‘around you and at your suggestion’. [11] Did he believe that, or did he just want to ensure that should the truth ever be revealed  the blame could not be attached to himself?  Whatever, it was not Hoover’s suggestion.

'American' Relief organisers

An odd alliance developed between Hoover and Hugh Gibson, his man in the Brussels Legation, (technically the Secretary to the Legation), and Walter Page, the Ambassador in London. Basically, the diplomats colluded with Hoover in altering documents, writing and then rewriting their own history and using adulterated and fabricated reports to establish their accounts as the truth and justify their claims. A prime example of this tactic can be found in Hoover’s manipulation of the American Press to sway opinion so that a sense of burning urgency leant pubic support to government decisions in Washington that would otherwise have been widely criticised. When the US State Department stalled over their involvement in Belgian Relief in October 1914, Hoover turned to his media allies. He was an ‘adroit manipulator of the levers of publicity’ [12] and had cultivated a number of friends in the London press corps.  These  included a fellow alumnus of Stanford University, the ‘strategically placed’ Ben S Allen of Associated Press and Philip Patchin of the Tribune.

The initial announcement of an American organisation for relief in Belgium appeared in a Press Association dispatch on 15 October 1914. In an interview, Hoover outlined the plan. Firstly he claimed that it was absolutely necessary that all funds collected for Belgian relief outside Britain should be centralised in his committee. Allegedly he wanted to avoid the problem of overlapping waste and intended to establish a single commission to absorb all the workers and committees already set up in London and Belgium. [13] In truth, this was the Secret Elite ensuring their absolute control. He also suggested that the best way to aid Belgian refugees would be to repatriate them, a task which could only be undertaken by an American organisation in agreement with all the appropriate governments. [14] This strange and ridiculous suggestion was ignored by the Allies. Perhaps his recent success with the ‘repatriation’ of Americans stranded in Europe had clouded his judgement. It was nonsense, but demonstrated Hoover’s incapacity to grasp the reality of the situation. Repatriation in war time would have been an act of gross inhumanity by the great ‘humanitarian’.

Starving Children of Belgium poster - Hoover's propaganda.From that early point Hoover’s press releases were relentless. He wrote to State Governors with appeals to State pride in being the ‘first’ to fund a ‘Kansas’ ship or a ‘Chicago’ cargo. He organised personal appeals from King Albert of Belgium. [15] He learned to dramatise events so that every press release screamed of an immediate crisis. He made bold and deliberately vague claims that ‘the American commission for relief in Belgium … was the only channel through which food can be introduced into Belgium, and by its association with a committee in Belgium, has the only effective agency for the distribution of food within that country.’ So much for the leading role played by the Comite National in Brussels. His press release also claimed that 80 per cent of the country was unemployed and the relief agencies needed $2,500,000 per month or the consequences would be dire. Laughably, he assured America that ‘every dollar represents actual food’ [16] Headlines in major newspapers across the allied countries screamed ‘America must feed Belgium this winter. There never was a famine emergency so great.’ [17] There was no famine. There was need, but his lies were deliberately set to alarm. They were intended to create the impression of crisis which would force governments and individuals to back the so-called Herbert Hoover initiative.

So for whom was Hoover actually importing the huge shipments of food? We will answer that pressing question in good time.

[1] Bryan to Gerard, 7 October 1914, The American Journal of International Law, p. 314.
[2] Walter W Liggett, The Rise of Herbert Hoover, pp. 87-8.
[3] The Times, 19 January 1905, p. 3.
[4] Tracy Barrett Kittredge, The History of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1914-1917 – Primary Source Edition, p. 37.
[5] George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, The Humanitarian, 1914-1917, p.19.
[6] Ligget, The Rise of Herbert Hoover, p. 223.
[7] John Hamill, The Strange Case of Mr Hoover Under Two Flags, pp. 150-60.
[8] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer, 1874-1914, pp. 5-11.
[9] Kittredge, The History of the Commission, p. 37.
[10] George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer, pp. 390-1.
[11] George I Gay and H H  Fisher, Public Relations for the Commission for Relief in Belgium,   Page’s letter to Hoover, 25 February 1916.   Photostat copy opposite page 18. http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/CRB/CRB1-TC.htm
[12] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer, p. 21.
[13] New York Herald, 15 October 1914.
[14] Kittredge, The History of the Commission, p. 40.
[15] New York Times, 1 November 1914.
[16] Ibid.
[17] The Times, 13 Oct 1914.