One of thousands of charity appeals during the First World WarOne of the main problems with which Hoover and his Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) had to contend was the proliferation of relief funds and war charities. Collections for Armenia, for the American Red Cross, for Jews suffering through the war, for prisoners of war, for the French wounded were among the many that sprung up like mushrooms in the United States. [1] Hoover had no time for other groups which were competing for charitable donations, and his major concern was the Rockefeller Foundation which was independently organising food and supplies for Belgium. To make matters worse,  a well respected New York philanthropist, Robert de Forest, formed yet another  independent Belgian Relief Committee in America just days before the CRB was established. Keeping control of such organisations in the United States was much more problematic than holding a monopoly in Europe.

Hoover was concerned that the Rockefeller Foundation intended to establish an independent relief channel into Belgium which would supplant his own, [2] an intolerable situation given that it would undermine the Secret Elite plan to supply Germany. There was a financial consideration too. Had the Rockefeller Foundation won the day, they would have operated through Rockefeller banks rather than the Morgan Guaranty Trust Bank through which future funds were to be channelled to Hoover. A  counterattack was launched through the same channels Hoover had used to grab control of the American Citizens’ Committee in London. He lied and misrepresented his status in precisely the same manner, and called on his powerful political connections to enable him to have his way. Ambassador Page dutifully dispatched a blunt cable to the Rockefeller Foundation which, in all probability, was ghost-written by Hoover himself. [3] The telegram insisted that the CRB was the ‘only organisation’ recognised by both belligerents in the war, and the only one capable of co-ordinating support from all parts of the world. Hoover was absolutely insistent that shipping be organised by the CRB and wanted guarantees that the Rockefeller Foundation would restrict itself to the purchase and collection of food. [4] He would deal with the funds or, rather, Secret Elite associate J P Morgan Jnr would through his Guaranty Trust Bank of New York.

J D Rockefeller senior and junior. Their vast wealth was based on Standard Oil. They set up the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913

As part of his orchestrated move against the Rockefeller Foundation, Hoover had asked his friend and long term business associate, Lindon Bates, to open a branch office in New York to handle all shipping and transportation in the United States. While Hoover sought to give the CRB the appearance of inclusion by offering both the Rockefeller Foundation and de Forest representation on his Commission, he had no intention of sharing control with them. He informed Bates in a private letter that he did not ‘propose to be dictated to by any little hole in the corner organisation in New York’ [5] Hoover sent the Rockefeller Foundation a cable declaring that he had received a loan from the Belgian bankers which was absolutely conditional on his complete control of shipping and transportation. [6] Lie after lie. Dishonesty and deceit. Does this read like a humanitarian venture?

Hoover’s close ties to the Anglo-American establishment had given him access to the sympathetic American Ambassadors, Walter Page in London and Brand Whitlock in Brussels. They stirred every issue to the advantage of the CRB, portraying a sense of immediate urgency either to the US government or the press. In October Whitlock sent an alarming message to President Wilson advising that ‘in two weeks the civil population of Belgium will face starvation’. He sought urgent support ‘to provide foods for the hungry ones in the dark days of the terrible winter that is coming on.’ [7] It all made good copy and Hoover’s backers won the day.

To permit the smooth running of the CRB, agreements were co-ordinated through diplomatic channels that operated well above the scope and level of access to which any ordinary citizen was normally accustomed. At Hoover’s request, Ambassador Page asked the British Foreign Office to designate a sufficiently important link with the Commission to obviate the red tape which constantly slowed down effective decision making. His personal friend, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, duly appointed Lord Eustace Percy. A member of the British Establishment and the Secret Elite’s Grillion’s Club, [8] Percy fully co-operated with Hoover and enabled CRB members to go directly to senior government officials rather than wait for diplomatic permission. [9]

Marquis of Villalobar, the Spanish Ambassador in Brussels, flamboyant and aristocratic, he was also a hard-working patron of the CRB.

The British Foreign Office liaised with the Belgians to rubber-stamp agreements between German military authorities and the neutral representatives, namely the American and Spanish Ambassadors in Belgium. The Spanish Ambassador, the formidable Marquis de Villalobar, an old-school aristocrat, ‘mad and touchy’, according to Brand Whitlock, [10] was considered ‘ornamental’ by Hoover [11] but that was both unfair and typical of Hoover’s dismissive nature. The Spanish Ambassador proved to be exceptionally hard working on a day to day basis, and had no fear whatsoever of Prussian arrogance. That, he could meet with his own. [12] He threw himself into the work believing it to be a grand humanitarian effort and we have found no evidence to connect him to the Secret Elite.

The conditions under which the relief for Belgian civilians were permitted to operate were set in October 1914 and explained in a letter to Ambassador Page from the Foreign Office:

‘Sir Edward Grey has written to Baron Lambert [a leading Belgian banker in the Comite National and related by marriage to the Rothschilds] telling him that we are not stopping any food supplies going to Rotterdam – from neutral countries in neutral ships – which we are satisfied are not for the use of the German Government or Army, and we shall not therefore interfere with the food supplies for the civil population of Belgium unless we have reason to suppose that the assurance given by Marshal von der Goltz to the American and Spanish Ministers is not being carried out.’ [13]

The Foreign Office, the Secret Elite’s strongest arm in government, thus made it plain that Hoover’s organisation had their blessing. But Grey’s letter was deliberately vague. As far as the British public were concerned, the Commission for Relief in Belgium was only permitted to operate under a series of strict and binding guarantees. The Germans guaranteed that they would not requisition supplies destined for the civil population. [14]  Neutral governments, in this case America, Spain and Holland, agreed to monitor the relief agency, and the Belgian government in exile was required to approve the whole process. Neutral ships would  carry the produce to a neutral port where the Comite Central (later the Comite National) would deal with its distribution. Ambassadors and Heads of Legations in Washington, Madrid, London, Berlin and Brussels were directly involved in a flurry of permits and promises.

 A Belgian Relief Ship clearly identified so that U-Boats would leave intact.A group of American students drawn from Oxford University, Rhodes scholars, were employed as neutral observers. They were supposed to check the imported produce, where it went and how it was disbursed so that the CRB could prove that the international conditions were met. In truth, if all twenty-five of them concentrated on a single ship-load, there was no certainty that they had the necessary skills to understand what was happening.

At no stage was the task of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) easy or straightforward. Despite all of the advantages of his connections both with the Secret Elite and the American and Belgian diplomatic corps, Hoover had to fight hard to establish his absolute control.  He had then to ensure that it, and it alone, had a monopoly of foodstuffs supplied through Rotterdam to Belgium, and, most importantly of all, to Germany. That was the unspoken part of this complicated equation. You will find no reference in the official histories of supplies being directed to Germany but they certainly were.  Irrefutable proof from German sources will be presented in future blogs.

By the end of the first six months of the war, the structure was more of less in place. The CRB’s headquarters in London was controlled absolutely by Hoover at no. 3 London Wall Buildings in the heart of the financial district. What grace of fortune kissed his venture and granted him rent-free premises two doors away from his own company offices in the very same prestigious London Wall Buildings? [15] Even more fortuitously, the firm which signed off the final accounts covering October 1914 to September 1920, Deloitte, Plender, Griffiths & Co., were registered at 5 London Wall Buildings. Amazing. A Century later these premises remain part of the JP Morgan empire in London. [16]

In many ways the organisation that Hoover led was utterly unique. The CRB was unincorporated, had no legal status in commercial law, was unanswerable to any shareholders, had no prospectus or annual general meetings, no business plan or set targets, yet it signed up to international agreements, engaged in worldwide transactions and spent huge sums of money for which successful international banks which willingly co-operated. It ran its own fleet of ships with its own flag.  It made claim to be American but that, as we shall demonstrate, was also a flag of convenience. What Hoover constructed was described as ‘a piratical state organised for benevolence’ [17]

Barges in Rotterdam flying the CRB Flag

More appropriately we would describe it as a piratical state organised for and by unaccountable men who masked the immense benefits they reaped for themselves behind the good works of others. They also masked their true objective – a war of sufficient length to crush Germany’s economic prowess and remove her as a threat to Anglo-Saxon pre-eminence across the globe.

All that was required was the money to pay for it.

[1] There are many pertinent examples. A number can be found in the New York Times throughout July 1916, from which those mentioned in the text are drawn.
[2] George Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, The Humanitarian, 1914-1917 p. 52.
[3] Ibid., p. 49.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hoover to Bates, 13 November 1914, Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 54.
[6] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 55.
[7] Whitlock to Bryan, 16/10/14, Gay and Fisher. Doc. 8, cited in the American Journal of International Law, p. 314.
[8] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 31.
[9] Tracey Barrett Kittredge, The History of the Commission for Relief in Belgium – Primary Source Edition, p. 56.
[10] Brand Whitlock, Letters and Journals 10 December 1914 http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Whitlock/bw05.html
[11] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 80.
[12] A perusal of Brand Whitlock’s Letters and Journals shows just how involved and useful the Marquis was on a daily basis in Brussels. http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Whitlock/bw05.html
[13] George I Gay and HH Fisher, Public Relations for the Commission  for Relief in Belgium, p.13  Letter from Sir Arthur Nicolson, 20 October 1914 to Ambassador Page. http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/CRB/CRB1-TC.htm
[14] Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 March, 1915, p. 1.
[15] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 34.
[16] The Commission for Relief in Belgium, Balance Sheet and Accounts, http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t04x5vs3b;view=1up;seq=7
[17] Gay and Fisher, Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, p. 5. http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/CRB/CRB1-TC.htm