One of the essential skills that the shrewd investor requires is the ability to recognise the moment to sell and move on. The really successful investor has an additional edge; insider information. Herbert Hoover was blessed with well concealed contacts who advised and directed his career paths so that he was guided into safe waters from the storm that would surely follow the closure of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Towards the end of 1916 Hoover wanted out. For nearly two and a half years he had fronted the international funding for the relief programme and had accrued good impressions upon which he intended to build.

 Hoover in his younger years.

Herbert Hoover could rightly claim to number among his friends, Sir Edward Grey and his acolytes in the British Foreign Office [1] and President Wilson’s special advisor, Colonel Edward Mandel House and Secretary of State Robert Lansing. The Secret Elite on both sides of the Atlantic knew that Hoover had doggedly mastered the successful implementation of Belgian Relief to the advantage of all. His New York office manager, William Honnold told him confidentially that President Wilson intended to create a Relief organisation in America to co-ordinate and collect funds. Hoover instantly saw this as an opportunity for a position within the Wilson government. He confided to an associate in November 1916, ‘I would like to get out of Europe and I would like to get out with dignity’. [2]

In the post-Somme aftermath the war took a desperate turn for Germany. Britain began to apply its naval blockade seriously and Germany struggled through a damagingly poor harvest thanks to their access to Belgian foodstuffs and Romanian grain. In a global context, grain prices continued to rise alarmingly and the Allies found it increasingly onerous to fund relief for Belgium.

Hoover tried to set up a new mode of finance for the CRB which would remove the burden from Britain and France who were financing the Commission with loans from America. The solution was to raise an American loan rather than continuing to channel funds firstly to Britain and France which they then fed into the CRB. JP Morgan and his banking associates knew well that the Allies could not continue to support Belgium indefinitely and they advised Hoover to suggest a more direct approach. [3] In December 1916, he confidently reported that: ‘The bankers include Morgans, Guaranty Trust, and all other important groups, who are acting entirely out of good feeling’ were prepared to support the loan. Bankers acting entirely out of good feeling … an oxymoron surely? Hoover then proceeded to advise his men in Europe that the French and Belgian governments should settle the details with Morgan’s bank in London. [4] Clearly it was impossible for JP Morgan to advocate a relief loan which his banks could fund through the Federal Reserve System, from which they would make considerable profit, but if the suggestion came from the head of the CRB, it had much more chance of being approved by Congress.

Australian memorial to soldiers from New South Wales who died at Messines in 1917.

When Hoover set off for America on 13 January 1917 with the clear objective of refocusing his career, the omens for the CRB were not auspicious. The Miners’ Battalion from New South Wales formally requested that their State Relief Fund Committee stop sending money to support Belgian Relief because they could see that the Germans were seizing the food supplies. [5] Apart from New Zealand, the people of New South Wales had contributed more per head of the population than any other state in the world and this was publicly recognised by King Albert of the Belgians. [6] According to one report, Australian soldiers had seen so many instances of relief food going to the German troops that the CRB was asked to return $220,000 of as yet unspent money. [7] Several continents away, Hoover’s men ignored the Australians’ serious and well-founded allegations and produced a ‘barrage’ of positive, fawning articles in the New York Times in recognition of their leader’s achievements. [8]

Herbert Hoover always appeared to be in the right place at the right time. He had been in London at the outbreak of war in 1914, in Berlin with Arthur Zimmerman and the banker Max Warburg in 1915, [9] and in Brussels during Edith Cavell’s trial. [10] Back in Washington on 31 January 1917, he met with President Wilson on the same evening that Germany announced the commencement of its unrestricted submarine warfare. [11] Within three days two CRB ships, the Euphrates and the Lars Cruse carrying 2,300 tons of Maize had been sunk. [12] All Relief shipping was suspended. In the ensuing rush to safe harbour two CRB ships made it to Rotterdam, a further two were torpedoed, and the remainder sought refuge in British ports

Belgian Relief ship clearly marked for submarine attention

The British government declared that it would be ‘a crime on their part’ to allow cargoes of foodstuffs, which were needed immediately in Britain, to be put at risk from German torpedoes and duly ordered that the food be unloaded. [13] Twenty-five thousand tons of merchandise purchased in Britain was instantly held back. Forty-five thousand tons of foodstuffs was ‘unavoidably’ detained and a further forty thousand tons already on the high seas destined for Belgium was ordered into British ports. [14] Allegedly the food was to be held in storage, though not indefinitely, until the Germans gave cast-iron guarantees of their safe transportation. [15] At a stroke, one hundred thousand tons of food was lost to Belgium and sold to, or requisitioned by Britain. [16]

Hoover was faced with an immediate personal dilemma. What would the consequences be for him if he disbanded the CRB? His distrust of Francqui and the CNSA was profound. He sent an urgent cable to London: ‘I wish to make it absolutely clear: the CRB must be liquidated and disappear’, except as a purely benevolent soliciting agency in the USA. ‘The whole of the files must be transferred to New York’. [17] He insisted that a definitive break had to be made if relief was to continue, that the separation had to involve the complete ‘dissolution’ of the original CRB, and that he would ‘positively refuse’ to surrender its money, its organisation or its ships, on any other terms. [18] Who did he think he was? On his instruction alone, the international relief programme was to be liquidated. All the files had to be gathered together and sent to New York. What motivated Herbert Hoover was self-preservation. To hell with Belgian Relief; so much for the starving poor. This was the action of an endangered dictator whose first thought was to close down the operation and remove all evidence of wrong-doing. What caused this panic? Did he suddenly realise that if someone else took charge, the CRB’s true purpose would be unmasked?

A typical banquet at the Astor Hotel in New York.

That same evening he attended a special dinner in the Astor Hotel in New York as chief guest of five hundred of the State’s most prominent citizens. Though not an official Pilgrims Society meeting, it boasted all the trappings of the elite. In the full knowledge of his absolute instructions to London, the speech he apparently improvised was cynically disingenuous: ‘If we must retire … then other neutrals must take up this work. The world cannot stand by and witness the starvation of the Belgian people and the Belgian children … the obligation of the American people towards Belgium continues.’ He stood on the platform of the Astor Hotel and delivered these words, having just ordered that the whole programme be liquidated. His gall knew no bounds. In justifying what had taken place he declared that ‘the German army has never eaten one tenth of one per cent of the food provided. The Allied governments would never have supplied us with $200,000,000 if we were supplying the German army’. [19] The assembled elite audience swallowed every syllable of the lie.

We do not know what pressure was brought to bear on him, but next morning Hoover sent a second urgent cable to London to stop the liquidation. Everyone was instructed to stay at their posts. Hoover had erred. The ‘great humanitarian’ had over-recached himself. He was answerable to a higher authority. The Secret Elite would decide if and when the CRB and the feeding of Germany would come to an end.

Herbert Hoover found it difficult to stomach the fact that the CRB was not his to dissolve. In Brussels, Brand Whitlock, the head of the American Legation, wanted to leave the relief programme intact under the control of the Spanish and Belgian agencies. Hoover, who passionately disliked and distrusted Francqui and the CNSA, advocated a Dutch takeover. The confusion continued with a flurry of instructions to Brand Whitlock and the CRB office in Brussels, but on 5 March 1917 Hoover wrote a long and confidential letter to Vernon Kellogg in Belgium which betrayed his real objective. A full month before America declared war on Germany, Hoover primed his key men in Belgium for the eventuality. They were instructed to ‘do nothing to create the impression that he [Hoover] was running away from the Relief.’ He had clearly been briefed by the Secret Elite to adopt their basic tactic of making sure that the blame would be pinned on Germany, or the State Department if it ordered the Americans to leave. If the CRB was ‘compelled to abandon its mission’, Hoover instructed that it was to be ‘absolutely’ liquidated as a business and released from all financial obligations.[20]

When this instruction reached Brussels, Whitlock believed that ‘Hoover must be losing his head’. [21] He raged that though Hoover was three thousand miles away, he thought that he knew better than the men on the ground in Belgium, and ‘was able to impose his brutal will on the [State] Department.’ [22] To an extent he was. Hoover had cultivated his friendship with the President’s Advisor, Edward Mandel House, another Secret Elite agent close to the Morgan banking influence. Furthermore, Hugh Gibson, his strongest ally in every way, had been dispatched from the American Embassy in London to the State Department in Washington. Once again his trusted right hand man was employed where Hoover wanted him; at the heart of American foreign policy.

And so it came to pass as they ordained. On 23 March, three CRB ships were sunk, and the US State Department ordered Brand Whitlock and all American members of the CRB to withdraw from Belgium. [23] When the diplomatic staff departed on 2 April, Prentiss Grey and three CRB accountants were left behind ‘to close the books’ and train up their successors. [24] Hoover himself dealt with the business end of his London office. Euphemistically, his purpose was to wrap up the loose ends. The wrap-up became a full-blown disposal of incriminating evidence.

Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany, 2 April, 1917.

On 6 April, 1917, America declared war on Germany.

A solution was found for the CRB, one which Hoover could still control yet took him out of the direct firing line. He (more probably his Anglo-American patrons) proposed the establishment of a ‘Comite Neutre de Protection et Secours’ under the high patronage of the King of Spain and the Queen of Holland, and the immediate patronage of the Ambassadors and ministers of Spain and Holland. They were to provide the guarantees formerly undertaken by the Americans. The Commission for Relief in Belgium proposed to continue its financial control over the purchasing and shipping of food and the supplies would be turned over to the CNSA in Belgium and Comite Francais in the north of France. [25] Hoover, again reversing all that he had originally proposed, decided to remain as overall chairman of the Commission.

Make no mistake, the provisioning of Germany continued. In his half yearly report to Berlin from February to July, 1917, Baron von der Lancken wrote: ‘we have continued successfully to export to Germany, or distribute to our troops, appreciable quantities of food. Certain parts of the agreement have been voluntarily exploited [by the Belgians]. The advantages which Germany accrues through the relief work continues to grow.’ [26]

In May 1917, America agreed to appropriate $75,000,000 to support the revised Commission. Although credited to the British and French governments, the funds were to be spent, as before, by the CRB. The only matter to which Congress would not give its approval was a $2,000,000 gift which Hoover requested to cover his administrative expenses. [27] He knew no shame. In formally withdrawing his request, Hoover cited the alternative solution to cover his costs. ‘As we have been compelled to resell a large quantity of foodstuffs bought but which we were unable to ship due to the suspension of our operations for a period at the outset of the submarine war, we have made a considerable profit on these goods against which we can debit the Commission’s overhead costs …’ [28] In other words, when Congress refused to pay for his administrative costs, he used the money from the sale of foodstuffs earmarked for the ‘starving poor’ of Belgium. So much for charitable giving.

Does anyone still think that the Commission for Relief in Belgium was anything other than a convenient front to prolong the agony of war while the racketeers made their fortunes?

Herbert Hoover (back row left ) with Woodrow Wilson (front centre) in cabinet photograph.

Herbert Hoover was appointed Food Commissioner for the United States by President Wilson in May 1917, [29] ‘fresh from his triumph on the Belgian Relief Committee’. [30] It was but another step in his corrupt ascent to the 31st Presidency of the United States of America.

[1] George H Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, The Humanitarian, 1914-1917, p. 298.
[2] Ibid., p. 300.
[3] George I Gay and HH Fisher, Public Relations for the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Document 158, p. 278.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hawara and Normanby Star, Vol. LXXII, 6 January, 1917, p. 4.
[6] Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February, 1934 in the obituary for William A Holman, President of the New South Wales Belgian Relief Fund.
[7] John Hamill, The Strange Career of Mr Hoover Under Two Flags, p. 348.
[8] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 311.
[9] Gay and Fisher, Public Relations for the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Documents 134 -137, pp. 241-248.
[10] Brand Whitlock, Letters and Journals, 9 October 1915.
[11] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 312.
[12] Gay and Fisher, Public Relations for the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Document 240, p. 361.
[13] Ibid., p. 354.
[14] The Times, 17 March, 1917, p. 8.
[15] Sir Maurice de Bunsen statement to the Associated Press, New York Times, 6 March 1917.
[16] Hamill, The Strange Career, p. 348.
[17] Hoover cable 93 to CRB-London office, 13 February 1917.
[18] Nash,The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 320.
[19] New York Times, 14, February, 1917.
[20] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 326.
[21] Whitlock, Letters and Journals, 4 March, 1917.
[22] Ibid., 13 March, 1917.
[23] Tracy Barrett Kittredge, The History of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1914-1917, primary source edition, p. 418.
[24] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 339.
[25] Kittredge, The History of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, pp. 435-442.
[26] Michael Amara et Hubert Roland, Gouverner En Belgique Occupee, p. 298.
[27] Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, p. 358.
[28] Gay and Fisher, Document 168, p. 286.
[29] New York Times, 4 May, 1917.
[30] The Times, 20 July, 1917, p. 5.