With the tragic earthquakes in Haiti and Chile earlier this year, and the recent floods in Pakistan, we are reminded once again of the primacy of food in relief operations for people in distress, whether suffering from natural or man-made catastrophes.
Herbert Hoover spent a great deal of his life organizing such relief, feeding millions of people during and after World War I in more than twenty countries. Then again, after World War II, he coordinated a worldwide effort to fight the famine that was threatening close to a billion people. No wonder his legacy is that of a great humanitarian and master of efficiency.
Hugh Gibson, a U.S. diplomat whose papers are housed in the Hoover Archives, was a friend of Hoover’s and his right-hand man on that postwar food mission. He kept a daily journal, covering both the whirlwind tour of nearly forty countries in the spring of 1946 and a subsequent return trip to Europe in February 1947. These diaries (mentioned in my blog of October 6, 2009) have now been digitized and are available online. Beyond the focus on food, these fascinating and lively diaries cover a wide range of political and social issues. In the words of his son, Michael Gibson, “The result is a dizzying cross-section of the world just one year after the war ended.”
Gibson often relates Hoover’s state of mind and some of his conversations with various heads of state and did, on occasion, paste newspaper clippings into his diary, such as the account of Hoover’s address at the luncheon in Lima hosted by the president of Peru on June 2, 1946. In Hoover’s stirring words:
“This world crisis appeared last March. At that time, President Truman did me the honor to ask for my collaboration in the great crisis that faced mankind. As my first duty, I have journeyed over the world to evaluate the minimum needs of the great famine areas and to discover such additional food resources as possible. I have also endeavored to coordinate and bring about as great a solidarity as possible of the nations to meet this crisis. I was more than glad to undertake this effort, in order to contribute what experience I had gained as the head of the organization which fought the great famine after the first World War. But more than all that, especially did I desire that in this tremendous crisis of human life, there should be a demonstration to my countrymen that, no matter what our other differences in views might be in our opposite political parties, there could be no division of effort in the problem which revolved around the saving of human life, and of civilization itself….
“Hunger today hangs over the homes of more than 800,000,000 people—over one-third of the people of the world.
“…we are not alone faced with hunger, but we are faced with the problem of mass starvation. And by that term I mean whole villages—whole cities—and even whole nations—might be condemned to death did we not make our every effort. So far, we have prevented mass starvation….
“And may I repeat a statement which I have made elsewhere: ‘The saving of these human lives is far more than an economic necessity to the recovery of the world. It is more than the only path to order, to stability and to peace. Such action marks the return of the lamp of compassion to the world. And that is a part of the moral and spiritual reconstruction of the world.’”
For more speeches given by Hoover during the food mission, see his memoirs, An American Epic (volume IV) and his Addresses upon the American Road, 1945–1948 (both available in the Hoover Library and Archives reading rooms), as well as his papers in the Hoover Archives and at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.
And we have several other collections with material relating to this amazing food mission. Contact us or come to the Archives reading room and ask our friendly staff for assistance!