Can Europe's Children Be Saved?


By HERBERT HOOVER, Ex-President of the United States

Broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System, October 19, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 68-71.

JUST a year ago I and a large committee of American religious and public leaders proposed a plan to prevent wholesale starvation in the German-invaded democracies. They were being ground between the millstones of German requisitions and the British blockade. I appealed for international cooperation to prevent a holocaust of death and stunted bodies and minds in their millions of children.

Since we presented this terrible problem a year ago Serbia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have been conquered. Today there are somewhere near 40 millions of children in German-invaded democracies. Millions of them are in jeopardy. And these are peoples who fought for their freedom, who were overpowered, who have been subjected to terrible oppressions. Their pleas ascend hourly to the free democracies of the West for food.

According to the press dispatches His Holiness the Pope has raised his powerful voice for cooperation in the future interest of humanity.

The starvation we forecast a year ago and which we hoped to prevent has swept over many of these innocent people during the last winter and spring. I have no wish to recite the heart-breaking reports which come to us daily. I will mention but two of them.

A survey of Belgium three months ago by the leading physicians and health authorities showed the march of the tragedy we had tried to prevent. The report reaffirms that strong adults can survive for awhile on a meager ration of bread and potatoes of late mostly furnished by the Germans. The shortage in meats, fats and milk is crucifying the children. This report showed that the people are devoting practically all their meager fats and milk to the children under three years of age. Yet with all this sacrifice there is a deficiency in food for even the little ones. The report continues that the worst effects of starvation show among the children from three years upwards. They say that 47 per cent of the children in the kindergartens, 63 per cent of primary schools, and 42 per cent in the higher schools were in a definitely weak condition. They inform us that many

children were unable to come to school at all. There has been appalling stop in growth, rise in disease and mortality among them. The report ends with the statement, "The health of several generations will be irremediably impaired if nothing is done to relieve the present situation."

Then there is a report from Poland. This report concerns the Jews in the city of Warsaw. It shows that in July deaths had increased to 15 times the normal rate. The municipal newspaper was appealing to the people not to throw the corpses in the streets. Normally the birth rate there exceeds the death rate, yet the death rate among children was ten times the birth rate. The report closes, "If any substantial part of Polish Jewry is to survive the horrors of next winter it can be done only under such a plan as Mr. Hoover has proposed." Does anyone doubt that Greek children are starving in thousands?

I have no desire to repeat horrors beyond indicating the situation.

The situation during the forthcoming winter over Europe will be far worse even than last winter and spring. Except in Germany, the harvests have been less than they were even a year ago. The blockade has somewhat reduced the meats and fats in Germany. But its effect upon meat, fat and food for children is far greater in the occupied democracies. They bear the full impact.

There are other tragedies of this war. I am not blind to the thousands of women and children killed from the sky. I am not blind to the horrors of sinking ships at sea. I am not blind to the execution of hostages. And I am not blind to the millions of men dying and wounded upon the battlefields. I am not blind to the oppression of occupying armies. I pray all these things may be stopped. But I know they will not be stopped now. There is, however, the possibility that this one horror of the sacrifice of children could be stopped.

I raised the question a year ago in response to an appeal to me from the peoples inside those countries and officials of their exiled governments. That appeal was directed tome and my colleagues because we, with the backing of the American Government, had in 1914 found the method and brought about the cooperation for this purpose of the warring nations. And by that cooperation 10 million people in Belgium and Northern France were saved under precisely the same tragic circumstances of German invasion and British blockade that exist today.

Based on that experience, we have made various proposals in an effort to find a solution. We proposed such methods and safeguards that there could be no military advantage to either side. We originally proposed that the same broad measures which were used in the last war should be adopted. It was to be administered by some non-official body. As this was refused we then proposed that we try a small experiment in Belgium to feed 2,000,000 children and 1,000,000 destitute adults. I clearly labelled it an experiment to determine what could be done. The Germans went a long way toward that agreement. The British decided against it, although it was to be safeguarded to meet their every military objection.

After that time, American relations to the war so shifted that it was no longer possible for an American individual or any non-official body to conduct such negotiation or operations. To meet these changed conditions I therefore proposed last April to our State Department that our Government should enlist the services of some of the remaining neutral governments such as Switzerland, Sweden, Argentine or Ireland, to act as the trustee for these helpless people. I suggested that such a neutral government should with American encouragement negotiate with both of the belligerents such safeguards that would give no military advantage to either side. As a basis of such negotiation I proposed that the Germans, having a surplus of breadstuffs, should supply from their own stocks what breadstuffs were needed to save these children. I suggested that only the fats and special food for children which due to the blockade are deficient all over Europe should be imported overseas. I proposed that the Germans should cease to take any of the native food products of these countries. I proposed that the trustee government should undertake to administer and safeguard the relief by its own agents. I proposed that the Administration take over the whole question. So far as I have been able to learn our Government took no steps in that direction.

During all these discussions many objections have been raised. It is desirable that I deal with these arguments again.

The natural fear of many people is that this food would benefit Hitler. The whole basis of our proposals is that the Germans cease to take food from the countries put under relief. And moreover, that they themselves furnish the bread-stuffs needed from their own stocks. Their cooperation thus takes food from them, not to them.

There are others who do not see how this process can be controlled even if agreed to. I, and 300 living Americans know this can be done for we did it twenty years ago. I will explain again, and use our recent proposal for an experiment in Belgium as an example. The food from overseas is to be paid for by the Belgians, and the funds are available. It is to be brought in ships not otherwise available to supply Britain. It would be shipped over the frontier to central warehouses. These warehouses are to be under neutral control. The warehouse is notified of every shipment. From the warehouses smaller shipments are made directly to soup kitchens. They are notified of every shipment. These kitchens are operated by Belgian women. Every child or its mother who receives food must come to the soup kitchen and eat it on the spot. Those who get it must produce ticketsissued by other committees of Belgian women based upon need. None but Belgians are given tickets. The supreme anxiety of every Belgian woman is that no food should escape from the children of their race.

If there is any failure of food to arrive anywhere it is instantly reported to the neutral supervisors.

Part of this plan is that the German army should take no food from Belgium, either native or imported. It is only Belgian farmers who grow food. If it is taken by a German it is taken from a Belgian, and the Belgians know it. They report it at once to the neutral commission. Also under this proposal the Germans must provide the breadstuffs from their own stocks. Obviously the Belgians know if they don't get it, as they don't eat. Thus the neutral commission knows it. If the food stream fails anywhere, it is traced and if infractions of the guarantees are involved they must be made good. If they are not made good, the whole effort fails. Further shipments are stopped.

But entirely apart from these natural fears, a vast organized propaganda of misrepresentation was spread over the United States and Britain. I have always refused to answer lies and smearing. I could speak with great bitterness. But I shall say only this; the National Committee, of which I am a member, embraces 1,000 leaders of every religious faith. It embraces interventionists and non-interventionists, Democrats and Republicans. There is no politics in this appeal for the lives of children. If, by the grace of God, governments could be moved to act, relief would be administered by the agents of neutral government, and not by our organization.

And there are other fantastic statements spread across the country by foreign propaganda. It is said the Germans would seize breadstuffs and make alcohol from them and use the alcohol to propel their airplanes. And yet we have never proposed that a pound of breadstuffs should be imported. But, on the contrary, we proposed the Germans should contribute these breadstuffs. The statement has been spread that the Germans could seize the imported fats and transform them into glycerine and thus into explosives. Yet any munitions manufacturer will say that modern explosives are not made from glycerine or fats.

There are lies spread that the Germans took the food from the Belgian Relief Commission in the last war. There were occasional infractions of those agreements. But these infractions were all remedied. And the officials of the British and French Governments, who contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to it who had everything at stake, are on the public record time and time again expressing their satisfaction. And they based that satisfaction on the reports of their own agents.

There are those who say that decision having been taken against these proposals by the British Government we should no longer agitate it. When has free speech departed? The British people do not hesitate to differ on the policies of their Government. But more important, this is not solely a British question. It concerns a dozen democracies, including ourselves. In any event, has the time come when we in America cannot discuss the issues of human life and civilization?

These misrepresentations are important only in that they contribute to the death of millions of children.

And I would like to ask those who have opposed these proposals: Is the Allied cause any further advanced today as a consequence of this starvation of children? Are Hitler's armies any less victorious than if these children had been saved? Are Britain's children better fed today, because these millions of former Allied children have been hungry or died?

Can you point to one benefit that has been gained from this holocaust? Isn't it time that we realize these attitudes cannot be continued if our own spiritual life is not to be soiled?

There are important events that have happened since I first proposed this action that seem to me to warrant renewed hope that cooperation could be brought about between nations.

America is today furnishing food to the British women and children. We do it gladly, but have not the other women and children of democracies the right to life also?

The British have themselves relaxed the blockade in important ways. For instance, Britain is furnishing food to some 40,000 British prisoners of war in Germany. Thus our British friends themselves open their own blockade to their countrymen. Moreover, the British Government trusts the German Government to distribute this British food. And the British officials state it is distributed with fidelity. These prisoners already have the ration of a German soldier, and indeed they merit every comfort. If it is practicable to feed captive British soldiers, is it not practical to feed captive women and children who do not have the ration of the German soldier?

Also the blockade has been relaxed for Sweden. The Swedes occupy a position where all governments are solicitous for their political attitudes. They are today allowed to pass needed supplies from American ports through the blockade. But by what logic or humanity can neutrals be given supplies and peoples who have fought and died in the Allied cause be discriminated against?

And the blockade has been relaxed for Greece. Within the last month the Turkish Government, with no great reserves of food, has agreed to large shipments to save the Greeks. They have secured cooperation from both Britain and Germany. It will be partly paid for by Americans. That food is permitted to pass the British blockade. The Turks are Mohammedans, they are not Christians. I wish that Belgium, Poland, Norway and the others had a friend as compassionate as Turkey.

I may add to this that my colleagues and I have from the beginning of this war until 3 months ago carried a small stream of relief to some 50,000 children in Poland. Initially we were permitted to take food through the British blockade. When that became impossible we purchased food in the Baltic and Balkan countries which did not pass through the blockade. When that became impossible, through their being involved in war, we then appealed directly to Russia. The Russians, because these same associates of mine had fed millions of Russian children in the famine of 1922, allowed us to buy food in their country and ship it to these children in Warsaw.

Indeed, it was a small trickle, because our resources were small. That is today ended unless supplies can come from overseas. But this relief functioned over 18 months without interference from the Germans. That experience gives further confidence that international cooperation can still be established to save these millions.

The dead children of last winter and spring are gone. Whatever our bitterness may be for their useless sacrifice, they are past help. Our problem now is to look to saving the millions of others. That can be done if the American, the British, the German and the neutral governments of Europe will cooperate.

To the German people I can say that I know that the great mass of Germans do not wish for this suffering of women and children. To the German Government I can say that they may perhaps remember that I led the fight for the removal of the food blockade from the day of theArmistice in the last World War, that I fed millions of German children after that war.

To the British Government I can say that in the last World War it was largely their generosity, their compassion, that saved ten millions of Belgians and French during that dreadful time. And I can say more—that I have at this moment advices from many responsible English men and women that they hope I will not stop my appeals and their belief that their government should act favorably upon this question.

And I would like to say something to the exiled governments of some of the small democracies. A year ago officials of each of them appealed to me to lead this cause for their people. I am well aware that they have ceased in these appeals. Some of them inform me they must obey the policies of the Western democracies. But the appeals from their people in their countries have not ceased. They come daily to me in heart-breaking missives. And some day the political leaders of these small democracies will need to face their own people at home.

I can say to the neutral government, whether it might be Switzerland or Ireland or Sweden, or the Argentine, or all of them that might be entrusted with the trusteeship of these millions of human beings, that no greater glory could ever come to them than to be entrusted with such a mission.

To the American Government I have the right as a citizen to speak even more freely. I can say that the initiative in the last war which saved millions of lives came from the American State Department. The President of that time, Woodrow Wilson, was the constant guardian of that Relief during all those four years. And I can say to the American Government: You are now in such relationship to this war that you have a right to a voice. What is more, you are contributing to the blockade of these small democracies. And deny it if you will, there is some moral responsibility attached to America now. It is not enough to plead international law. I agree Germany has the moral responsibility to feed them. There is a vague legal responsibility. But the overpowering fact is Germany does not, as the result of the blockade, have the kind of food needed for these women and children. They will not feed them. That stark fact faces the world. And these helpless people cannot eat morals and international law. Those Americans who deny moral responsibility cannot deny the obligations of compassion and the self interest in the future of civilization.

I have recently read many statements by American and Allied leaders that large stocks of food will be accumulated with which to relieve these people after they are free from German domination. When that day may come no man can tell. But these promises sound hollow in my ears. Food for dead people has little consequence. I am in favor of providing food with which to fight the inevitable famine which will follow this war. I trust it is not being offered these people as a substitute for action now. It is not necessary to give such promises to people who are suffering and dying. That does not offer hope to them. It adds bitterness to their fate.

I can say further to our own Government that last spring a number of the members of our Senate and House of Representatives became interested in this question. Jointly Democrats and Republicans introduced a resolution into both Houses, making a simple request of our Government that it should initiate negotiations for international action on this question. The resolution in the Senate was signed by 37 of its members, and I understand a majority of the whole Senate favors it. It was endorsed by a majority of members of the House. This resolution was endorsed by some6,000 public bodies, church organizations, committees and other responsible groups throughout our country. Those resolutions alone represent the voice of at least 20 million people. Surely such an expression of American compassion deserves more adequate attention from our Government than to be dismissed by a curt letter from our State Department.

We have been engaged in much discussion over the freedom of religion in foreign countries. I learned at my mother's knee that compassion and responsibility for my neighbors was a part of our American faith.

Has hate so entered our souls that we are indifferent to innocent suffering? Have we lost our way entirely? I do not believe it.

We talk much of our responsibility to the future of civilization. Is not the preservation of these children also a part of this responsibility? Hitler cannot be defeated with armies of starving children.

In conclusion, I do not believe it would make the slightest difference in the military outcome of this war if we assured food to the needy among the whole 40,000,000 democratic children in Europe. The Germans will not lose this war from a shortage of food. And eminent soldiers agree with me.

To those who say it is impossible to secure cooperation among nations for this purpose I wish again to repeat two reasons that make it worth trying:

First, it was done for four long years during the lastwar, and it was done to the satisfaction, publicly expressed, of all the governments concerned.

Second, last February the German Government negotiated favorably upon such action in respect to Belgium. And furthermore there are breaks in the British blockade by the relaxations that I have mentioned.

To doubting Americans let me say this: Suppose the Western democracies should place this problem in the hands of some one of the neutral governments of Europe for solution. Suppose that neutral government was not able to make a satisfactory agreement with the German Government. Then an effort would have been made which at least demonstrated the compassion and solicitude of the Western World. There would then be no hate stored against America for failure.

Suppose the Germans did make such an agreement and should subsequently violate it, then at once the effort would be stopped. If they seized all the stocks of imported food they would not have secured a day's ration for Germany. And again the Western democracies would have demonstrated their ideals to the world.

Our Government should make an effort with every influence in its power. If its effort should fail its duty is to develop publicly who is responsible for failure. The Administration of Woodrow Wilson did find the solution. It can be done again if there is the will to do it. Our Government has a grave responsibility today.

My countrymen, unless this effort is made our failure to act will some day come back to fill this nation with grief and remorse.