At the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in the year 1918, church bells rang out across Europe. They rang to celebrate the armistice which ended more than four years of grueling total warfare on the continent. The erstwhile combatants hoped that they could negotiate an enduring peace. This would be a fitting outcome for the ‘War to End All Wars.’
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of this armistice. Doubtless there will be commemorations, celebrations and moments of silence to mark this anniversary. Silencing the guns ended the war on only one front. Problems were not resolved by laying down arms. Herbert Hoover recognized this and worked hard to ensure that food insecurity would not precipitate another European war.
Even with victory evident, Hoover saw peril in not continuing American food aid to Europe. Hoover, reading State Department cables in early November 1918, saw that armistice was imminent. He wrote an 800-word letter to Wilson on November 9, 1918, arguing that food relief would be needed in Austria, Germany, Bohemia and Serbia to prevent chaos. Hoover detailed the need for the Army to provide ships, the US Food Administration to provide leadership, and US Congress to provide $200 million. Hoover wrote: ‘If we can worry through the next four or five months, we will have solved the problem, and preserved these countries from Bolshevism and rank anarchy.’ Wilson replied: ‘Hunger does not breed reform. It breeds madness and makes ordered life impossible.’
With the end of the war and with Wilson’s support, Hoover wrote an open letter to all USFA representatives on November 12, 1918: ‘As we come to the end of the USFA, we are summoned to a still larger task—to provision the allies and the liberated nations of Europe which face not hunger alone but the collapse of all that holds civilization together.’ After rallying the troops to stay the course in food relief, Hoover spoke to Congress to secure funds. He quoted Lincoln’s second inaugural: ‘With Malice toward none, with Charity for all; with firmness in the Right as God gives us to see the Right, let us strive to finish the work we are in…. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting Peace among ourselves and with All Nations.’ Hoover’s food relief, begun in the first months of the Great War, thus endured long past the armistice working to bind the wounds of the war-riven world.