Revisiting Hoover’s Memo to Truman, May 1945

President Truman met with former President Hoover for 45 minutes, discussing the problem of feeding the liberated peoples of Europe.
President Truman met with former President Hoover for 45 minutes, discussing the problem of feeding the liberated peoples of Europe. 5/28/1945

At this time last year, I wrote a blog on Hoover’s return to the world stage in response to President Truman’s request for Hoover’s insights into the food situation in Europe immediately after V-E Day.  I summarized an 18-page memo Hoover sent to Truman on May 31, 1945, recapping the main points of their 55-minute meeting at the White House.  At the time, I was somewhat amazed that the seventy year old Hoover had so much information at his command, and had such a sound grasp of the geopolitical situation.  How does a private citizen master such arcane knowledge?

Upon further review and research, I discovered that Hoover’s grasp of details owed more to thorough preparation than it did to careful reading of the daily newspapers.  Hoover had been giving speeches on the food situation in Europe during May, 1945.  His conclusions from these speeches mirrored his recommendation to Truman—the United States Army was the only logical agency to manage the logistics of food delivery in Western Europe. The Army was on the ground, had transportation at hand, and could readily make the transition from waging war to securing peace.  Hoover reckoned that about 150 million Europeans in liberated nations from the Mediterranean to the North Sea could be fed. The roughly 170 million citizens in Russian-controlled Eastern Europe would have to be fed by Russia.

In the two weeks leading up to the May 28th meeting with President Truman, Hoover met with Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who’d served as Hoover’s Secretary of State, friend Bernard Baruch, who was well-informed on financial matters, and Cal O’Laughlin, editor of the Army and Navy Journal, who was wired into defense sources. Each of these men shared information with Hoover and sharpened his acumen.

For his own part, Hoover drew on his own experience providing food relief during and after World War I.  He had voluminous records to draw upon and he took full advantage of the weeks leading up to the Truman meeting to marshal his argument.  Hoover’s close friend Edgar Rickard noted in his diary entries of May 24th and May 25th that Hoover was preparing for his meeting with Truman as if it were a comprehensive oral examination.

While replete with insights, Hoover’s 18-page memo was not without flaws.  His innate wariness of Communist Russia, while warranted, came across in language that sounds racist to modern ears.  Hoover described the Russians as Asiatics, and as such, argued that they would never honor any treaties signed.  He advised Truman that the Russians would enter the war against Japan ‘in the last five minutes’ in order to gain territory in Manchuria.  Finally, Hoover warned Truman not to bluff or threaten war against the Russians, since any such bluff would be called and the end of Western Civilization would ensue.

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