1946 - 1947

Conquering World Hunger

U.S. National Archives

Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and the Food Crisis After World War II
Letter from President Truman inviting former president Herbert Hoover to the White House. 
President Truman meets with former president Herbert Hoover.

Entering the last phase of World War II, President Truman began planning for the postwar world. He needed help to manage a world ravaged by war and hunger, so he invited Herbert Hoover to the White House to discuss the food situation in Europe.

Hoover met with Truman on May 28, 1945. They discussed providing immediate food relief in Europe. Drawing on his experience from World War I, Hoover offered plans on using the American military to administer the food program.

The first page of Hoover's memo - writing about his meeting with President Truman.

Over the next eight months, the United States began providing food and supplies under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA]. By February 1946, UNRRA had proven unable to relieve the world food panic. 

Once again, Truman called upon Hoover to meet the need, naming Hoover head of the Famine Emergency Committee [FEC]. The FEC was to be a voluntary private-public partnership to eliminate waste and unnecessary consumption and to control food imports and exports, so that food could be delivered to those who needed it most.

United News Newsreel showing food conservation leaders, February 1946.
Hoover with his plane crew as they prepare for the European tour.

Hoover was no typical honorary chairman of the FEC. The 71-year-old former President traveled around the world, visiting twenty-two countries in fifty-seven days, gathering data on the impact of the famine and raising the public's awareness about the crisis not only in the United States but around the world. Hoover is seen here with the men who joined him on this journey.

Photograph of  Hoover boarding the Faithfull Cow.
Battle scarred area of Northern France, 1946.

Hoover's first stop in Europe was Paris. A meeting with officials there revealed the magnitude of the problem facing France - French citizens were subsisting on 1200 calories per day. The severity of the situation was clear as the FEC toured northern France to see for themselves the devastation wrought by six years of war.

Hoover's next stop was the Vatican, where he met Pius XII. Hoover asked the Pope to incorporate famine relief in his Easter pastoral letter, seeking the help of all Catholics to sacrifice and meet the current need. 

The Pope was a willing partner, but the Vatican had little experience in food relief. Hoover's assistant Hugh Gibson served as a ghost writer for the Pope's appeal.

Herbert Hoover and Pope Pius XII, 1946.
Excerpt from Hoover's diary, March 23, 1946.
Hoover walks through the "Old City" of Warsaw viewing the devastation,1946.

When Hoover and the men of the FEC arrived in Poland on March 28, 1946, they were shocked by the rubble that had been Warsaw. Hoover described it as “the worst situation we have seen so far in every respect. It is lightened only by the hope and gallantry of the Polish people. They are digging themselves out of the greatest physical, political, intellectual and moral destruction ever known.” After surveying the grim situation, visiting orphanage soup kitchens, and seeing their meager rations, Hoover vowed that the children of Poland would be fed.

Hoover visits a child feeding station.
Admiring children escort Hoover through the streets of Warsaw.
Hoover is surrounded by Polish children as he tours Warsaw.
Flying to Helsinki on March 31, 1946, Hoover found the food situation in Finland less grim. The FEC was confident that Finland had sufficient food to reach the September harvest. Hoover was greeted by Helsinki schoolchildren, who waved American flags in his honor.
The Pledge of the American Housewife, signed by First Lady Bess Truman, April 4, 1946.

Back in the United States, Bess Truman called on the American housewife to voluntarily assist in saving the lives of millions of starvation victims by pledging to support the President's Emergency Famine Relief Program.

When Hoover and the FEC arrived in Holland on April 9,1946, they found a nation determined to meet their own food needs.
As the Danes offered no resistance during the war, their lands were not plundered. This left Denmark in the enviable position of being able to export food to other European nations in 1946. Hoover was greeted by a crowd of fishmongers at a Copenhagen fish market.
Excerpt from Hoover's diary, April 12, 1946. 

While in Berlin, Hoover visited Hitler's Fuhrerbunker.  In his memoirs Hoover later commented: 'Having seen the results of Hitler's vengeance on the Poles and remembering the millions who died in his rape of Europe and those who are dying from the aftermath of famine, I, like the rest of the world, have no pity for his ending.' Hoover noted that a lasting peace was contingent on a strong German state.

Telegram from Hoover to his secretary, Bunny Miller, April 18, 1946.

By early April, Truman became concerned that the American people had not embraced appeals for food conservation, and asked Hoover to cut off his trip “in order to bring directly home to the American people your eye-witness account of the necessity for greater assistance from this country.”  Hoover replied with this coded telegram, suggesting that a radio address by both Truman and Hoover might rally the support of the American people. Truman set up a radio broadcast with Hoover for the evening of April 19, 1946.  

The speech had its intended effect, and Hoover persuaded Truman to allow him to complete his trip.  This is the first page of Hoover's reading copy of the speech, replete with last minute edits. He later made a gift of this copy of the speech to his friend, Katherine Milbank.

Page 1 of Hoover's speech broadcast from Cairo.
Hoover later gave the speech to his friend Katherine Milbank writing, "Dear Kitty, This is one of the most important broadcasts I have ever made." 
Clipping from the Washington Post, March 17, 1946.

By the end of April 1946, the famine in India was acute.

Hoover concluded that the situation was manageable, as long as imports from other countries were not interrupted.

An excerpt from Hoover's diary. April 24, 1946.
April 24, 1946. Hoover exiting Viceroy Lord Wavell's house with Mahatma Gandhi.
Hoover was greeted by his long-time friend, Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan on May 5, 1946. The food situation in Japan was dire, but Hoover was confident of MacArthur's ability to administer and deliver food to the Japanese people.
Herbert Hoover returns to the United States.
Hoover and Hugh Gibson  leave for Europe, 1947.

By January, 1947, most nations had achieved sufficient food supplies except for Germany and Austria. President Truman again called on Hoover, explaining, “I believe a food survey by you of these areas would be of great benefit to us in determining our policy in supplying food or funds for its purchase.” Hoover set off for Europe on February 2, 1947, again accompanied by Hugh Gibson. 

Hoover was greeted upon his arrival in Germany by Gen. Joseph McNarney, commander of U.S. occupation forces in Europe. He met with the military and civil authorities in Germany and Austria, and returned to the U.S. on February, 23, 1947.

Hoover greeted by General Joseph  McNarney upon arriving in Germany.
The cover of Hoover's report.

Hoover prepared three separate reports for President Trumarn concerning the food and economic situation in Germany and Austria. Most importantly, Hoover warned that Germany and Austria would be “constantly dependent for life upon foreign aid” unless they could rebuild their shattered industries. This was a direct repudiation of the punitive “Morganthau Plan” that sought to turn Germany and Austria into agrarian buffer states in Central Europe. Hoover's report became a key consideration in the development of the “Marshall Plan,” which successfully revitalized Western Europe's industry and agriculture, including Germany and Austria.

Herbert Hoover at the White House.
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