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File No. 855.48/652b
WASHINGTON, October 26, 1917, p. m. 286. For your information. The following cablegram has today been addressed by the President to the King of the Belgians in reply to a message received on October 18 concerning the inadequacy of food imports into Belgium, and expressing the hope that further measures will be taken to meet the situation:
I have given most careful consideration to Your Majesty's cablegram, and I need not assure Your Majesty of the deep solicitude which I feel for the civil population of Belgium, as conditions become incessantly more difficult and the obstacles to be overcome increase in number.
While the Commission has delivered some 400,000 tons of foodstuffs since the submarine warfare began, it has shipped an additional 250,000 tons which have failed to reach its destination either because of sinkings or because of inability to complete delivery of goods in transit through the war zone, besides which the delays to steamers in transit have entailed the loss in carrying capacity of over 100,000 tons. The Commission has been powerless to prevent these losses and no one feels more deeply the suffering entailed than do its members.
Frankness in making a complete statement of the causes of the shortage compels me to say that even the Belgian authorities have from time to time increased the difficulty by requisitioning Belgian ships under charter to the Commission at critical periods.
The relief work requires the regular movement of 220,000 tons of shipping, and while the losses of ships and the failure of neutrals and of the Allies to supply shipping last June reduced their regular fleet to 120,000 tons, the Commission have by the addition of steamers furnished by this Government, and purchases of ships by the Government waived in their favor, now built up their fleet to 180,000 tons.
Furthermore, with my approval, Mr. Hoover has obtained from various Governments certain tonnage for this purpose in return for food supplies. This has been done with an insistence we have felt could be justified only by the duty of maintaining the lives of these helpless civilians. For no other purpose have we gone to such length. We now have the hope through these means of securing sufficient additional neutral shipping, and with success in the negotiations now pending, there may be available a fleet of sufficient size.
Your Majesty is doubtless familiar with the financial difficulties of the Commission, which arise out of the inability of this Government to provide funds for expenditures outside of the United States, and the necessity of securing financial assistance from the other Governments for expenditures abroad, in which matter I trust Your Majesty will interest yourself.
The foregoing is but a general survey of the situation, but I trust it will convey to Your Majesty some idea of the difficulties with which the Commission has to contend. I need hardly reiterate that we are determined to do everything this Government can to meet the requirements of the civilian population of Belgium which has such a claim upon our sympathy and friendship, and that if we are unable to render them the full measure of services to be desired, it will be through no lack of effort or sympathetic understanding on our part.
It is desired that you take an opportunity to impress upon the Belgian Government the fact that this Government has not only done all that could reasonably be expected of it to provide food for the civilian population of Belgium, but has exacted from neutral nations additional foodstuffs for the Belgians in return for concessions as to food and supplies. This has been done by Mr. Hoover with an insistence and severity that we have not exercised on our own behalf, and has caused some resentment which we have willingly accepted in the interest of Belgium.
Furthermore, we have given Belgian food shipments from the United States priority over all the Allies.
Neither this Government nor Mr. Hoover has any obligation other than good will in the matter, and Mr. Hoover has repeatedly asked the Belgian Government to take over the purchase and transport of supplies.
For your confidential information, I may say that the tone of implied criticism in messages from Belgian sources and the apparent attempts to load responsibility on individuals and this Government are difficult for us to understand. It is hoped that by taking every occasion to create an understanding of the true situation, and the difficulties before the Cominission, you will succeed in ending the influence of those who apparently are seeking to convey an impression that the inadequacy of the food supply in Belgium is in any way attributable to negligence or lack of sympathetic understanding on behalf of this Government or its officials.
File No. 835.48/653a
WASHINGTON, October 26, 1917, 4 p. m. 287. Various philanthropic organizations, both State and individual, are making independent proposals on humanitarian grounds to transport to the United States large numbers of Belgian orphans. There is no general plan perfected as yet. The Belgian Minister has been giving the idea his sympathetic support.
Before taking any position the Department naturally desires to know the attitude of the Belgian Government; whether in fact Belgium favors the bringing to America of large numbers of destitute children; if so, for what period of years and what suggestions are offered regarding their transportation. You may informally and unofficially discuss the subject with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, ascertain his views, after which the Department will be in a position to make replies to the various inquiries.
[Received November 2, 12.15 a. m.] 98. Your 288 , October 26, 4 p. m. Have just seen De Broqueville, who was at the front when your telegram came and has just returned. He says the Belgian Government is deeply touched by the solicitude for the Belgian orphans and asks that its profound gratitude be expressed to philanthropic organizations. He ventures to suggest, however, that the work might otherwise be as well accomplished without sending the orphans to America. The idea of long voyages, always formidable to the Belgian peasant mind, is specially terrifying at this time, and furthermore the Belgian Government would have no means of providing the transportation. He says that many thousands of Belgian children, either orphans or of poor parents, could be cared for in Switzerland, and, while he would not presume to make suggestions, the Government would be delighted if Americans could ascribe to undertake some such work here on the Continent. The Belgian Government has not the funds to do it with, hence conditions inside Belgium are growing worse. Tuberculosis among children especially is rapidly increasing. There would be no difficulty in obtaining permission from the Germans for the children to come out if means could be devised to care for them on their arrival. Would American philanthropy care to undertake the task in this way?
File No. 855.48/655
[Received 11.20 p. m.] 99. Your 286. I took advantage of a favorable moment this morning, De Broqueville himself having brought up the question of ravitaillement, to effect the impression desired in your despatch No.
286. I discussed with him for an hour stages of situation and made clear our point of view, and I think that the understanding is now excellent. De Broqueville expressed the utmost admiration for Hoover and for the work and assured me that the King and the Government understand fully the difficulties of the American Government and appreciate and are grateful for the sacrifices made. He explained that it was not the wish or intention to interfere with the Commission by requisitioning ships and said that the individual criticisms were to be regretted, that they did not represent the Government and that he would do all he could to have them discontinued....
File No. 855.48/664a
WASHINGTON, November 9, 1917. 5766. For Poland from Hoover:
British and French Governments have completed loan to Belgian Government 500,000,000 francs, part of which we are informed is available for C.R.B. Our Government will most likely increase subsidy here to $15,000,000, $9,000,000 for Belgian and $6,000,000 for French relief, but contingent on Belgian Government advancing from Allied loans $5,000,000 per month for European expense. Belgian Legation here has cabled home for instructions to apply Treasury for increased loan beginning November 1 but have not been advised acceptance depends upon European loan. Please advise Belgian Government necessity for prompt instructions their representative here but do not mention condition Treasury will place on loan. French Ambassador will apply without instructions from his Government. Please report at once. Have instructed New York office to remit you funds through Treasury for payment Norwegian [and] Swedish charters.
File No. 855.48/668
WASHINGTON, November 16, 1917, 4 p. m. 5828. For Poland, Commission for Relief [from Hoover] :
Washington, 10. I fully appreciate that your devotion and loyalty to the C. R. B. has alone prompted your efforts to increase the available funds for purchasing supplies, and I fully agree that we should continue to exert every possible influence to carry out our program and fulfill the obligations we have assumed. However, I am afraid that you have not fully grasped the serious world shortage of food and shipping. At the present moment the United States has absolutely no exportable wheat if this country is to be fed and provided for according to pre-war basis and while we will, even in the face of this shortage, continue to export to our allies, we are doing this on the bet that the Food Administration will be able to carry out a program of conservation which will save the amount exported. To divert the European grain purchases to the Argentine, Australia, and India means establishment of a totally impossible shipping position. Try as we will, we do not believe that it will be possible to carry out the complete program you have figured out embracing an expenditure of $26,000,000. The food regulations now in force have stabilized all prices of foodstuffs and it is now possible to arrive with reasonable assurance at the prices of wheat, bacon, and lard, which present the bulk of our program, and in checking up your figures, I feel confident we can carry out the minimum monthly ration on an expenditure of $20,000,000. You must bear in mind that the demands on our American supplies and on the American Treasury if granted in toto would bring famine on this country and cripple us financially. All shipments to neutrals have been stopped and the Allies will be allotted only a portion of their requisitions. The C. R. B. cannot be placed in the position of taking advantage of the enviable position we have gained with all Governments by continually asking for more favorable treatment than that accorded other Allies. Now that I have been able to ascertain and enter more deeply into the whole question of the world's food supplies, the world's demands, and diplomatic questions involved, I know that Belgium and northern France through our efforts, and in this I of course include your own splendid endeavors, has fared infinitely better than any other country in its allotment per capita of shipping and food, and it is only because of our personal position here in defense of the C. R. B. I fear that if general publicity was given to our present relative share of the world's food and shipping it would bring violent protests. I must make it quite clear that our Government has not refused to carry out any obligations assumed in regard to Belgium. Hoover.
File No. 855.48/860
Counselor for the Department of State (Polk)
WASHINGTON, November 23, 1917.
[Received November 24.] MY DEAR MR. COUNSELLOR: We have received a cable from the Foreign Office stating that the Commission for Relief in Belgium