Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

5

Men of Affairs and Scholars as Diplomats

While the president contended with some success against French proposals of excessive exactions upon the enemy, against Italian aggression, and against the misrule of colonies by imperial powers, the American delegates took initiatives in other directions. They brought their influence directly to bear on the very subsistence of European peoples as well as upon the adjudication of their territorial claims that were pressed day after day by ardent spokesmen.

The Americans pursued the plan they had developed at the end of 1918 for the use of food to alleviate conditions that invited political instability. The people of the United States were accustomed to responding generously to elemental human needs. Through missionary channels and the Red Cross they had acted to relieve suffering abroad. An organization of volunteers under Herbert C. Hoover had taken shape during the war to supply the peoples of occupied Belgium with essential foodstuffs; and when the fighting ceased, Wilson had given his blessing to a plan developed by Hoover for the distribution of food and clothing to relieve hardship in central and eastern Europe.

Hoover foresaw the frustration that would result from active military intervention in nations in which he detected a danger of "large military crusades" on the part of the Russian Soviet government. "We should probably be involved in years of police duty," he said privately to the president in 1919, "and our first act would probably, in the nature of things, make us a party to establishing the reactionary classes in their economic domination over the lower classes. This is against our fundamental national spirit and I doubt whether our soldiers under these circumstances could resist infection with Bolshevik ideas." 1. Instead of guns, Hoover put his faith in a sharing of American surpluses with needy people in Europe. During the month before the peace conference opened, he had pressed, with the president's support and with an independence that British officials thought presumptuous, for immediate measures of relief that he was prepared to put in operation. Proposals made by an inter-Allied conference were unacceptable to him because they might result in the control of the markets of the world, including those in America, by an inter‐ Allied board. He conceived that the United States—the power that had the resources that were in demand—should independently direct their use. This attitude did not endear him to European officials who thought it important that their governments should not appear to stand aloof from the work of relieving distress in Europe. Moreover, Hoover's prewar operations in London as an aggressive mining engineer and financier, conducted under limitations that discriminated against foreigners, had involved competition with English interests. Ill will was aroused in financial circles,

____________________
1.
Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Forgotten Progressive, pp. 54-55.

-82-

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