840.48/2598: Telegram

The Special Representative ( House ) to the Secretary of State

188. Secret for the President. Hoover arrived in Paris Tuesday morning. I am advised of and in agreement with his plans. They are in general as stated in my telegram number 66,10 which you approved by an exchange of notes,11 such alterations having been incorporated therein to meet the Allied desire for coordination of action and our policy of maintaining independence of American action. The chief problem presented is the difficulty of devising a plan which will not antagonize the Allies and particularly Great Britain and at the same time permit single American leadership in [Page 637] relief to the civilian populations of Europe. I am sure you will agree that American leadership is essential taking into account the fact that we are the most disinterested nation and the other Allies are affected by local political interests. Further, the supplies to be used for this purpose must in the main be obtained in the United States and will dominate American market. As I have previously advised you, George has asked Clemenceau, Orlando and myself to come to London on December 1st for a meeting of the Supreme War Council. I replied that while I hoped to be able to be present it would depend on my doctor’s decision. I think it wise, for reasons other than presented by my physical condition, not to go to London for this conference. The matters which Hoover and I have discussed will not permit of delay in reaching a decision and accordingly I suggest that the views of the United States Government be presented in writing to the three Prime Ministers at their meeting in London. I suggest that you send me a cable instructing me to present to the Supreme War Council the following plan:


I have given much thought to the formulation of the most practicable means of carrying into effect the resolution presented by Colonel House at the last meeting of the Supreme War Council at Versailles to the effect that the Supreme War Council, in a spirit of humanity, desired to cooperate in making available, as far as possible, supplies necessary for the relief of the civilian population of the European countries affected by the war.
In considering this matter, I have had constantly in mind the urgent necessity of the case and the fact that it is essential in the working out of relief of this character on a large scale, that there be a unity of direction similar in character to that which has proved so successful under French and British chief command in the operations of the Allies on the land and on sea, respectively. I suggest that the Supreme War Council proceed along the following lines:
In order to secure effective administration, there should be created a Director General of Relief whose field of activities will cover not only enemy populations but also the whole of the populations liberated from enemy yoke and the neutrals contiguous to these territories.
It is obvious that present Inter-Allied administrative arrangements cover the Allied countries themselves, and if the whole of the world food supplies could be made available through sufficient shipping, there appears to be sufficiency over and above Allied necessities to take effective care of these other populations, provided that these supplies are administered with care, with economy, and with single direction.
The one essential to this plan, in order that all world supplies may be brought into play, is that enemy tonnage shall be brought into service at the earliest possible moment. It would appear to me entirely just that the enemy’s shipping, in consideration of relief of enemy territory, should be placed in the general food service of [Page 638] all of the populations released from the enemy yoke as well as enemy territory.
I have carefully considered the suggestion made by Mr. Balfour to the Supreme War Council at the same time the terms of armistice to be offered the enemy were under discussion to the effect that the enemy should be required to place under the operation and control of the Allied Maritime Transport Council the enemy mercantile fleet in enemy and neutral ports. It appears to me that in practice there would be many embarrassments presented by this plan, and that the principle should be maintained that this fleet be used as to its carrying capacity for purposes of relief and be under the direction of the Director General of Relief. In order to secure its adequate operation, the Director General should assign appropriate portions of this tonnage, first, for operation individually by Italy, France and Belgium sufficient to transport the relief to actually liberated nationals of these nations. The administration of relief in the three above instances would then naturally fall entirely under the three Governments mentioned, and would not further interest the Director General of Relief. Second, the remainder of enemy tonnage, or such part of it as is necessary should be placed under the operation of the British Ministry of Shipping and the United States Shipping Board in equal portions. These two would be agreeing with the Director General of Relief to deliver in either case cargo equal to the carrying capacity of these two fleets from such sources to such destinations as the Director General of Relief may direct in supplying the balance of populations to be relieved. Under this plan it does not follow that enemy shipping would be employed directly in the transportation of this cargo but that equivalent cargo should be delivered. This enables the use of enemy passenger tonnage in the transportation of the United States or British armies homeward, the respective shipping boards giving an equivalent in cargo delivery to the Director General of Relief. This arrangement would in effect end [add] materially to the volume of the world’s shipping and release tonnage for the particular purpose of the individual countries.
In the operation of the Director General of Relief, he will, of course, purchase and sell food stuffs to enemy populations and therefore not require financial assistance in this particular further than working capital. In the relief of newly liberated peoples such as Belgium, Poland, Servia including Jugo-Slavia and Bohemia, it will no doubt be necessary to provide temporary advances from the Associated Governments to these revived nationalities with which they can purchase supplies from the Director General, such arrangements to be worked out by the Associated treaties [Governments?]. In some cases, public charity may have to be made use of[?].
In the Director General’s dealings with neutrals, they of course would provide their own shipping and financial resources and probably some tonnage and food either directly or indirectly for the purpose of the Director General, they acting under his direction and authorization as to supplies and sources thereof. The Director General, of course, acting in these matters in cooperation with the blockade authorities of the Allies and the United States.
It is obvious that it is only the surplus food supply of the world beyond the necessities of the Allies that is [available] to the Director General.
In order to prevent profiteering the Director General must make his purchases directly from the respective Food Administrations of the Associated Governments where his supplies arise from their territories, and when purchasing in neutral markets he should act in cooperation with the established Inter-Allied agencies.
It is evident that after the Allies have supplied themselves from their own territories at home and abroad and the balance from other sources, the only effective source of surplus supplies available for relief lies to a minor extent in the Argentine but to a vast preponderance in the United States. The Director General will have a large command of American resources and markets and will require the undivided support thereon in saving and productive activities.

Owing to the political necessity of American control over American resources and the greater coordination and efficiency to be obtained thereby, I am sure that you will agree with me that the office of Director General of Relief must be held initially by the United States Food Administrator and in case of necessity by such a successor as may be nominated by me. I would suggest, however, that the policies [of] the Director General should be determined by the Supreme War Council to whom he should report, it being our united policies in these matters not only to save life but also to stabilize Governments.

All these arrangements to be for the period of emergency and it is highly desirable for them to be liquidated as fast as practicable.

It is exceedingly important that I have your advices concerning this matter at the earliest possible moment.”

Edward House
  1. Dated Nov. 8, 1918, 9 p.m., p. 628.
  2. Notes not found in Department tiles. In Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, vol. iv, p. 238, instead of the words “by an exchange of notes” appear the words “in principle.”