Paris Peace Conf. 840.48/1

Colonel E. M. House to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ( Balfour )19

My Dear Mr. Balfour: The President has requested me to communicate to you for the consideration of your government the following memorandum containing his views respecting the general question of furnishing relief to the civilian population of the European countries affected by the war:

“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 populations of the European countries affected by the War.

“In considering this matter, I have had consequently [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 this 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 interallied administrative arrangements cover the Allied countries themselves and if the whole of the world’s food supplies could be made available through sufficient shipping, there appears to be sufficiency to take effective care of these other populations provided that these supplies are administrated 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 shipping in consideration of relief of enemy territory should be placed in the General Food Service of all 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 time the terms of armistice to be offered the enemy were under discussion to the effect that the enemy [Page 647]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 operations 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 cargo 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 institutions agreeing with the Director General of Relief to deliver a quantity of cargo equal to the carrying capacity of these two fleets from such sources to such destinations as the Director of Relief may direct in supplying the balance of populations to be relieved. Third: The passenger tonnage or so much of it as may be required by the United States Shipping Board should be assigned to them, they giving the equivalent cargo capacity delivery to the Director General of Relief. 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 plan enables the use of enemy passenger tonnage in the transportation of the United States Armies homeward. This arrangement would in effect add materially to the volume of the world’s shipping and release tonnage for the particular purposes of the individual countries.

“In the operations of the Director General of Relief, he would of course purchase and sell foodstuffs 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 recuperating nationalities with which they can purchase supplies from the Director General, such arrangements to be worked out by the Associated Treasuries. In some cases public charity may have to be mobilized.

“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 purposes 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.

“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 where purchasing in neutral markets he should act in cooperation with the established Inter-Allied agencies.

[Page 648]

“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 lie 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 individual support of the American people 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 Belief 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 those arrangements to be for the period of emergency and it is highly desirable for them to be liquidated as fast as practicable.”

I shall be grateful to you if you will advise me as soon as practicable the views of the British Government concerning this matter.

Faithfully yours,

[File copy not signed]
  1. Similar communications were apparently sent on the same date to M. Pichon and Baron Sonnino. See penultimate sentence of telegram No. 213, Dec. 1, 1918, from Colonel House to the Secretary of State, p. 645; also the fourth paragraph of letter of Dec. 17, 1918, from Colonel House to the British Ambassador in France, p. 674.