Seventy years ago today, President Harry Truman sent this handwritten letter to former president Herbert Hoover, inviting him to come to the White House to discuss the brewing humanitarian crisis in Europe. With the war in Europe over, the population would need to be fed.
As Hoover would put it the next year, “we do not want the American flag flying over nationwide Buchenwalds,”
In making this invitation, Truman set aside partisan differences to seek out the man with a proven record in fighting wartime hunger. Both during and after the First World War, he had headed American relief efforts. They started in 1914 assisting Americans who had found themselves stranded in Europe at the outbreak of war. From his own resources, he made loans and cashed checks for Americans. He went on to save millions of lives, first in Belgium, and then elsewhere in Europe at the war’s end.
It was a welcome change. In the days following Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had summoned adviser Bernard Baruch and asked who was best fit to organize the home front. Baruch quickly replied that Hoover would be best suited, but the suggestion was rebuffed. Since Hoover was a convenient scapegoat throughout Roosevelt’s presidency, Roosevelt reportedly replied, “I’m not Jesus Christ. I’m not raising him from the dead.”
After Truman’s summons, Hoover approached the problem the same way he had approached it during and after the First World War, as an engineering problem. He set out on a tour of Europe to determined the needs and resources of each country, and saw to it that resources were directed appropriately.
There was a lifetime friendship between the two presidents. Truman spoke at the dedication of the Hoover presidential library in 1962 and told the crowd, “I feel sure that I am one of his closest friends and that’s the reason I am here.” Later that year, Hoover wrote to Truman:
Yours has been a friendship which has reached deeper into my life than you know. I gave up a successful profession in 1914 to enter public service. I served through the First World War and after for a total of about 18 years. When the attack on Pearl Harbor came, I at once supported the President and offered to serve in any useful capacity. Because of my various experiences . . . I thought my services might again be useful, however there was no response. My activities in the Second World War were limited to frequent requests from Congressional committees. When you came to the White House, within a month you opened a door to me to the only profession I know, public service, and you undid some disgraceful action that had been taken in prior years.
Truman had the letter framed and placed on his desk at the Truman library.
Harry, is there something we can do to save the land we love?
- Letter at Truman Library
- Hoover and Truman: A Presidential Friendship
- Conquering World Hunger at Google Cultural Institute
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