How A Pudgy Little Quaker From Iowa Saved The World!

Have you ever saved someone’s life?

To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t. (Though there is a family rumor that I rescued my cousin from drowning when I was 12 years old. I was quite the hero at the next family reunion, even though all I really recall is reaching out and grabbing his arm when he was floating down a river)

I’ve done a few good things in my life that from a Heavenly perspective may have saved a life, but only God knows exactly how many that may be.

And He rarely tells.

The truth is we really have no way of knowing the net value of our lives. That goes for the evil we are capable of as well, by the way.

Take for instance Herbert. He was born in Iowa in 1874. He was a Quaker by religion and the son of a blacksmith, yet this man probably saved the lives of more people than any human being I can think of. (Except maybe Jesus Christ.. his tally is quite high too)

Herbert was 23 years old when he moved to China with his newlywed wife just in time for the Boxer Rebellion to break out, trapping them under heavy artillery fire. While his wife worked in hospitals, caring for the victims of the war, Herbert helped build barricades to protect the civilians and risked his own life to save some Chinese children. Fortunately, he had studied to become an engineer and was the right man at the right place at the right time.

Herbert had a knack for that. Most people of destiny do.

World War I broke out on June 28, 1914 and Herbert led a committee to rescue 120,000 Americans stranded on the continent of Europe. It is impossible to guess how many of those people would have died without his administrative abilities.

World War I was a devastating experience for most of Europe and Asia. Over 20 million people died with countless more who would die in the years that followed. Europe was devastated and people were starving to death. Herbert was head of the American Relief Administration and organized shipments of food from America to the mainland. I am not exaggerating when I say that millions of Europeans would have died without this relief.

He was a stanch capitalist in a time of dramatic political upheaval in Russia. The Bolsheviks had overthrown the Tsars in Russia. The Communist leaders murdered the Tsar, his wife, four daughters and son, and the ensuing revolution saw the death of nearly ten million Russians.

Communism was beginning to sweep across Europe.

But in the Mother Country, things were falling apart. The Civil Wars nearly shattered the economy of Russia and when the Bolshevik’s sized power, Lenin found himself leading a country gripped in famine. Food was running out and Lenin seized much of the grain the peasants had grown. Some say he did this as a reaction to economic sabotage from some more wealthy peasants, but it doesn’t really matter why he did it when children begin to starve to death because of it.

The Communists were able to size power in a large part due to a crop failure in 1892. The Tsar was unable to control this economic disaster and nearly 400,000 Russians died. Tsar Nicolas paid for this failure with his own life, and the lives of his entire family.

Lenin’s famine of 1921 saw the death of over 5 million Russians.

In the middle of this disaster, Herbert once again rushes to help. He organizes the American Relief Administration, and several other international bodies at first to just save the lives of children, but Lenin refuses to grant him access to the country. Officially, Lenin feared the Americans would smuggle weapons with the food and start a rebellion. Unofficially, it does not help Communist propaganda when the “Evil American Capitalist Pigs” are feeding your own children out of a surplus of food.

Ultimately, even Lenin realizes if he refuses much longer, the same desperate masses that dispelled the last monarch in Russia could turn on his regime as well. If this happened, Russia could have collapsed into chaos for decades.

Remember this in a minute.

Herbert soon realized that his efforts needed to be expanded to the adults, not just children. He actively pressured the U.S. Congress to buy the surplus grain from American farmers and ship them to help with the relief. Congress overwhelmingly approved. Not only that, but Herbert also called upon ordinary citizens of the United States to help with the relief and thousands of dollars of donations poured in from families, communities and churches.

It is estimated that about ten million people were fed during this massive mobilization of recourses.

Knowing of Herbert’s Capitalist position, one critic asked why he was helping the Communists.

“Twenty million people are starving to death. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!” was his answer.

Herbert Hoover goes on to become the President of the United States in 1928.

There is space on Mount Rushmore for a few more presidents. Personally, I nominate Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States to take one of those spots.

Some of you may know American History better than others and could find this nomination a bit odd considering his Administration. You see, all we ever hear about is his 1 term as President. Yes, he was voted out of office in 1932. 

What would cause such a good man to lose his rebid for the White House?

The Great Depression, mostly.

Hoover was a Capitalist, and a constitutional conservative. When the Stock Market crashed 8 months into his Administration (something that was really beyond his control, if the truth be told) Hoover believed the best course of action was LESS government interference, choosing to rely on private measures to solve the growing crisis.

So, in 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a message of a “New Deal,” the American people are ready for action. Hoover looses his job and Roosevelt will never give up power until his death in 1945. (Yes, he served as President for 13 consecutive years)

This is not a knock on President Roosevelt. This is just to inform you of a great man who is often lost in the shadow of his successor and the events that quickly followed him.

When I was a kid, all I knew about President Herbert Hoover was that he had a funny first name and a last name that reminded me of a vacuum cleaner.

When I went to college, all I learned about him was that he seemed to be personally responsible for the crash of the Stock Market and the Great Depression.  Usually, he is given half of a lecture and described as an inefficient buffoon who sat on his hands for three years while American’s stood in soup lines.

Of course, these same professors usually spent a week or more on President Roosevelt.

Hoover has been sidelined and forgotten in the annals of American Presidents while other names like Lincoln, Washington, and Kennedy scream for our attention.

Now, let’s play a little game called “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I can imagine Herbert Hoover feeling quite discouraged after the American people fired him and blamed him for the Great Depression. He might have even had nights where he wished he had never been born.

Really?  Can we count how many lives might have been lost if he had not been alive to save them? Set his inaction as President aside for a moment. That is another debate entirely. Not just children in China, or a hundred thousand Americans trapped in Europe as shells start flying, but just focus on Russia.

If he had ignored the plight of these people and shrugged his Capitalist shoulders at their misfortune, what might have happened? It would have been an easy justification for him to make to himself. One that many Americans would have agreed with. After all, Lenin was largely responsible for the disaster, why should Americans spend millions of dollars to save them? Besides, anything that is bad for Communism must be good for Capitalism and the free economies of the West, right?

He could have easily said, ‘Let them starve.’

He probably wouldn’t have become President, and as much as some of my old College Professors might have liked that, what might have happened soon after that?

Pretend Hoover is not there to feed 10 million Russians 1921. How many of those might have died? Remember, his focus was on the children.

Children who are fed have a habit of growing up and becoming adult men and women and it usually takes them about 20 years to do it. What if those adults were not alive to stand against another madman named Adolf Hitler when he invades Russia exactly 20 years later? How many of those children who ate the food Hoover helped provide grew to become soldiers and leaders of Russia in World War II?

Only God knows, and he will never tell.

As it was, the Germans assault on Russia brought them within sight of Moscow and a breath away from destroying our Eastern Ally. Had Germany accomplished this in 1941, the Americans and the British may never have been able to pull off D-Day, the liberation of France in 1944 or the destruction of Germany the following spring. Hitler might have won World War II and forced the last of the Allies into terms of surrender…

And yet, those Russian children were fed. Millions of them largely do to the efforts of a pudgy little Quaker from Iowa.

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6 thoughts on “How A Pudgy Little Quaker From Iowa Saved The World!

  1. Very interesting, well done Herbert! Who’s says one person can’t make a difference. Story sort of reminds me of, It’s a Wonderful Life.

  2. Thanks for this piece on Herbert Hoover ! He doesn’t get enough credit for all the good he’s done in the world, he’s just held to blame for the sorry economic state of our country during The Depression. The Depression was never fixed by FDR, btw, and perhaps was prolonged by his Governmental Programs, something those college professors (who deal in theory and who also don’t work) fail to mention.

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