Miller (Behind the Lines, 2014, etc.) offers the second volume of a tour-de-force history detailing a little-known World War I humanitarian rescue mission, led by a future American president.
During the early years of the First World War, an amazing organization, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, gathered together a group of idealistic young Americans to keep the people in German-occupied Belgium from starving. Popular historian Miller continues detailing the history of this organization, which was formed and run by none other than Herbert Hoover, who left his own successful business and mining-engineering interests to lead it. He and his intrepid CRB delegates constantly struggled with German military and governmental authorities and with the Belgian relief agency Comité National, but they managed to manipulate, cajole, bluff, and fight their way to providing the most extensive food relief program in modern history. They did so by preserving their absolute political neutrality and winning the respect and support of even the German aggressors. To succeed, Hoover and his band knew they had to be on the right side of worldwide public opinion: “Hoover’s understanding of this concept, and of the way the world’s news media worked, would serve him and his cause extremely well from the very beginning.” Miller delivers compelling portraits of young idealists who interrupted their lives to serve the CRB for no pay. He engagingly parallels this tale with the story of La Libre Belgique, a scrappy underground newspaper that continually poked the Germans in the eye; he shows how even though the Germans jailed and executed Belgian patriots associated with the paper, nothing could stop it from getting published. Miller is an accomplished writer who never gets in the way of his intriguing story, eliminating tiresome footnotes and in-text citations that might have detracted from the gripping historical narrative.
A magnum opus that celebrates the qualities of compassion, honor, and humanitarian virtue.