More than nine million soldiers died in World War I. At the same time, a US-led effort saved nearly ten million civilians from starvation behind the lines during the German occupation, yet one of America’s greatest humanitarian efforts is virtually unknown today. In this gripping book, Jeffrey B. Miller tells the remarkable history of two American and Belgian citizen-created organizations that led a massive food relief program for civilians trapped in German-occupied Belgium and northern France.Herbert Hoover, then a successful international businessman, was the driving force behind the effort, coercing and bullying the governments of Germany, Great Britain, France, and the United States to allow a group of idealistic young volunteers to organize in occupied Belgium and coordinate the distribution of tons of food and clothing to desperate Belgians. These crusaders, known as CRB delegates, had to maintain strict neutrality as they watched the Belgians suffer under the harsh German regime. Miller tells compelling stories of German brutality, Belgian relief efforts, and the idealistic Americans who went into German-occupied Belgium from October 1914 up to May 1917, when they were forced to leave after the April entry into the war of the United States. Yanks interweaves the history of the time with fascinating personal stories of volunteers, diplomats, a young Belgian woman who started a dairy farm to feed Antwerp’s children, the autocratic head of the Belgian relief organization, and the founder of the American organization, who would become known to the world as the Great Humanitarian and later, largely because of his work in Belgium and post-war Europe, would become the thirty-first president of the United States.
Visit the book’s website here: www.YanksBehindTheLines.com
Watch the book trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0u_ijwC2KA
Jeffrey B. Miller has been a writer, magazine editor, and independent historian for more than forty years. After a decade of full-time research, he wrote two Kirkus Best Books of the Year on the Belgian relief effort. This book is the culmination of his work on a concise history for readers interested in learning more about one of America’s finest hours in humanitarian aid.
Author’s Note and Acknowledgments
1 1914, Setting the Stage
2 First Challenges, First Steps
3 Hoover and Other Relief Efforts
4 Rotterdam: The Transshipping Hub
5 Life in German-Occupied Belgium
6 The CRB Delegates
7 The Mechanics of Relief
8 The Belgian Side of Food Relief
9 Food Relief in Northern France
10 Pressures from Von Bissing
11 Internal Strife and Battle for Control
12 Critical Crop Negotiations
13 Accusations: Hoover as Traitor, Delegates as Spies
14 A Breaking Point
15 The German Deportations
16 The Human Toll
17 The Last Days of Americans in Belgium
About the Author
Miller emphasizes not the dubious glories of war, but war’s impact on ordinary people, and the amazing feats that people can achieve when they are determined enough. World War I brought unprecedented chaos and carnage, he shows, but it also sparked an outpouring of charity greater than anyone thought possible. This book is a worthy testament to everyone who participated in this admirable endeavor. Clarion Rating 4 out of 5.
Miller brings a complex story to vivid life, astutely explaining the political and cultural landscape of Belgium but also the unfolding of the conflict. . . . This is a powerful work of history, as informative as it is dramatically gripping. An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.
A huge impact of war that is rarely talked about is the near starvation suffered by millions. Jeffrey B. Miller tells this riveting tale about American volunteers who attempted to save millions from dying of hunger during World War One. This is one of the largest humanitarian aid efforts ever made and the account of how it happened is well overdue. The Commission for Relief in Belgium was founded by . . . Herbert Hoover—and this story alone is extraordinary. Miller uses testimony, including an unpublished account of the commission’s work. What lifts this book above many is the personal testimony; his own grandparents helped to provide food for Belgian citizens. A heart-warming read.”
Yanks behind the Lines is a fascinating portrait of America’s first world war. Exploring a vital but little-known chapter of humanitarian intervention, Miller establishes the centrality to the American war experience of saving Belgium and France from famine.
A valuable and formidable addition to World War I scholarship . . . [Miller] is as fascinated by the account as he wants his readers to be absorbed and moved by it. Through tireless research and sheer literary skill, he accomplishes his task. Supported by notes, sources, and reader aids, this studious effort is worth the time of anyone interested in gripping real-life stories behind weighty historical truths.
An important and unique contribution to World War I histories, Jeff Miller’s meticulously researched book fills the void of an often-forgotten aspect of the war: US humanitarian efforts. This is a beautifully written story about one of America’s finest hours.
Jeffrey Miller’s Yanks behind the Lines brings to life a little-known but hugely important and absolutely inspiring story: how nearly ten million civilians in German-occupied Belgium during World War I were saved from starvation, thanks to a group of idealistic Americans, led by a young organizational genius named Herbert Hoover. This was the shining moment when the United States first stepped upon the world stage as a generous force for all humanity. A moment worth the retelling––and remembering.
InYanks behind the Lines, Jeffrey B. Miller sheds welcome light on one of the noblest episodes in modern American history: the pioneering humanitarian relief mission, led by Herbert Hoover, that saved millions of Belgian and French civilians from starvation during World War I. Americans should learn this remarkable story, which Miller—a gifted chronicler—tells with acuity and verve.
With Yanks behind the Lines, Jeff Miller reminds us of an almost forgotten chapter from the history of World War I. The war not only cost the lives of millions of soldiers. For millions of civilians, it also meant deprivation, hardship, and hunger. In the territories of Belgium and northern France that were occupied by the Germans, American and Belgium relief organizations safeguarded the survival of the civil population. With his fascinating book, Miller raises a permanent monument to this remarkable humanitarian commitment. The book commemorates today the fact that practicing humanity in time of wars and crises can save human lives.
It will be a revelation for many Americans to discover Jeff Miller's excellent account of the ‘piratical state organized for benevolence,’ which helped position the United States as a moral force for good in the world at the outbreak of the 20th century's first world war. Herbert Hoover's leadership in the enterprise may come as an even greater surprise, and Miller's knowledgeable account unveils this forgotten history for us all.
There is no better expert than Jeffrey B. Miller to portray the brave young Americans who joined the CRB and served the Belgian and French civilians trapped behind German lines during the First World War. He gives us the story of their daily challenging life, the dangers they faced, their inventiveness, and their interactions with the impoverished civilians as well as with the German occupying forces and the local governments. Yanks behind the Lines is the story—and more—of the Americans who launched the first international nongovernmental organization. The Commission for Relief in Belgium, run by the brilliant personality of Herbert Hoover, is a moment in US history to be remembered and to be proud of.
Miller’s telling of this forgotten WWI tale is well-documented, detailed, and crisply written. His engaging narrative approaches its topic from many perspectives, including the viewpoints of Hoover, the Germans, and those living in Belgium. . . this is a well-told tale, one bound to interest WWI enthusiasts and fans of untold histories.
Author published an op-ed on America’s tradition of humanitarian relief, “One of America’s Finest Hours in Humanitarian Aid is little-known Today.”
“Today, whenever there are civilians anywhere in the world in harm’s way—from a natural disaster to an armed conflict—the nearly universal response has been: “America will help.” That was not the case before World War I (1914–1918). Prior to that horrific conflict—and long before US aid programs such as the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and the Food for Peace program—America was better known as a nation of shopkeepers more interested in the bottom line than in saving strangers in need.
What helped alter that view was the American-led, nongovernmental CRB. Working with its Belgian counterpart, the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation (commonly known as the Comité National, or CN), the CRB helped save from starvation nearly ten million Belgian and northern French civilians trapped behind German lines during the four years of World War I, making it the largest food relief program the world had ever seen. By its selfless efforts, the CRB began the redefinition of how the world saw America, how America perceived its role in the world, and how worldwide humanitarian aid would be administrated in the future.”
Link: America’s Tradition
Author presented virtual event with the Hoover Presidential Foundation, “Heroism & Humanity Behind German Lines.”
Author interviewed on Waterloo's KXEL radio.