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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.