I started researching the presidents to be more helpful at team trivia. In doing so, I learned more about the impressive Herbert Hoover. After watching a PBS documentary about his work feeding Russians in the 1920s, I ended up stumbling across an Oregon-based Hoover scholar named Finn John. Here’s an exchange I had with him about 3 years ago:
I’m glad to have stumbled across your nice blog with info regarding Herbert Hoover. I recently saw the PBS American Experience treatment of the 1921 Russian famine and was very moved by Hoover’s actions. As I was perusing your notes regarding Hoover’s famine assistance, I noticed that you say that the actual number of Hoover’s “life toll” is “…certainly no lower than 500 million.” I am curious to know how you arrived at this figure. From what I understand, the ARA was feeding around 11 million Russians a day at its peak. I’m less sure of how many people were fed in Belgium, Poland, Austria and wherever else. The only total “life toll” I’ve seen aside from yours is one from Hoover biographer George Nash: 83,000,000.
I am curious to know what you think of that.
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Hi Clifton, the half-billion figure was kind of a gut-level guess. Nobody really knows for sure. In his memoirs Hoover himself put the figure at 1.4 billion, which seems excessive, and he doesn’t say how he got there.
The 500 million would include 9 million in Belgium, around 230 million in eastern Europe after World War I via the ARA, the 11 million in Russia (who probably represented a larger number than that, as it wasn’t necessarily the same 11 million every day) and another nine-figure number of Europeans fed after World War II at the behest of Harry Truman.
It’s sure an amazing story. The PBS documentary was excellent. It’s odd to think about it this way, but for Hoover, being President of the United States was not his crowning achievement — it was almost a step down. I can’t think of any other ex-presidents for whom that was the case.
Anyway, thanks for the note! I love talking about this stuff, as you’ve probably noticed …
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Happy birthday to Herbert Hoover, scientist, fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese, and one of history’s greatest humanitarians.