As long as the United States remained out of the war, humanitarian assistance offered an alternative response to the international crisis. Neutral Belgium invaded and occupied by Germany and other war-ravaged countries faced food shortages and the threat of starvation. At the urging of the U.S. embassy in London, Herbert Hoover—then a forty-year-old mining engineer and wealthy business leader—organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Designed to feed all of Belgium, it was the largest humanitarian relief operation to date. Relief efforts later expanded to occupied northern France, and by 1918 the CRB had delivered three million tons of food, largely averting starvation in the occupied territories. Americans also undertook much smaller voluntary relief efforts for suffering peoples within the Central Powers’ territories including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Armenia, and Syria.
Commission for Relief in Belgium
For or Against War
With the world around them at war, Americans' debate over the conflict often centered on the issue of military preparedness and the wisdom of making loans and selling arms overseas. Many feared that a large army would threaten American democracy and that an expanded arsenal would menace other countries. This fear of militarism also reinforced antagonism toward Germany, a well-armed and authoritarian monarchy. Preparedness advocates, however, believed that defending the country's security and borders outweighed other considerations, especially as the revolution in Mexico made the United States seem unready to defend itself. Some war opponents believed the greed of munitions makers, bankers, and others who stood to profit from war might draw Americans into an expanded conflict. Peace activists, pacifists, and others dreaded the inevitable loss of lives and drain on the economy that going to war would bring.