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Pragmatism in action

“Marshal Langhorne came in to-day from The Hague to effect formal delivery of the first bargeload of food, and had weird tales to tell of his adventures by the way. Thank goodness, the first of the food has arrived in time, and if the flow can be kept up, the worst of our troubles will he averted. With this first consignment of food came the story of how it was got through in such record time. Hoover is one of these people who is inclined to get things done and attend later to such details as getting formal permission, etc. With Shaler’s forty thousand pounds and promises of five hundred-thousand dollars more, he went to work and placed orders for twenty thousand tons of food, costing two million dollars a week. This he did on the theory that money would come along later, when the need was realised, but that the Belgian stomachs would not wait until collections had been made. He purchased the food, got it transported to the docks, and loaded on vessels that he had contrived to charter, while all the world was fighting for tonnage, got them loaded and the hatches closed. When everything was ready, Hoover went to the proper authority and asked for permission to ship the food, announcing that unless he could get four shiploads of food into Belgium by the end of the week, the people would begin to starve. The functionary was sympathetic, but regretted that in the circumstances, he could not help. It was out of the question to purchase food. The railways were choked with troops, munitions and supplies. Ships were not to be had for love or money. And above all, the Channel was closed to commerce. Hoover heard him patiently to the end. ‘I have attended to all this,’ he said. ‘The ships are already loaded and ready to sail. All I need from you is clearance papers. You can let me have them, and everything will be all right.’ The high official could hardly believe his ears: ‘Young man,’ he gasped, ‘perhaps you don’t realise what you have done. Men have been sent to the Tower for less. If it were for any other cause, I hesitate to think what would happen to you. But as it is, I can only congratulate you on some very good work.’ And that’s how we got our food in time.” – Hugh Gibson, November 5, 1914, A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium

Published inHugh GibsonLit & CritThe Great War

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