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with the distribution of native foodstuffs in Belgium of giving preferential treatment to Belgians working in their interests. You state that the British Government now propose to protest strongly against the action of the German authorities in using the distribution of native foodstuffs as a means of forcing the Belgian population to work for them and to intimate that unless this policy is immediately abandoned, and native foodstuffs equitably distributed, the British authorities will be compelled to revert to their former practice of refusing to sanction imports of foodstuffs of any kind, unless an undertaking was given that the relief organization would be permitted to control and distribute equivalent native supplies.
I am of the opinion that this extreme penalty should be used only under the most grave conditions and it seems obvious that unless the object of the whole Belgian relief is to be nullified it is not quite fair to ask ten million people to face starvation without very carefully considering the consequences. As you are aware those who have charge of the distribution of imported foodstuffs and of the native foodstuffs endeavor to prohibit any distribution to Belgians in the employ of Germany and the total amount to be distributed is so small that if one individual gets more than his share someone else must starve. The most recent information received by the Commission for Relief in Belgium indicates that the method of distribution inaugurated over three years ago was meeting with the full approval of the Belgian Committee who are very jealous of any German interference.
It seems to me, therefore, that the importation of foodstuffs into Belgium should not be prohibited until evidence has been produced that the system of distribution and the allocation of native foodstuffs have become disrupted to such an extent as to be unbearable to the Belgians themselves. I am [etc.]
FRANK L. POLK
File No. 855.48/719
The Minister in Belgium (Whitlock) to the Secretary of State No. 607
HAVRE, March 6, 1918.
[Received March 25.] SIR: I have the honor to report that members of the Belgian Government have received information from the occupied portion of Belgium to the effect that the Germans, in case they should find sufficient foodstuffs in Russia, may order the Commission for Relief to discontinue its work and destroy the National Committee, and several of the Ministers here have expressed the fear that if the imports of the Commission were reduced this might intensify the probability of such action. They think that in case the Germans felt that they could provide sufficient foodstuffs themselves they would turn the feeding of Belgium over to committees formed of “activists” in the Flemish movement, and by so doing seek still further to advance their scheme of dividing Belgium and of beating down resistance and enfeebling the national spirit. No active measures to this end have as yet been taken but the Belgian Government has the fear that there may be if the Germans should conclude that they were in a condition to order the discontinuance of the relief work now carried on by the National Committee and the Commission for Relief in Belgium.
The prospect of the necessity of reducing imports into the occupied portion of Belgium indeed is one that fills the Belgian Government with great concern. While the people there have borne the horrors of the war and the indignities and the injustices heaped upon them by the Germans with the greatest fortitude, and although in the midst of the German plots to divide them they still oppose a magnificent moral resistance to the invaders, the Ministers here fear that if they were to go hungry this resistance would be compromised, and perhaps the German maneuvers and suggestions in favor of peace would find a readier reception. They fear too that the statement of Hertling in the Reichstag the other day may be the forerunner to some peace offer to Belgium.
As I said in my despatch No. 106, dated March 1, 1918,4 the Belgian Government announced that it would not make peace without the consent of its allies, and to this view they would hold under all circumstances, but inasmuch as it has more than once been intimated that Germany was ready to conclude some arrangement with Belgium they fear that if the people were weakened behind them they might be placed in an embarrassing situation. The long duration of the war and the absence of any indication that it will soon be brought to an end makes it much more difficult to keep up the morale of the people, especially when communication is so difficult and dangerous. Only the other day the Baron Capelle, an official of the Belgian Foreign Office who remained in Belgium and has been in constant communication with the Government here, was condemned by the Germans to 10 years penal servitude. The reign of terror grows worse every day in Belgium. Condemnations to prison and to death for what the Germans call the “crime of patriotism,” when they do not call it treason, are growing more and more frequent, and in addition to the strong effort to divide the Flemish and Walloons the Germans are trying to cut off all communication on the part of the
'Apparently refers to unnumbered telegram of Mar. 1, Supplement 1, vol. I, p. 144.
Government at Havre with the patriotic leaders inside, and German agents and spies on this side of the line are trying, as I have shown in former despatches, to sow discord even in the Belgian Army.
The other day the King and Queen went to the south of France for a fortnight and visited the Italian front, and no sooner had they gone than the familiar vicious rumors were circulated in Havre, and indeed throughout France—one that the King had been forced to abdicate, another that he had been shot by one of his own soldiers, etc. To counteract the effect of these reports French newspapers have been publishing long articles in praise of the King and Queen, and lauding the heroism of Belgium and the Belgians, while the King himself paid a visit to the President of France.
All these défaitiste efforts of the Germans have failed to affect the morale, to impair the stamina, or to weaken the resistance of the Belgian people in or out of Belgium. But the effort to keep it intact as a nation, on the success of which the whole policy of the Allied cause depends, grows more and more difficult with the prolongation of the war and in a position complicated by so many problems the Belgian Government and the Belgian people, whose faith and hope and courage have never wavered, and who have a touching confidence in American friendship, are entitled to all our sympathy, our comfort, and our aid. I have [etc.]
[For Dutch threat to seize cargoes of the Commission for Relief in Belgium see telegrams from the Minister in the Netherlands, Nos. 2284 and 2337 of April 10 and April 18, 1918, Supplement 1, volume II, pages 1455 and 1466, respectively.]
File No. 855.48/722a
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) 1
WASHINGTON, April 11, 1918. 7226. On account of the extreme gravity of the present military situation and the necessity for utilizing all available tonnage for transportation of American troops and supplies to France, the question is presented to this Government whether 60,000 tons of shipping should be allocated by this Government to the Belgian Relief in addition to their present tonnage, in order that the Belgian Relief
· See last sentence for instructions to repeat to Paris as No. 3508 and Havre as No. 291.
may deliver a total minimum of 90,000 tons of foodstuffs per month
a to Belgium and northern France, or whether this 60,000 tons of shipping should be devoted to military purposes.
The Belgian Relief Commission has at the present time at its disposal tonnage sufficient to transport to the population of Belgium and northern France an average of under 60,000 tons of food per month. The amount of food which the Commission has always considered was the minimum on which this population could be maintained in reasonable health is about 120,000 tons per month. On account of this stringency the Commission have felt recently that with the approaching spring the shipments might be reduced temporarily to 90,000 tons of food per month without causing any disaster. In order to transport 90,000 tons of food per month this additional 60,000 tons of shipping must now be allocated to the Belgian Relief.
The Government of the United States, having in mind the important humanitarian and political aspects of this work and the deep interest taken therein by the Government to which you are accredited, desires you to ascertain from that Government its views on the particular question whether the 60,000 tons of shipping should be allocated to the Belgian Relief or devoted to military purposes. Repeat to Paris, No. 3508, and Havre, No. 291.
File No. 855.48/724
[Received April 13, 5.37 p. m.] 9507. Your 7226, April 11. The Foreign Office has just sent me the following answer:
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to the United States Ambassador, and, with reference to Mr. Page's memorandum No. 514 of the 12th instant relative to a question of allocating 60,000 tons of shipping, either for the transportation of American troops and supplies to France, or to the Belgian Relief, has the honor to say that  in the present circumstances it appears to His Majesty's Government to be of paramount importance that this tonnage should be devoted to military purposes; (2) there would be no objection on the part of His Majesty's Government to the Commission for Relief in Belgium being invited to charter further Swedish ships now in Sweden.
File No. 855.48/723
[Received April 14, 5.30 a. m.] 3610. Department's 358 , April 12. Foreign Office informs me today that the whole subject of tonnage will be settled at a conference called for that purpose to be held in Paris on the 23d instant. While a preference was expressed for the use of the 60,000 tons of shipping referred to for the transportation of troops, yet the necessity for administering relief to Belgium and northern France is fully appreciated.
File No. 855.48/727
The Minister in Belgium (Whitlock) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 19, 7.51 p. m.] 115. Hymans, replying tonight to your 291 April 12," says the feeding of the population already so tried would be imperiled if the tonnage used for shipping food were reduced and that new privations would enfeeble their moral resistance. Under these conditions he says, “ The Government of the King regrets that it is not able to give its assent to the proposed measure."
File No. 855.48/728
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received 4.30 p. m.] 9631. Your 7226, 11th. My 9507, April 13, 11 p. m. I have just received the following note from the Foreign Office:
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to the United States Ambassador and with reference to His Excellency's note of the 12th instant relative to a question of allocating 60,000 tons of shipping either for the transportation of United States troops and supplies to France or to the Belgian Relief, has the honor to inform Mr. Page that in replying as above it was as
See last sentence in telegram of Apr. 11, ante, p. 475.