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The Elbert Files: We need Hoover and Ike


One thing is clear from the widespread disorganization associated with COVID-19. 

After three months of inconsistent, and at times totally confusing, policies involving medical and protective equipment, virus testing, vaccine creation and economic shutdowns, it is clear that this crisis needs a logistics czar. 

Herbert Hoover served that role during the food panics that swept across Europe during and after World War I and Dwight Eisenhower oversaw logistics that led us to victory in World War II. 

Maybe we can learn something from them. 

Hoover was an Iowa-born engineer who first demonstrated an aptitude for logistics as a student manager at Stanford University in the 1890. Later, he honed those skills as a mining engineer in China, where biographer Kenneth Whyte wrote he developed “an encyclopedic grasp of administrative minutia.” 

Companions marveled at “Hoover’s ability to get to the heart of a matter and solve problems in the simplest possible manner,” he added.  

In 1915 after war engulfed Europe, the people of Belgium, who were geographically trapped between warring Germany, France and England, were starving. Hoover stepped forward and was somehow able “to move massive supplies of food from the capital of one belligerent country [London] to the capital of a captive country [Brussels] occupied by their mutual enemy [Berlin].” 

“The logistics of acquiring and distributing enough food to sustain a country of 7.5 million people were of little concern to Hoover,” Whyte continued. “The greater challenge, he guessed, would be to convince the British to allow relief shipments through the blockade to enemy territory, and then to keep the Germans from stealing the provisions once they landed in Belgium.”

Hoover’s ability to remain neutral in a world filled with belligerents would serve us well in today’s ultra-partisan atmosphere.

After the war, President Woodrow Wilson tapped Hoover to lead the American Relief Administration, which was charged with feeding “as many as 400 million people faced [with] starvation.”

Hoover created a system that made him “the virtual ruler of the European economy,” Whyte wrote, adding: “Only Hoover, with his keen grasp of the mechanics of civilization, could have made the logistics of rehabilitating a war-ravaged continent look easy.”

He did it by stepping around ? and at times ignoring ? others, including Wilson. That style served Hoover well at that time, although it may ultimately may have contributed to his inability as president to roll back the Great Depression.

One of the more amazing aspects of Eisenhower’s army career was that in 1942, without ever having commanded troops in the field, he was given command of the entire European Theater of Operations.

Eisenhower’s organizational abilities were noted decades earlier during World War I when “instead of being shipped to Europe … he was tasked with building a new Tank Corps,” biographer William I. Hitchcock wrote in “The Age of Eisenhower.”

“I was mad, disappointed, and resented the fact the war had passed me by,” Eisenhower later wrote. 

But Eisenhower “developed a reputation for planning brilliance, hard work, supreme organizational skills, and personal qualities of tact, loyalty, devotion to duty, and optimism.”

Later, when Army chief of staff Gen. George Marshall needed someone to organize Allied forces for an invasion of German-occupied Europe, he chose Eisenhower, saying: “I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.”

Hoover and Eisenhower were complex characters, and both could be thin-skinned. Hoover particularly was prone to black moods when he was in the White House. 

But Hoover and Eisenhower rarely assessed blame publicly. Nor was either concerned about claiming credit.

Each man at the peak of his game brought out the best in those around him. 

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