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tv   The Presidency Herbert Hoover Aid to Famine- Stricken Russia  CSPAN  October 5, 2019 12:05pm-12:46pm EDT

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aid to famine stricken soviet russia. this program at the hoover presidential library in west branch, iowa, was part of a daylong conference of his humanitarian work. it picks up right after a break. it was mr. hoover's global efforts that propelled him toward a run for the white house. some viewers may find images in this program disturbing. mr. patenaude: welcome to the second half of our event. i am going to mosey in on the beginning of my own presentation so people can head in from the break. [laughter] let me just say it is a great pleasure to be invited here, to be part of this event. and it is a distinct pleasure to be surrounded by so many hoovers. i have never seen so many hoovers in one place. [laughter]
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it looks like we are complete. we start this segment in the summer of 1921, and in that summer, soviet russia is the scene of a catastrophic famine, as george nash mentioned earlier. millions are threatened with starvation and disease. most of them, as you will see in a moment, i will have a map up, were situated in the volga river valley. the soviet government led by vladimir lenin is unable to cope with the disaster on its own, so it is forced to allow an appeal to go out for foreign assistance and at that time, on that day, in the summer of 1921, there is only one man on the planet in a position to answer that call, and that of course is the man you see here.
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that is herbert hoover, as chairman of the american relief administration, the a.r.a. as george nash told us, since 1919 the a.r.a. is a private relief organization, relief agency. but i would say really, at least for this part of the hoover humanitarian story, we should say it is quasi-private. hoover is the secretary of commerce in the harding administration and that will play a role in the story as it spins out in the next few minutes. in that summer of 1921, after some very delicate negotiations, hoover's a.r.a. enters soviet russia to fight the great famine. in the end, millions would die in that famine. most soviet historians believe
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the figure is at least 6 million people would die in 1921, 1922. other estimates go as high as 10 million. these are deaf not from outright -- these are deaths not from outright starvation. most people in a family die of hunger related disease. but many more, many millions, i should say, are saved by what the a.r.a. is about to undertake. in fact, we will do a flash forward. by the summer of 1922, american kitchens were feeding every day -- so on a daily basis -- about 10 million soviet citizens. and here you see -- i will come back to this map a little later -- but here you see how the food is going to get into the baltic ports up here, and coming in
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through the black sea ports here. here is where the famine is centered, also beyond the volga river valley. but this is where the volga is located. at the time, when this operation was unfolding, certainly by the summer of 1923 when it ends, the american rescue operation is hailed. that remark is made by a norwegian explorer and humanitarian. but within a decade, it was all but forgotten or ignored. in particular by americans. and at the very end today, i will explain to you how that happened. the official papers of the american relief administration, hundreds of manuscript boxes, are located in the hoover archives. that is where i did most of my research for a book on this episode beginning back in 1987. but i did need to come to west branch. i did it twice, back in 1989,
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1990. it proved to be essential for my research. i looked into diaries and personal letters of the americans who served in the mission. these are chiefly men who are in their mid-to-late 20's. they are former doughboys, such as this group right here. this is the group that served on the volga. most of them are university graduates. some of them are real characters who are looking to continue the great adventure they began when they came over to serve in the great war. now, these young men, all of these, had experience as relief workers with the a.r.a. in places like poland and austria. but the hardship they encountered in central europe did not compare to the horrors they now witnessed in soviet russia. this was a genuine, large scale famine.
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it was brought on by years of war and revolution, followed by a major drought in russia's main grain growing regions. this was a famine not in the cities. that is what the a.r.a. men were used to in central and eastern europe, but in the countryside. the famine devastated the grain producers, the producers of the food. this is a new ballgame for the americans of the a.r.a. so what kinds of things did they encounter? what kind of sights did they see? a big thing they encountered when they arrived on the volga is a lot of people were trying to get out in order to get to a source of food. a lot of people assumed that would be in ukraine. ukraine was having their own famine in the south. they found people dying in large numbers, many dying at railway stations, such as this provincial town on the volga.
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the refugee problem is enormous, and they have to turn the tide in order to solve the problem of the famine. another few slides in here, i think there are only three, but they are a little difficult to look at, so i am going lightly on this kind of thing today. here is one of them. many of the young victims, and that was the central focus for herbert hoover, are suffering from edema, the extended stomach, by eating grass and weeds, various other food substitutes. in fact, going through the museum yesterday, you could see some of the food substitutes brought back by the americans who served in russia. they are in the museum displays. i saw them yesterday. what passes as food -- you can see this in the museum -- resembles black or green bread.
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it usually contains only the slightest bit of flour, the rest being grass or some other similar ingredient. children are especially vulnerable to that kind of so-called food. substances that could sustain adults could kill their offspring. the worst scenes of suffering the americans encountered in the so-called children's homes were refugee children, orphaned or abandoned by their parents, who were taken in. the americans, dreaded after a short time in the volga valley, dreaded going into these children's homes. they were haunted by it
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afterwards. children looked at the relief workers, looked at the americans in a kind of absent sort of way. they expected kids to be pleading for bread. they seemed to be beyond that point. that is the scene going into the autumn of 1921. herbert hoover's original idea was to feed only -- i am going to do the scarecrow thing -- only 1 million children. soon that was increased by the time they signed an agreement to 3 million children. what that picture going in was the kitchens they would operate would look like this. this was the fall of 1921. this is one of the largest kitchens, and it is in petrograd. 3 million children, by the way, would have been the largest a.r.a. mission to date. and so, they were thinking it would be in the cities that the relief would be delivered and distributed, and they pretty much thought it would be capped at 3 million. but the types of scenes that i showed you in the previous slides would soon transform the mission into something much more ambitious than hoover had contemplated.
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now, hoover was perceived at the time, perceived in those days, as america's leading anti-bolshevik. he was a communist killer. his feeding in europe had the effect of stemming the tide of spreading bolshevism. hoover assumed that food could stop the spread of the disease of bolshevism, which is believed to be caused by an empty stomach. fill stomachs and you put a stop to bolshevism. this might help bring the russian people to their senses, give them some oomph, and help bring down the soviet government. these attitudes were very well known to soviet officials.
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lenin not the least among them. it is no surprise that american relief workers get there, despite the fact that they had a good agreement they signed going in. they find it difficult to get the cooperation of soviet officials. the a.r.a. men, these young guys, they expect this. they expect obstructionism on the behalf of the bolsheviks. they know that lenin's government had allowed hoover's men in out of desperation. the record shows, the soviet archives reveal this in particular after 1991. the soviet union collapses. it shows that hoover and his colleagues were originally absolutely paranoid about what this guy might try to pull off inside the homeland of communism. anything has been possible, right? this guy could do it. the kremlin, or the bolsheviks
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of the kremlin, had very good reason to be on their guard, although their fears were quickly dissipated. hoover's relief workers adhered strictly to business. they did not try to use food as a weapon by feeding anti-soviet elements. but still, still, the very presence of an american relief organization operating inside soviet russia constituted a dangerous threat. aside from the soviet government being embarrassed by having to be bailed out by herbert hoover and his a.r.a., to see an example of american energy and efficiency, it was feared, might give some russians the wrong idea about the wisdom of the communist experiment. and so the bolshevik authorities make every effort to give the appearance of control. that inspired the title i gave
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to this talk. say it ain't so, comrade. that is the sentiment of disbelief that came out of them. some were convinced that the soviet experiment after four years was destined to be short-lived. the famine seemed to be a deathknell. there was at this time, i think most of you will know, no u.s. diplomatic relations with the soviet union. that would come, by the way, only after president herbert hoover would leave office in 1933. as i say, initially hoover wanted to restrict the relief to feeding children. and the idea was to come up with meals that consisted of some combination of beans, rice, corn grits, bread, milk, cocoa, lard, and sugar.
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did i mention cocoa? cocoa was huge with these kids. don't have time to go into it. [laughter] so feeding children, it is a hoover hallmark. but the american relief workers on the ground see the enormity of the catastrophe, and their reports are that russia, tell hoover that much more is required. how can we feed the children and let the parents die? among other things that might result in huge numbers of orphaned children, and russia would be saddled with that problem going in for another decade. so, these reports that the americans send out, and which eventually reached herbert hoover, set the stage for the dramatic expansion of the mission in the winter of 1921-1922. herbert listened to those pleas, and he asked president harding
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to approach congress with a request for appropriation of $20 million. eventually, all monies for this mission would add up to about $60 million. that translates into about $909 million. the $20 million congressional appropriation would be used to purchase corn. very important, seed, weed seed, seed, that would be sent to soviet russia. the essential story of a book i wrote about this is how the a.r.a. backed by this congressional appropriation of $20 million undertakes a massive campaign to transport corn and seed from the american midwest to the russian heartland, thereby breaking the back of famine and securing the harvest of 1922.
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we are going to go to a different map. you see this is a big picture map. are you going to blink? here we go. we go a little bit tighter, and you see here you have the baltic ports up here and the black sea ports down here. sorry i don't have time to get into these ports in the north. there is a race against the clock to get in before they freeze. not always successful. these are the transport lines here from moscow going out. and you see the volga river snaking down here. this is where most of the slides i am showing you come from. in a few minutes, we will go out here in the ural mountains. we are going to move these supplies. we have to get them to the victims. we have to get the seed there right before the corn arrives --
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no, we have to get the corn there before the seeds arrive so the seeds will not be consumed by the peasants and will save the harvest. but this will take time. in the meantime, soviet citizens are dying by the hundreds of thousands every week. this is the most difficult image i will show you today. this is a city on the volga. it becomes stalingrad. today, it is volgagrad. this is the kind of thing going on all through the winter. the delivery of the relief proves to be a tremendous logistical challenge. when you look back and you see how many things could have gone wrong, this mission could have easily failed instead of becoming the crowning achievement of hoover relief in wartime and post-world war i period. the obstacles to success were many.
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it starts with this. the key physical obstacle, aside from the russian winter, the state of russia's railroads. european russia is scarred with what the americans call locomotive graveyards like this. rows of rusted and dilapidated locomotives that had gone unused for years, the tinders are missing, boilers are open. they are resting there like sleeping monsters. that is a very big deal and at one point in march of 1922, there is near disastrous jam up of corn trains. you can do this. corn trains here. you see the backup going, and especially right here. the railway lines cannot handle the load. hoover anticipated this. he worried about this.
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the central drama is how, against all odds, and after that nearly disastrous jam up of corn trains west of the volga, in 1922 the lifesaving corn and wheat seed begins arriving in the villages. and it is the nick of time. the way they get from the railheads to the villages sort of surprises some people. this is a photograph i used on the cover of my book. these are camels. you can see down there. this is the volga river. it is frozen. one of the advantages to the russian winter, right? people are surprised in this story -- i was when i first began to research this story -- how many camels were appearing in various places. there were striking images throughout the archives of horse caravans, camel caravans, mixed caravans, oxen.
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camels, though, survived longer than the horses. horses died in large numbers. camels proved to be a hardier sort at that time, up into the lower volga and north. when the food arrives, remember that petrograd kitchen i showed you earlier? it looks neat and clean and sort of urban. this is more typical of the type of kitchen that the a.r.a. was serving in, in the villages. i love this photo. this is a different kitchen i am about to show you. this is an exterior shot, and here is an interior shot here. look at this girl's face in the middle here. striking photograph. briefly, but it has to be mentioned, the a.r.a. for its first time in its existence,
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conducted a medical program and russia. the conditions demanded it. simply, russian medicine could not handle the medical emergency or medical famine, as the americans called it. an important part of that program was an inoculation drive of both adults and children. so the adults, there are the kids right there. this vaccine was employed to immunize against cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. and a very important part of the program. the mission would stay in russia for a second year. after they secure the harvest of 1922, they stay on for a second year at a much reduced scale. the harvest of 1922, very successful. but still, and one argument for
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staying was that they could not avoid what some of the a.r.a. men saw from the beginning as inevitable, and that is an orphan problem. despite this a.r.a.'s best intentions and despite the feeding of many adults, there are many orphans. i would not try to put a number on it. waif children such as these who roamed the cities into the 1920's, roamed the cities in packs like wild animals. the problem becomes so acute it will last until the end of the decade, and stalin has an idea of how to put an end to that. it is called the first five-year plan. those kids end up working in factories. another orphan shot. this was the autumn of 1921. the reason i want to show you that photograph is that american is working for the a.r.a. his name is vernon kellogg. he was herbert hoover's biology teacher at stanford, and hoover
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drafted him to become a very important figure relief in belgium and with the a.r.a. a very striking photo otherwise, but i wanted you to see vernon kellogg. so, millions will die. millions were saved. this is one of two official a.r.a. posters that were distributed inside soviet russia during the a.r.a. mission. and it is quite possible that hoover's mission saved the bolshevisk regime from utter collapse. this is a point of speculation. i think it will keep coming back in waves. the first person in print to speculate about this as a historian was george kennan in the 1950's. did hoover let them off the hook?
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would the bolshevisk regime have fallen if the americans had not come in and saved the day? hoover's critics at home during the mission were after him about this. in part, the congressional appropriations were a little difficult to get through. it is going to happen, but he had to really nudge some people on capitol hill. in part, conservative critics wondered, as one line in a newspaper put it, we would give soup to nuts. liberals andicture, right?meany leftist radicals up lewd hoover of applauding relief -- applauding using relief as a tool to overthrow power. for those people, anti-bolshevism diluted the humanitarianism. the fact is in understanding
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hoover's motives, not helpful to look at this dichotomy. to hoover just as woodrow wilson , and most western statesmen at the time, bolshevism was a symptom of people in distress. bolshevism was itself humanitarian. hoover hoped that the a.r.a. example of its energy, efficiency, these posters were distributed in the tens of thousands across soviet russia, so the image of american benevolence is spread. he hoped that would serve to further discredit what he called the foolish soviet economic system, in the eyes of the soviet people, and perhaps serve to catalyze the inevitable political healing process. as i said a little earlier, and i am going to bring this up in a different context, soviet officials from lenin on down for very aware of this.
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so they set up a hierarchial system of secret police minders that were sent from moscow into the provinces, and even down to the town and village level, to keep an eye on the americans, ostensibly to assist, but often times it ended up being obstruction or just getting in the way. local soviet officials also kept a close eye on the americans. this is in a place that i pointed out to you. it is beyond the volga and the ural mountains. the man in the middle is william kelly. i will get back to him in a moment, but the man on the last is the soviet official, the secret police guy, from moscow. the man on the right is a local official. kelly did not have a very good opinion of these two individuals. that smile on his face, i think, says a lot.
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the supervision, the obstructionism of the soviets exasperated the relief workers, who found most officials not up -- most soviet officials they encountered were not up to the job. these are former something other than government officials who after the revolution inherent or come into very big jobs. the a.r.a. men realize that they just can't do it. they see themselves very much in herbert hoover's image. they are engineers executing the business of relief, and they were also spreading the benign influence of american efficiency. and for me, fascinating, and i write about this in the book, peculiarities of the russian environment seem to have magnified the crusading spirit of the relief workers.
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there is zeal for spreading their particular idea of civilization, for how things work. they grew more fervent in proportion to the level of passivity and inefficiency they came up against in russia. one example is, and it is one of my favorites, is william kelly. bill kelley, native of kentucky. went on to be a journalist with the associated press. during the war, he went over to paris and was a u.s. army intelligence officer, and as i said, he was stationed in a the volga,on beyond the ural mountains, the edge of siberia. we have, at the hoover archives, every single letter he wrote, and he wrote every few days, to a colleague in new york. and those letters are, i mean, they are -- they give tremendous insight into what is going on. at times, they are laugh out loud funny as kelly describes what he is seeing.
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i knew immediately when i found this cache of letters that had not been exploited by anyone, i knew i had a character to focus on. in those letters, back to new york, kelly found little cause for optimism about the caliber of local officials that he had to contend with. he allowed, in one letter, that the men running the kremlin might be ruthlessly efficient, but that was beside the point. "were they all hoovers, they could do little to improve the general situation working through the existing personnel in the provinces." and to bring the matter alive, for his correspondence, he employs american points of references. "is the government here conducted efficiently? the board of alderman of any dakota town could be counted on to administer the provinces
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better than their present executives. i have tested their knowledge of their own territories, of their institutions, of their resources, and i avow that with rare exceptions, they are incompetent to conduct the affairs of a small town grocery store." [laughter] sure enough, a lot of american relief workers had that opinion of the officials they were dealing with. and these were guys in their 20's. they are kings in the world in their particular kingdoms. a district thely size of france. at one point, they were feeding 1.6 million people. life and death decisions are there. i will prove the numbers thing to you. i know this slide is dark, but i had to include it. what we are seeing is the famine relief in this district, ara,
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september 10, 1922. total being said, 1.6 million. and this is a breakdown. this photo was taken indoors by an amateur. the doctor, each american district had a physician assigned to it, and he took this photo. i wanted you to see this. can you see who that is? it is herbert hoover. from up here, it may not be as easy to see. it is herbert hoover. think about it, the urals, who had some mining interests there before the war, all of those contacts were broken off. the rumors that hoover was there trying to revive business was nonsense. -- were nonsense. but hoover's image in that photo in particular shows up in many background offices.
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the reason i like that is the chief is there right above these tremendous totals. yeah. in fact, and this is what i will end with, researching the a.r.a. records -- and i started doing this in 1987, and so my image of herbert hoover was of the other herbert hoover. i kept thinking herbert hoover, the post-presidency. i didn't really have a strong sense of how hoover related to or how the people who worked under him related to him. reading the records, reading the private letters, the diaries of the americans who served, you get a sense of their ferocious feeling of loyalty toward hoover. they would follow him into any battle, right? hoover -- it is a word i have used before, and people say, you must be talking about somebody else, but hoover had a quiet
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charisma, which, for most americans, has been obliterated by the great depression and what comes afterwards. but hoover, a man of few words, really kind of exerted that kind that magneticrted pull on the men who served under him. i don't think we said his nickname. he was known as "the chief." they referred to hoover in their letters as "the chief." the men of the a.r.a., generally speaking, saw themselves as practical idealists in the hoover mode. they were fixers, engineer administrators who prided themselves on an efficient and hardheaded dispensation of relief, using strict accounting practices. it is one thing that flummoxed the soviet officials. they could not figure out why the americans were taking such records. there must be some act of espionage behind this, right? what is the point? this was the hoover way. you counted for everything that went in, who got it, and you
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make sure to give the american people the proper accounting of where their money went. most of these young americans professed to be animated by a sense of loyalty to the man. they did this openly in their communications. one of them, a man who served on the volga, recalled, "during the difficult and frequently dangerous days of the a.r.a. mission to the baltic, and later the russian mission, it was only necessary to say the chief wants it done, and in this particular way, that was that. not only for me, but for all the men i knew who served in those missions. a singularly undivided loyalty." in fact, few of the relief , orers had ever met the man
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had up until that point met the man, but they knew what he personified, and many were intensely loyal to that idea. another relief worker wrote from moscow in the summer of 1922 to a colleague back home. "there is a saying among the a.r.a. men that once you tie up with hoover, you can never quite shake him off." [laughter] and he also wrote that when the frustrations of the russian mission seemed about to overwhelm them, the relief workers told themselves to do it for hoover, and pressed on. i showed you a poster before distributed across russia. they held a competition to create a poster that would serve the a.r.a. across russia. they could not decide between the one you saw earlier and this one. the ship, quite an image, the flag back there. sorry. notice the rows of corn. this says america to starving russia. this is a real winner.
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i will use this poster to how this remarkable episode celebrated, and in its day, slipped into relative obscurity. there are two dimensions. on the soviet side, after the a.r.a. withdrew from soviet russia in the summer of 1923, its reputation and its legacy were vulnerable to every kind of soviet slander. as it turned out, hoover had been wrong about one big thing. fighting the famine was not going to bring down the bolshevisks. the fact is, by 1921, the soviet regime had wiped out all potential alternatives to bolshevisk power. soviet communism, we now know, was there to stay for another seven decades. by the 1930's, and this would be under stalin, the party line instructed that the purpose of hoover's a.r.a. in russia had been espionage under the cover of philanthropy.
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espionage. for the most part, the a.r.a. mission was purposefully ignored by the soviet authorities, and thus, slowly forgotten by the soviet people. that is the soviet side. on the american side, within a decade of the soviet famine, the great depression would eclipse herbert hoover's reputation as the great humanitarian. hoover's undoing and the depression itself would deal a devastating blow to the a.r.a. ethos. the fundamental values, up until 1929, hoover was seen to embody american individualism, business efficiency, and can-do optimism. these were not destroyed, it turned out, but they had lost their aura of invincibility. thank you. [applause]
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ruledourt eventually tomato was a vegetable instead of a fruit. any botanist will tell you a tomato is a fruit, but the 1883 tariff put a tariff on vegetables and not fruits, so an pointed of vegetables out that the tomatoes he was bringing in from the caribbean were fruit, and he didn't have to pay a tariff. the battle went on for quite some time. eventually, the supreme court ruled tomatoes were actually vegetables. it is an interesting ruling in that it had repercussions just beyond tomatoes themselves. announcer: sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q&

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