The World's Food and World Politics, May 18, 1918

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Jane Addams, Hull House, Chicago

Nearly a decade ago, in addressing this organization, I reminded my colleagues of the social utility of compassion and cited gradual changes in the governmental approach to national problems for which humanitarians had been responsible.

May I tonight draw your attention to the profound modifications now taking place in the official relationships between a group of nations and suggest that these changes in international politics are also due to the operation of the same basic human emotion.

It would be possible to illustrate something of this elementary change from the governmental recognition of the Red Cross and its service in [cooperation] with government officials in Belgium, France, Italy, [Serbia] and [Romania]. But, perhaps, because I have been somewhat identified with the Federal Department of Food Administration, I find it easier to trace this shifting of values through governmental action in regard to food supplies.

There are such unexpected turnings in the paths of moral evolution that it would not be without precedent if, when the producing and shipping of food on the part of great nations was no longer a commercial enterprise but had gradually shifted to a desire to feed hungry people with whose governments they had entered into obligations, that a new and powerful force might be unloosed in the world and would in the future have to be reckoned with as a factor in international affairs.

In these dark years, so destructive of the old codes, the nations are forced back to their tribal function of producing and conserving food in contrast to the methods of modern commerce. All food supplies have long been collected and distributed through the utilization of the commercial motive. When it was commercially valuable to a man, to a firm or a nation, food was shipped; when it was not commercially valuable, food was withheld or even destroyed. [page 2]

At the present moment, however, the Allied Nations are, as you know, collecting and conserving a common food supply and each nation is facing the necessity of making certain concessions to the common good that the threat of famine for all may be averted. A new internationalism is being established day by day; the making of a more reasonable world order, so cogently urged by the President of the United States, is to some extent already under way, the war itself forming its matrix.

Does the present state of affairs indicate a new order -- the substitution of the social utility motive for that of commercial gain, energized pity for that of business enterprise? Mr. Hoover has recently said: "The wheat loaf has ascended in the imagination of enormous populations as the positive symbol of national survival. ... We have in the distribution of this commodity above all others a duty that far transcends mere commerce. ... The spirit of commerce must pass from gain to exalted idealism."

But all this implies, of course, a revolution in the governmental relationships between nations.

It is said that there is no one in August, 1914, who could have told precisely what the world's stock of wheat amounted to, although there were many men who knew enough about world wheat production and wheat consumption to predict price changes with approximate accuracy.

The dealer for the most part concerns himself only with the profit and is not primarily concerned in feeding the world unless the world can pay for it. Even Joseph, who made the historic record in feeding the hungry during the seven years of famine in ancient Egypt, charged such prices for his grain that the Egyptians were so stripped of their property and land and of their very personal liberty, that to this day they have not recovered them. The nations in their long exchange of food stuffs so constantly discuss tariffs and commercial rights that at moments international politics itself seems a mere atavistic survival from an earlier period into an age of commerce.

This means that in their intercourse with each other, they have exhibited that aspect of national life which is least human and least spiritual. In their diplomatic intercourse, the nations were so concerned with their self-interests, that they evolved no desire for social [cooperation]. This lack of [cooperation] may account for the fact that the various efforts made at The Hague and elsewhere to establish more human relationship were comparatively futile and they may have deserved the limbo to which they have apparently been relegated.

John Dewey has recently attributed the failure of recent discussion of international courts and leagues to the fact that there was nothing upon which to focus the scattered moral energies and to make operative a new moral idea. The enthusiasts, having nothing to work upon, were obliged to consider only the negative proposition of preventing war, they had none of the positive incentive which arises from looking after economic and social needs.

Is not this coming together to feed the world a recognition of a great [page 3] moral obligation and is not the generous attempt to fulfill it constantly bringing into existence new obligations which may form the natural and normal foundation for a genuine international government?

Up to the present moment the nations, in their foreign relations, have totally lacked that modification which has come in their domestic policies by the increasing care for the poor, the concern for the man at the bottom, the protection of children, which have led to all sorts of ameliorative legislation during these later years.

In domestic affairs modern states to some extent at least consider the real interests of the citizens. Slowly and gradually they have learned to formulate the lessons from experience and to embody them in permanent governmental institutions.

All this is [analogous] to the foreign policy evolving between the Allied Nations in their efforts to relieve the starvation and distress of the prolonged war.

Is the present lack of organization between the nations, the dearth of human relationships in world politics, at last to be corrected, because an unspeakable disaster has forced the nations to consider together the primitive questions of famine and of pestilence? Is a new international ethics arising from these humble beginnings, as the defense and feeding of the dependent members of the tribe laid the foundations of tribal loyalty and of national existence itself? In spite of the great mass of social data accumulated in the last century, in spite of widespread intellectual training, there has been no successful attempt to reduce the chaos of human affairs into a rational world order. Society failed to make a community of nations and is at last tragically driven to the beginnings of one along the old primitive folkways, as if in six thousand years no other method could have been devised.

To make a hasty review of the situation and starting with our own experience in the United States, you all recall the abnormal speculation in wheat which took place in the harvest of 1916, made possible by the entire dislocation of transportation in the world's wheat trade. The serious results of this period of speculation furnished overwhelming evidence to Congress of the necessity for some form of governmental control and after much discussion a Department of Food Administration was authorized. The new department was thus from the beginning identified with a world situation and one of its earliest publications made an analysis of the world's resources and stated the obvious causes for the world-wide deficit. The department stated that this food crisis was due, first of all, to the poor harvest of 1916 in both hemispheres, illustrated by Argentina, which has long been an exporting country, but that year had barely enough wheat for its own use.

In addition to the universal bad harvests, the war had made a tremendous diversion of man power from the fields to the firing line. Forty million men were in active army service, ten million had already lost their lives or were helplessly disabled, twenty million men and women were supporting the armies by their war activities, such as the manufacture of [page 4] munitions, and perhaps as many were in definite war industries, such as shipbuilding. Of course, not all these people were before the war directly engaged in producing food, but many of them were, and others were transporting or manufacturing it, and their wholesale withdrawal wrought havoc both in agriculture and in industry.

The European fields, worked by women and children and in certain sections by war prisoners, were lacking in fertilizers which could not be brought from remote ports nor be manufactured as usual in Europe, because nitrates and other such materials are essential in ammunition.

The U-boats constantly destroyed food-carrying ships, over a million tons were torpedoed in four months of last year and many remote markets had become absolutely isolated. Owing to this greatly lowered production and to the dearth of ships, more than one hundred million people in Europe have come to depend largely upon what can be sent from the United States, upon what the American farmer can raise and the American woman can save.

Mr. Hoover, appointed by the President as head of the Department of Food Administration, had been in intimate contact with the backwash of war for two and a half years and even then had come to see that the political relations at least between Belgium and her Allies had completely shifted from the commercial to the humanitarian. To quote from a speech he delivered last month: "For three years three million bushels monthly of North American wheat, largely from the charity of the world, has been the daily bread of ten million human beings in Belgium and Northern France. To those who doled out this scant allowance, wheat became indelibly the precious symbol of life and to those who received it the symbol of the greatness and the charity of America."

With such a background it was to be expected that the Department of Food Administration should from the beginning have carried out comprehensive plans; should have announced that the situation was more than war, that it was a question of humanity and that the obligation on the part of the United States to feed Europe had become actually independent of any political or military events which might intervene in the immediate future.

The department has undertaken to know, as well as human beings can, what food supplies are available, especially those that have critical value in conducting the war; how much must be set apart for the armies and the Allies to keep them going; how much must be reserved for the actual needs of our own people. The Food Administrator constantly confers with the representatives in Washington of the Neutral as well as of the Allied Nations, that there may be as equitable a distribution as possible of existing supplies. It is all considered from the point of view of needs of the whole.

It is easier to do this because each of the Allied Nations, in addition to feeding the soldiers and the munition makers who are directly concerned in the tragic business of "winning the war," has also become responsible for feeding its entire civilian population. The appointment of [page 5] food controllers, the issuing of bread cards and the system of rationing, is undertaken quite as much in the interest of just dealing in food supplies as for food conservation itself. At the present moment, the British government itself has undertaken the responsibility of providing the British Isles with all its imported food, and other belligerent and neutral nations have been obliged to pursue the same course in order to avert starvation. Commercial competition has been suppressed, not in response to any theory, but because it could not be trusted to feed the feeble and helpless.

In the United States we are at present importing so little food that our system of control is applied to exports and our savings have the oversea needs constantly in mind. In an address made by Mr. Hoover at Pittsburgh, April 8th, 1918, he said: "Every export from the United States today is under control. It is controlled that it may serve the positive military ends of the government." To transfer this concern for food into the international field is to enlarge its functions enormously as well as to increase its proportions. The Allied Nations have seriously tackled the problem of producing with the utmost economy of human labor the largest possible amount of food and of distributing that food to the points of greatest need, they have been forced to make international arrangements for its distribution, exactly as intelligently as they are producing war supplies and sending out soldiers to fight an international cause.

The methods of this food distribution have been enormously influenced by the experience in Belgium. Fifteen million dollars each month are lent to that unhappy nation by the United States, which has taken over the responsibility of feeding her beleaguered population. This amount is spent here for food and its value is carefully considered by the Division of Research in Nutritive Values in the Department of Food Administration. This Division undertakes to know, as well as science can tell, what are the necessary daily rations to maintain health and strength in the several occupations, and how the requirements can best be met from the stores on hand. Such words as adequate nutrition and physiological values have been made practical issues and the administrative world represented by governmental officials is today seriously considering the production of food and the feeding of human beings in the light of pure science.

I need not remind my audience that all this on a huge scale is exactly the sort of experimentation which has been back of the most successful governmental action within the nations. It is no small achievement to have advised a workable method for the collective purchase of food, to prohibit profiteering in "the precious stuff that men live by," even for the duration of the war. The Food Administrator for the United States certainly reported progress the other day when he said: "Our food exports are directed towards but a few hands on the other side of the water. The European governments have been compelled to undertake, as the consequence of shortage in supplies, the single-handed purchase of their supplies both for civil and military purposes. There has grown up an [page 6] enormous consolidation of buying for a hundred and twenty million European people -- a phenomenon never before witnessed in the economic history of the world."

With this accomplishment may we not hope for world order in other directions as well? Certainly some of the obstructions are giving way. An English economist has recently said: "The war has, so far, in Europe generally, thrown the custom tariffs flat." Are they, perhaps, disappearing under this onslaught of energized pity for worldwide needs? And is a motive power, new in the relations between nations being evolved in response to hunger and dependence as the earliest domestic ethics had been? It is becoming clear that nations cannot oppose their political frontiers as an obstacle to free labor and exchange without suffering themselves and causing suffering; that the world is faced with a choice between freedom in international commerce or international conflicts of increasing severity? Under this new standard of measurement, preferential tariffs inevitably disappear because the nation denied the open door must suffer in its food supplies; the control of strategic waterways or interstate railroad lines by one nation who might be tempted to consider only the interest of its own commerce, becomes unthinkable. All that then would be necessary to secure the internationalization of the Straits of Bosphorus would be a demonstration of the need in Western Europe for Russian wheat, which is now exported so capriciously; the international building and control of a railroad into Mesopotamia would depend, not upon the ambition of rival nations, but upon the world's need of the food which could again be secured from the capacious valley of the Euphrates by the restoration of the canal system so long ago destroyed. [Serbia] would be assured a railroad to the sea through a strip of international territory, because ready access to seagoing ships is so necessary to a nation's food and because one of the principal causes of the economic friction that so often lie behind wars is the fear of countries that have no ports lest the neighboring country through which their export and import trade has to pass should hamper and interrupt the transit.

But such action would establish at least six out of the fourteen points laid down on January 8th by President Wilson as a program for the permanent peace of the world. It would, moreover, be not a counsel of perfection, but an actual achievement. This widespread response to the human demand of supplying food to the world, may become the great factor in securing a permanent peace at the end of the war. To declare that this is a "war to end war" and that the next peace commission must provide for an enduring peace is, of course, not enough. Never was so much said about bringing war to an end forevermore, as by the group of Allied Nations who waged the last campaign against Napoleon. They declared in the grandiloquent phrases they used so easily and which we rather avoid, that their aims were "the reconstruction of the moral order," "a regeneration of the political system of Europe," and "the establishment of an enduring peace founded upon a just redistribution of political forces." But Napoleon was "crushed" and none of their moral hopes [page 7] were fulfilled. The mere protestations were too negative, there was no real basis upon which to build the new world order.

It is possible that the more sophisticated questions of national grouping and territorial control would gradually adjust themselves if the paramount human question of food for the hungry be fearlessly and drastically treated upon an international basis. The League of Nations, destined to end wars, upon which the whole world led by President Wilson, is fastening its hopes, may be founded not upon broken bits of international law, but upon ministrations to primitive human needs. The League would then be organized de facto as all the really stable political institutions in the world have been.