The Threat of World Starvation, January 12, 1922

JANE ADDAMS, Hull House, Chicago.

It is increasingly necessary that we should give our best mind to the subject assigned me, for perhaps never before in the history of the United States was there more need for every citizen to understand international relationships and know something of world conditions.

There are many indications that a new sense of compunction and a new responsibility in regard to international affairs is developing. Probably no international congress ever received such an impact from public opinion as the conference for the limitation of armaments so recently held in Washington. The President and commissioners for the United States received more than twelve million communications, of which more than a million expressed the hope for some sort of an international association of all nations. And there is no doubt that the whole thing developed tremendously under the pressure of public opinion, so far as the United States is concerned. It has always been difficult for public opinion to express itself in an international situation. Most people do not know what has happened in foreign diplomacy until it has passed into history. So the Washington conference gave a fresh start -- a de novo opening, as it were -- for open expressions.

This same public opinion played a great [role] in calling together the conference in the first place. It may easily be traced on two or three different lines. There was first the revolt on the part of business men, who said they were paying war taxes without a war, and income taxes without an income, and who demanded relief. I am sure all of you have seen the diagram put out from Washington a year ago showing the expenditure of the federal budget. It indicated that 92 [percent] of the federal taxes were spent for what the diagram designated as "past and future wars," in which they included not only the upkeep of the army and navy, but the interest on the war debts and all the other financial responsibilities entailed by war! The largest item of all, however, was the extension of the navy which was carried on last year. Many business men were skeptical as to the value of this last item. England had discovered that her capital battleships had not been so very usable throughout the war. They were much too big and cumbersome to use in connection with the U-boat warfare which threatened to starve England, and for many reasons the whole type of naval structure was being reconsidered. The taxpayers naturally asked why the United States should be building sixteen of these new ships, each one of which with its subsidiary craft would cost $50,000,000, at the very moment their usefulness was being questioned.

In addition to the revolt of the taxpayer there was the remonstrance against this large expenditure of money on the part of women's clubs and other groups, who realized that the world was not being properly fed, and could not be fed so long as so much money was being spent on armaments and preparation for war. I should like to stress this argument for disarmament, and to say, from my own experience, that we have a unique opportunity in the United States at this moment to make friends with the destitute people in many countries and at the same time to find a permanent outlet for the products of the United States. [page 2]

I was very much impressed this summer when I was in Europe for four months to ascertain the opinion of various European countries toward the United States. For instance, they have everywhere very exaggerated notions of our prosperity. The fact that we have approximately one-half of the gold reserve in the world in the United States seems to them clear proof that we are literally rolling in wealth and have more prosperity than we know what to do with. They may read occasionally to the contrary, but they are nevertheless quite right in believing that we are the wealthiest people on the face of the earth.

In France and England, of course, the attitude toward the United States was naturally more well-informed than it was in the remoter parts of Europe. But the idea was general that the United States in her very great and unusual prosperity was not quite playing up to her opportunity. They have also heard that we have a surplus of food products -- so much more corn than we know what to do with that the farmers are burning it. The statement that farmers were burning their corn I encountered from people as far east as Constantinople. Where they got it I don't know; but certainly many of them believed it, and, curiously enough, it came true later. I do not necessarily object to corn being used as fuel. It may come to pass that the farmer will raise his own fuel, as Mr. Ford is always urging him to make potato alcohol or [castor bean] oil for use in his tractor and automobile. The farmer says that it cost him $5 to raise a ton of corn; that two tons of corn have more than the fuel value of one ton of coal, which costs him $12 and has to be hauled from the nearest town, while the corn is already on his farm. But the point is that this corn is being burned at the very moment that millions of people are starving, and it seems natural to them that all our energies should be bent to bring together the surplus here and the needy people over there.

I agree with the last speaker, Governor Stewart, that there should be control of production, but this cannot be safely undertaken unless the world as a whole is considered. To limit production because we have a surplus in the United States may merely mean that we are ignoring the larger markets outside.

In Austria we went from one child-welfare station to another, seeing the same sort of underfed children that I had seen in France immediately after the war, such as are still to be found in many parts of the world, and of course in vast numbers in Armenia. Most of these children will never grow up to be normal human beings unless enormous amounts of food are shipped from this country. We have no right to talk about a surplus crop of wheat or corn until they are fed.

There has not only been starvation in Europe, but in many countries we found also a dearth of fuel and clothing. We know that the last speaker stressed the surplus of wool in the United States. In Montana two clips are in storage and a third clip will soon be added, while at the same time the sheep growers lack money to pay their taxes. And yet there is a hideous dearth of warm clothing in Europe. I met many prosperous women in Austria last summer whose hands were so distorted with chilblains that they had almost lost the use of them. Two had had fingers amputated because their hands had been frozen. That is, there was not only a great dearth of fuel, so that many of the people were bitterly cold to the point of freezing [page 3] their hands and feet, but also there had been a dire lack of woolen clothing -- that which would keep them warm and free from this menace. They had heard that the United States had two clips of wool in storage, not only in Montana, but they believed it to be true all over the country. They thought the wool was all piled up along the railroads. They had heard something of that sort about cotton in the South and they believed it was true of wool. I heard over and over again that we had so much wool in the United States that we were no longer spinning it, but were keeping it for a rise in price while people over there were literally freezing.

Of course it was easy to go about and say both statements were exaggerated, and we did say that; but, after all, essentially there was some truth in it. We had more raw material in the way of food, fuel and clothing than we were using or could use, while this cruel dearth existed in other parts of the world. They felt extremely grateful for all that had been done for them and there was great admiration for the men who represent the American Relief Administration, started by Herbert Hoover, as you know, in Belgium and northern France, and which has since spread to almost every European country. While they were ready to acknowledge their indebtedness to it, and of course were grateful that their children were being kept alive, they would often follow it by saying: "Why cannot some way be found of sending us this raw material which we need so desperately. Our factories are closed and multitudes of working people are idle because they lack raw material."

I used to think sometimes of a saying -- a Frenchman first said it -- that there were two things about the human race that filled him with wonder. One was their power of making inventions that should bring people together who lived in different parts of the globe. He went through the long list, naming the steamship, the telegraph, the wireless, and everything that we know so well. Then he said that there was another thing about the human race that filled him with equal wonder, for after they had made all these they seemed to invent other things which succeeded in keeping men apart in spite of the first inventions, such as nationalistic animosity, tariffs, import and export duties, which made it difficult to bring men together in any real understanding, and impossible for them to exchange their goods in trade with peoples in other parts of the world.

We were told in Austria last summer that it was cheaper to buy wheat from Argentina than from Hungary, although it has to be hauled from Trieste to Vienna. It is because the Hungarians had no idea of selling wheat to Austria if they could sell it elsewhere. They too were being shut in by their animosities and bitter memories. The Austrians were buying sugar cheaper from Java than from the factories and sugar fields which only a few years before had belonged to Austria itself. It was an excellent example of man's ability to keep apart the producer and consumer. But of course all such devices must be done away with before the markets of the world can be open to the American farmers. On the other hand, the attempts to respond to the world's need and to feed the hungry are almost immediately registered in better trade relations. American corn was sent to Poland two years ago in great quantities, largely in the shape of oil and meal. Because the oil met the ritualistic requirements of the Polish Jews and because the Poles had learned to eat corn meal, Poland had become a steady buyer of American corn. It is another example of bread cast upon the waters. [page 4]

The opportunity before us now is to be found most strikingly in Russia. There is a great famine in the basin of the Volga river, a territory as large as the New England states with Pennsylvania and New Jersey thrown in, which has been the great wheat-producing territory of Russia, feeding millions of people -- not only Russia itself, but southeastern Europe as well. Owing to a great drought -- two inches of rain falling between April and September instead of the usual fourteen -- the winter wheat came up through the dry dust, the very earth breaking into great cracks. The wheat withered away when it was a few inches high. The crop in the south was somewhat better, but the total harvest was but one-fortieth of the usual yield. It has become easy to blame the Soviet government for this state of affairs, forgetting that there was a great drought in the same region under the government of the czar in 1891, for which our congress voted an appropriation. The Bolshevists may be rightly blamed for two things in connection with the famine: First, they requisitioned so much wheat that the Volga farmers were without a sufficient reserve in case the drought came. The Russian peasant has a saying that God does not like to see the bottom of a granary floor, which of course means that they have formed a habit of preparing for disaster. They were not permitted to do that last year, and some of them were so discouraged by the fact that all the grain was taken away from them that they sowed less than usual. However, careful estimates place this at perhaps one-sixth less than the usual amount. The primary reason was the lack of rain, and thirty million people are brought to the edge of starvation. At least ten million it is said will die before the next harvest unless help comes promptly from the outside.

A Quaker woman, Anna Haines, went through the famine-stricken district last September and has told us what she found there. She had lived in the district of Samara in the town of Buzuluk for eighteen months after the war, taking care of Polish refugees who were in a hospital there. She was, therefore, able to talk to her old friends and report to us what they said. The village priest, who had nothing whatever to do with the Soviet government, gave it as his opinion that the entire population would perish before spring unless help came. Through the early winter they would try to live on flat cakes made out of powdered roots and grass, which they had boiled with horses' hoofs so that it would stick together. The peasants who had horses and camels went as far as they could from the village to dig up the grass roots, but those people who had neither horses nor camels could find nothing left in the ground. The animals were dying off for lack of fodder, and were also, of course, consumed as food. Miss Haines told of a man who had formerly been an orderly in the hospital and who in September was living on the edge of Buzuluk. Because he had been able to store away no food, he had dug a wide grave for himself, his wife and five children, hoping that later some of his neighbors would have strength to pull them into it. Many of the stories are so hideous that one can scarcely repeat them. The entire district, which I saw many years ago, is not unlike the prairie country in Kansas itself. Of course the people do not stay sitting in their houses waiting for death. They hope to be able to find food elsewhere, and trek with their whole families, carrying with them their farm machinery, thinking that they may finally reach Siberia. As their horses die and they become too weak to pull the heavy implements, [page 5] the machinery is abandoned along the road, as was evidenced by many photographs. This means, of course, that neither the farmers nor the implements will be on hand to sow the crops for another year, and that unless they are sure that help is coming and are willing to wait for it in their own homes, it will take years to repair the ravages of this one season of drought. Europe may become even more dependent upon the United States for food than it is now.

We all know that congress has recently made an appropriation for the Russian famine sufferers of twenty million dollars, which Mr. Hoover is administering in connection with ten million dollars appropriated by the Soviet government and some fifteen million dollars from the army supplies and Red Cross supplies. And yet, according to the estimate made by Mr. Hoover's people, it will require at least a dollar a month for each person who is to be kept alive until the next harvest, so that in spite of the millions there is still need for help. Arrangements are at present being made by the Friends Service Committee to send corn into Russia. The elevator service throughout the country is donated and the Corn Products people are handling the material at cost. I realize that it is a little hard to ask the farmer for contributions at this moment, but, on the other hand, he has a surplus of products, because the ordinary national market will not absorb last year's crop. The international market would not only absorb it, but you would have the satisfaction of knowing that your corn has saved the lives of thousands of people. We must all learn, however, to enlarge our sympathies to include the people of other lands, even to overcome a disapproval of their governments. But, after all, the religious command to feed the hungry was very direct and said nothing about the political views of him who needed help. I think nine counties in Kansas have already been organized and representative of the Quakers can always be addressed at the Y.M.C.A. at Wichita.

Many years ago when we women were in Washington trying to secure suffrage, I was sent to talk to Representative Cannon -- "Uncle Joe," as we call him in Illinois. A young lady came in to see him and I assumed that her family were old friends of his, as he asked her about her father's rheumatism, whether her uncle had finished husking corn, and many another such inquiry. When the young lady finally left the office he turned to me and said, "If God doesn't know her father better than I do, he's lost." I do not believe the farmer is "lost," although at the present moment he is discouraged. I believe there is a call to him to perform a great mission at this moment when he holds in his hands so much of the foodstuffs of the world that he can not only save himself but also [succor] many of his suffering fellow creatures from actual starvation if he will but cultivate the international mind.