It was on May 17, 1946, that radio listeners across the country were tuned in to hear Herbert Hoover speak. The former president was serving as Harry Truman’s food ambassador, surveying the global hunger crisis that followed World War II.
A central theme to Hoover’s message was the feeding of millions of children who suffered during the war. For Hoover, no reconstruction effort was more important to restoring peace. The gains were great for all of society and the cost minimal. And if Hoover were around today, his message to President Obama and the Congress would be a similar one in the midst of today’s hunger crisis afflicting over one billion people.
President Truman meeting with Herbert Hoover who was food ambassador after World War II (Courtesy Truman Library)
Whether it’s Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti or other countries, child feeding must be made a top priority. In Afghanistan, for instance, there are some positive programs, such as the Army’s Strong Food Project to prevent malnutrition in young children and the UN-sponsored school feeding program. But these initiatives have to be assured funding to reach more children and maintain supplies.
The tragic case of Yemen is of particular note. The Senate last year passed a resolution urging increased focus on Yemen to protect America. Yemen has a strong Al Qaeda presence which makes stability in Yemen a very high national security priority. Yet there is anything but stability there when you consider the massive hunger and malnutrition running rampant.
The UN World Food Programme, facing low funding from the international community, is being forced to cut rations in Yemen. How does reducing rations and child feeding programs make sense as a strategy for peace? One program for over 114,000 school children was cut last June and still has not been restored.
The U.S. and international partners could step up to ensure food supplies in Yemen. The costs to do so would be minimal compared to other foreign policy initiatives. And the gains from helping Yemen establish food security would be great in the long run.
The administration should appoint a food ambassador to coordinate the U.S. response to the hunger crisis in Yemen and other countries. Our leadership will also stimulate essential international cooperation in attacking global hunger.
The post-WWII message of fighting hunger to build peace delivered by Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, and others is one that needs to gain traction today in the government and with the public.
You can listen to Hoover's May 17th address courtesy of the Hoover Presidential Library.