Robert Patterson was a leading War Department official during the struggle against Nazi Germany and Japan. Under President Truman, he was elevated to Secretary of the Department.
Patterson certainly knew about war. But he also knew what was needed for peace. In January 1948, at the Save the Children annual dinner, Patterson articulated the most important foreign policy objective for America.
He said, “If we do our duty for the children overseas toward a better day it will be our best hope for security and peace for all the people of the world for days to come.” Patterson said food, clothing and schools for children had to be delivered immediately while the European recovery program, known as the Marshall Plan, took hold.
The Marshall Plan years were about more than reviving the economy of war-torn Europe; they were about bringing new hope for children. That is why the Marshall Plan era was such a great chapter in American history and a model for how our foreign policy should be conducted.
President Obama and the Congress need to follow this example and continue the tradition set forth by the Greatest Generation. Right now, what you have taking place is children withering away from malnutrition in countries that America claims are high on the priority list.
In Pakistan, low funding for the World Food Programme flood relief is creating a dangerous situation for many children. If food pipelines run empty, children will not have access to supplementary plumpy or other foods that can save them from malnutrition.
In Afghanistan, a country with a high infant mortality rate, low funding may force pipeline breaks in much-needed supplies. In Yemen, UNICEF is reporting a crisis for malnourished children suffering in the Sa’ada war zone. Similar scenarios play out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries.
A U.S. food ambassador is desperately needed to work at obtaining the necessary supplies to prevent deterioration of children’s nutrition level. Beyond these emergencies, there is a whole system of child feeding, rehabilitation, and education that has to be stepped up to a new level.
Children in many countries have suffered through war or long-standing poverty, or in the case of Haiti, natural disasters. What they need is a system of education which includes school feeding. This is the necessary starting point for lifting themselves and their country from ruin. It is vital not to underestimate what an improved nutrition level can mean for a child. It is important not to underestimate what learning to read in a classroom can mean for a child’s future.
In his speech, Patterson emphasized helping children as a vital part of foreign policy. He also emphasized ensuring that children receive the support they need here at home, particularly in rural areas. Today, one area where the Congress can help children is by expanding after-school and summer-feeding programs to invest in the future of our country.
There won’t be any nightly news headlines for any of these programs. But these are the initiatives that write peace and make history.