Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Claim: Bags of rice sent to President Eisenhower helped dissuade him from launching an attack against China.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2003]
Origins: The "Rice for Peace" campaign is real in the sense that it is a genuine grass roots effort, organized by Stirling Cousins of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. As the Boulder Daily Camera reported:
Stirling Cousins of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center organized the Rice for Peace campaign as a grassroots effort to urge President Bush to avoid war with Iraq. Cousins sentAlthough the current "Rice for Peace" campaign is a sincere effort aimed at heading off a war between the USA and Iraq, the premise on which it is based is false. The anecdote reproduced above, about the Fellowship of Reconciliation's (FOR) waging a similar campaign in the 1950's which supposedly influenced President Eisenhower's decision not to wage (nuclear) war against China during the political crises over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu in
"The idea is to inundate him with these packages of rice so he gets the idea that we don't want a war," she said. "It's something people can do to personally send a message about what they want. If we're going to send something to Iraq, it should be food, supplies and peace negotiations, not bombs."
Cousins said the response so far has been strong, and she expects the number of bags the White House receives to be in the tens of thousands.
Do you remember FOR's campaign in '54 and '55? There's a story we haven't told very often because it was told to us in great confidence — but that was nearly twenty years ago.While this interview does provide an identifiable source for the information, it is also a single, unverifiable, third-hand account obtained from an anonymous source and not disclosed until twenty years after the fact, and as such its probative value is quite marginal. The anecdote as given appears to be a garbled account of a 1954 effort undertaken by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to have small bags of wheat (not rice) sent to the White House for the purpose of prompting the Eisenhower administration to undertake relief efforts on behalf of China, where a catastrophic flood on the Yangtze River had left thousands homeless and hungry. Nothing in contemporary news accounts of the 1955 'Feed Thine Enemy' effort mentions the campaign's being tied to an anti-war cause — the issue was that since China had declined aid from international relief organizations (such as the Red Cross) and would not allow private voluntary organizations from the "free world" into the country to supervise the distribution of food and other supplies, the Fellowship of Reconciliation's director felt that the
There was a famine in China, extremely grave. We urged people to send President Eisenhower small sacks of grain with the message, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him. Send surplus food to China.' The surplus food, in fact, was never sent. On the surface, the project was an utter failure.
But then - quite by accident - we learned from someone on Eisenhower's press staff that our campaign was discussed at three separate cabinet meetings. Also discussed at each of these meetings was a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States bomb mainland China in response to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis.
At the third meeting the president turned to a cabinet member responsible for the Food for Peace program and asked, 'How many of those grain bags have come in?' The answer was 45,000, plus tens of thousands of letters.
Eisenhower's response was that if that many Americans were trying to find a conciliatory solution with China, it wasn't the time to bomb China. The proposal was vetoed
As The New York Times reported in March 1955:
The Administration has another wheat problem.Herbert L. Pankratz, a helpful archivist at the
This time it is hundreds of bags of wheat. They are tiny bags, weighing about two ounces, and are addressed to President Eisenhower at the White House.
The bags carry the inscription: "If Thine Enemy Hunger, Feed Him." In smaller letters are the words: "Send Surplus Food to China."
The bags are being mailed to the White House from all over the country. They come from citizens who have responded to the appeal of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, 21 Audubon Avenue, Manhattan.
This organization started its drive for the Administration to heed
The Fellowship['s director, Alfred Hassler] stated that an offer "with no political strings attached" would be hard for the Peiping Government to refuse.
The organization also said that distribution should be left to the Chinese Government "even though we might feel that we could do it better, and even though we fear that some food might be diverted to other ends."
"Part of the world problem America faces is the suspicion on the part of Asians and others that we think we can do everything better than they," the fellowship said.
That the Red Chinese Government had not asked for aid is "hardly significant," Mr. Hassler wrote.
"On the other hand," he said, "the fact that the United States has offered help freely to 'friendly' nations stricken by similar disasters but not to China, is significant."
Report re the Fellowship of Reconciliation Food for China Campaign and the Formosa Straits Crises of 1954-55 and 1958The account of the Formosa Strait crises provided in the aforementioned book (by historian Stephen Ambrose) makes it clear that Eisenhower never had any intention of "bombing mainland China" or launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Communist Chinese; no "Food for China" campaign could possibly have been instrumental in dissuading him against choosing options he was never considering in the first place. Moreover, it's simply wrong to assert that a "Food for China" campaign prompted Eisenhower to decide that "he certainly wasn't going to consider using nuclear weapons against [the Chinese]," as he had already publicly stated that he most definitely would use them if the Communist Chinese invaded Quemoy and Matsu:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation was an organization of religious pacifists whose leaders and members contacted the White House on numerous occasions advocating giving food to the USSR, opposing military aid to Pakistan, favoring clemency for the Rosenbergs, opposing the rearming of West Germany, urging clemency for Communists convicted under the Smith Act, opposing nuclear tests in the Pacific, favoring clemency for Japanese war criminals, and opposing the sending of spy planes over Russia. This organization had also supported efforts of the U.S. Government to send food aid to East Germany and Hungary.
In 1954 China suffered major flooding along the Yangtze River in some of its key rice-growing areas. Life magazine
There is no indication in our files or in the New York Times article that this food for China campaign was intended as a protest against the possibility of the U.S. going to war with Communist China. It appears that it was strictly a humanitarian effort.
There is a small note in the file on the Fellowship of Reconciliation which indicates that it was considered a "subversive" organization. A lot of the correspondence from its leaders to the President was referred to the Protective Research Section of the Secret Service. With this classification, justified or not, there is virtually no likelihood that the President would have paid any attention to any bags of wheat or letters sent in by this organization or its members.
Communist Chinese forces threatened the Nationalist-held island of Quemoy and Matsu on two occasions, September 1954-March 1955 and August-September 1958. During both of these crises various military and civilian advisers advocated the use of atomic weapons if war broke out and the U.S. had to intervene. President Eisenhower, while acknowledging the fact that the U.S. would need to use the ultimate weapon if full-scale war with China occurred, indicated that Congress and our allies would have to be consulted first. He continued to work for peaceful solutions which would avoid U.S. involvlement in an Asian war.
We have checked summaries of discussion and memoranda of conversation for various meetings Eisenhower had with military advisers and the National Security Council and have found no references to the bags of wheat or food for China campaign. There is no documentation in our files to support the story that the bags of wheat influenced Eisenhower's decisions during the Formosa Straits crisis. The documents reveal that Eisenhower made his decisions based on his understanding of the strategic and diplomatic considerations as well as on intelligence reports and military options. An account of Eisenhower's handling of the Formosa Straits crises can be found in the book, Eisenhower: The President by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon and Schuster, 1984).
At Eisenhower's March 16  news conference, Charles von Fremd of CBS asked him to comment on [Secretary of State] Dulles' assertion that in the event of war in the Far East, "we would probably want to make use of some tactical nuclear weapons." Eisenhower was unusually direct in his answer: "Yes, of course they would be used." He explained, "In any combat where these things can be used on strictly military targets and for strictly military purposes, I see no reason why they shouldn't be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else."Even if Eisenhower were aware of the "Food for China" campaign, and even if he made the comment attributed to him (which might have been offered in jest, for all we know), it would be a very large stretch of the truth to claim that his decision-making was influenced by
Eisenhower's handling of the Quemoy-Matsu crisis was a tour de force, one of the great triumphs of his long career. The key to his success was his deliberate ambiguity and deception. As Robert Devine writes, "The beauty of Eisenhower's policy is that to this day no one can be sure whether or not he would have responded militarily to an invasion of the offshore islands, and whether he would have used nuclear weapons." The full truth is that Eisenhower himself did not know. In retrospect, what stands out about Eisenhower's crisis management is that at every stage he kept his options open. Flexibility was one of his chief characteristics as Supreme Commander in WorldAdditional Information:
Last updated: 5 January 2008
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