In the 1950's, the United States had a huge surplus of food to help farm prices. At the same time, a a major famine was underway in China. The Yangtze river had burst its banks in several key rice growing regions, and the Chinese were starting to starve.

This was taking place just a few years after the Chinese Communist Revolution, making China an enemy of the USA. In 1954 a campaign was set up by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a multi-faith organisation with a goal of world peace, justice and freedom. The idea of the campaign was relatively simple; they would get half a cup of rice, wheat or other grain and put it in a sack with the words,

"If Thine Enemy Hunger, Feed Him - Send Surplus Food to China."
The sacks where then addressed and sent to President Eisenhower.

In October 1955 it was decided that the campaign had run it's course and was ended. At this point the Americans had made no offer of food to China, and it seemed like the campaign was a failure. By this time, the FOR's national office had sent around 40,000 bags of grain to the White House, and many other people had sent letters, petitions or their own bags of grain. Reports indicated that the food did reach the White House, but its effect, if any was unknown.

Later, in 1974 there was a claim that the campaign was indeed a success, it was claimed that it helped influence a decision by Eisenhower not to bomb China. An interview with Al Hassler, editor of the Fellowship magazine said,

"Except for one of the accidents of history, the Food-for-China campaign would have appeared to be an imaginative, colorful failure, like many another. But the "accident" was in the information, provided confidentially years later by a former member of Eisenhower's press staff, that the campaign had been discussed in cabinet meetings simultaneously with proposals from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the bombing of mainland China. The President, said our informant, asked how many of the grain bags had been received. When he heard that there had been over 45,000 plus thousands of additional letters, he ruled against bombing on the grounds that if so many Americans wanted reconciliation with China, it was hardly the time to start bombing it!"
Although he gave this statement, he never attributed it to any source, and no one else can verify it, making it to all intents and purposes a useless historical source. Also, the original campaign was designed simply to send food aid to China as a no strings attached gift from America, not as any sort of protest against a war. In fact, Eisenhower had said publicly that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons against China if they invaded Quemoy and Matsu.

Now, in 2003 the old campaign has been rekindled. In light of the current threats the US is making against Iraq, the Rice for Peace campaign has been set up. The process is very similar to that of the 1954 campaign; rice is put into bags with a caption, this time

Rice for Peace - No War in Iraq
The package is then once again mailed to the White House.

It should be noted that the 1954 campaign was more of an inspiration than a basis for this one, however floating around the internet are a lot of adverts for it which will claim that the original campaign's intention was to stop a war and it was successful. Neither of these seem to be true and the original campaign was simply a nice idea which can be carried forwards to this one.

Note: if you are going to send a rice package, be sure to send it in a padded envelope. Unpadded envelopes can burst open when run through the mail sorting machine and spill rice everywhere. Not good.


I really hate to do this, but I hate more to put energy and passion behind a cause, only to have it all dissipated when the naysayers are able to torpedo some insignificant part of it. It doesn't take much to reduce a national movement to a laughingstock.

And that's why I'm worried about the Rice for Peace (also called the feed thine enemy) campaign. It's a good idea and a powerful image, but it might be discredited and ignored if the origin story behind it is debunked (even though that story has no bearing on the power or the convictions of people protesting the war with Iraq). So I started trying to find out something about it...

There's no evidence that Eisenhower based his military policy on the number of bags of rice he got in the mail. You would think that a story like this would have been widespread already, but it doesn't show up on the web. The vast majority of the references to it are part of the modern Iraq protest, and the few that aren't only go back as far as 1999. The 1999 source(1) claims that it has been known since Eisenhower's papers were made public in the 1980s, so there's no reason it shouldn't have surfaced before this. A skeptical blogger(2) claims to have sent the story to Dr. Jack Holl, "one of the most eminent Eisenhower scholars in the world today." Holl writes that he had never heard this story, that Eisenhower would not have allowed public opinion to steer his decisions in such an important matter, and that -- most significantly -- He does "not recall that the Joint Chief of Staff ever advised using atomic weapons in relationship to the Quemoy and Matsu crisis"! Eisenhower was known to be contemplating the use of nukes over the Korean war, Holl says, although even that was merely a feint intended to intimidate the communist world.

The one flaw here is that said blogger is a conservative, who writes extensively about his vitriolic contempt for the modern liberal movement. I can't confirm that Dr. Holl actually wrote this, although Holl's credentials as an academic(3) are real. confirms that the modern movement is real, but has been unable to learn anything about its purported historical roots.

Every mailing that offers a source for the Eisenhower story uses the same citation: People Power: Applying Nonviolence Theory, by David Albert (or a few calendars which cite the book). I haven't been able to get ahold of a copy.

Better information about this story could be obtained by asking Dr. Holl to verify the comments attributed to him, and by requesting substantiating information from Mr. Albert. However, I've already wasted too much time on something of no practical consequence (since no one can stop the spread of story like this), so I will demur.

Conclusion: There is a real campaign to send George W. Bush bags of rice as a protest against his impending war on Iraq. It may be true that the (real) Fellowship of Reconciliation(5) used a similar tactic to protest Eisenhower's apparent willingness to use nuclear weapons against China. However, it is probably false that this campaign substantially dissuaded him from using nuclear weapons.

Q: enkidu, why are you being such a jerk? Don't you understand that stories are important?

A: Yes, but when people base a large and controversial movement on an untrue story, it's easy to discredit them. And once their opponents (who in this case happen to hold all the conventional power) have formally "debunked" them, it gives them an excuse to ignore the bulk of their criticisms, however true or important they may be.

As my girlfriend and I were leaving a production house, we were approached by two high school girls who had a large box filled with pre-packaged rice envelopes addressed to George Bush. We put the two bucks (though they wanted only $1.11) for postage in the jar, signed our names on a petition, and parted ways. Next morning (today), we were reading the Flagstaff, Arizona police logs, and ran across this:
A letter addressed to President Bush that was filled with rice as part of a national campaign against war with Iraq prompted an investigation Wednesday afternoon by Flagstaff police and a U.S. Postal Inspector bomb technician on the 2400 block of West Street.

A post office route carrier discovered a suspicious package in the course of his rounds and reported it to police. The officer noted the letter was heavy and felt like putty with "hard granules," the police report stated.

The letter, weighing about 8 ounces, aroused suspicions for the officer, who notified detectives and the federal bomb technician.

The envelope was X-rayed and found to contain a letter to the president and rice. The letter stated, "This rice is for your enemies. Please feed them." A verse of scripture was included.

The letter was believed to have started as an e-mail campaign originating from a Colorado church. The e-mail instructs:

"Place 1/2-cup uncooked rice in a small plastic bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Wrap it in a piece of paper on which you have written, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Romans 12:20. Please send this rice to the people of Iraq; do not attack them.'"


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