Feed the World and Save the League, November 24, 1920

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In Bertand Russell’s recent report of his experiences in Russia, he said: “Contact with those who had no doubts, has intensified a thousand fold my own doubts not only of communism, but of any creed so firmly held that for its sake men are willing to inflict wide-spread misery.”

The statement recalls a similar one put into the mouth of Danton by Romain Rolland in his play of that name: “There is no danger in any state as great as that of men with principles. They don’t try to do good but to be in the right; no suffering troubles them. Their only morality, their only political ideal is to impress their ideas upon others.”

Have the advocates of the League of Nations fallen into the state of mind thus described? Does the common man distrust the League because it is slow to relive the wide-spread misery in Europe; because it so cautiously refuses to become the tentative instrument of a longed for new era?, it threatens to become one more of those abortive efforts “to end war” which fail because they have nothing tangible and human upon which to focus scattered moral energies and no popular drive with which to make effective moral ideas upon a more extended scale than that to which the time has become accustomed.

Perhaps its promoters because they lacked the incentives arising from the [development] of economic resources and the scientific approach to social needs, fell back upon the political concepts of the 18th century, more abstractly noble than our own, but frankly borrowed and therefore failing both in fidelity and endurance. [page 2]

It may be necessary, as has been said, to turn the State and its purposes into an idealistic abstraction before men are willing to fight to the death for it, but it is all the more necessary now to come back to normal motives, to the satisfaction of simple human needs, to restore a balance in human relationships, to avoid the dangers of an overstrained idealism.

This return should be all the easier because during what we so lightly call the world war, literally millions of people have stumbled into a situation where “those great cloud banks of ancestral blindness weighing down upon human nature” seemed to have lifted for a moment and they became conscious of an unexpected sense of relief, as if returning to a state of primitive well-being. The old tribal sense of solidarity, of belonging to the whole was enormously revived by the war when the strain of a common danger brought the members, not only of one nation but of many nations into a new realization of solidarity and of a primitive interdependence.

In the various armies and later among the civilian populations, two of men’s earliest instincts still in their age long companionship, became imperative; the first might be called the sense of security from attack, and the second security from starvation.

Throughout the war the first instinct was utilized to its fullest possibility by every device of propaganda and appeal, but at this moment when the League of Nations is in such dire need of an overmastering motive forcing it to function and to justify itself to an expectant world, even to endear itself to its own adherents, it strangely fails to utilize the second. [page 3]

One returned soldier after another who tries to explain why he is restless and finds it hard to settle back into his previous life, expresses more or less coherently that he misses the sense of comradeship, of belonging to a mass of men. Doubtless the moment of attack, of danger shared in such wise that the life of each man was absolutely dependent upon his comrade’s courage and steadfastness were the moments of the highest consciousness of solidarity but on the other hand he must have caught an expression of it at other times. He knew, that as a mere incident to his great cause, he was being fed and billeted and the sharing of such fare as the army afforded in simple comradeship, doubtless also gave him a sense of absolute unity.

A multitude of young men experienced a primitive relief and healing from that sense of [separateness], of living differently from the mass of their fellows which many of them must have cordially detested.

This combination of [subconscious] memories and a keen realization of present day needs, also overwhelmed many civilians, when the grim necessity of feeding millions of soldiers and of relieving the bitter hunger of entire populations in remote countries, was constantly with them. The necessity for rationing stirred that comradeship which is expressed by a common table, and also healed a galling consciousness of consuming too much while fellow creatures were starving.

Did they roll off a burden endured from ancestral days, perhaps from Simian communities which preceded the human tribes, when men so lived that each member of the tribe was secure of food and safety or at least shared such food and safety as were possible. [page 4]

Human nature in spite of its [marvelous] adaptability has never quite fitted its back to the moral strain involved in the knowledge that other human beings are starving. In one generation, it subsides to an uneasy sense of moral discomfort, in another rises to a consciousness of moral obliquity; it has lain at the basis of many religious communities and social experiments, and in our own generation is finding extreme expression in governmental communism. In the face of the wide spread famine, following the devastation of war, the rising challenge of those political and social institutions which prevented the adequate production and distribution of food, became inevitable.

As the revolutionists have learned from the war the ready use of arms in pressing their claims, is it not possible that the united governments from their war experiences in the increased production and distribution of foods, may also have learned what the great underlying demand of the oppressed actually is, and also to use the training of war to meet it reasonably and quickly.

If this demand could be recognized and acknowledged as in a great measure valid, what a much needed change in the worlds affairs might take place, not as it now threatens to occur under the leadership of men driven desperate by hunger, but with the help of men who are trained in the daily processes of world wide commerce; men working wholeheartedly to meet adequately and scientifically a world obligation but newly formulated on an international scale, [although] long recognized in piece-meal fashion. The great danger ahead of the League of Nations is implicit in the fact that its first work involves the guaranteeing of a purely political peace and a dependence upon the old political motives. Whereas if from the very first it could perform an act of faith which marked it at once as the [page 5] form an act of faith which marked it at once as the instrument of [a] new era, if it evinced the daring to meet new demands which could be met in no other way then, and then only would it become the necessary instrumentality to carry on the enlarged life of the world and would gradually be recognized as indispensable.

Not only the world itself but the minds which appraise it have been profoundly modified by the war and an institution to survive must not only be adapted to human nature but must take into consideration the human mood of the moment.

Since the cessation of war, there is all over the world, a sense of loss in motive power, the consciousness that there is no driving force equal to that furnished by the heroism and self sacrifice demanded in war time. Yet the great purposes of the League of Nations could be made sufficiently appealing to absorb these to the full. What could afford a more primitive, genuine and abiding motive than feeding the people of the earth on an international scale, it would utilize all the courage and self sacrifice evolved by warfare and turn into immediate efficiency all that international cooperation which performed such miracles of production in the prosecution of the war. Both are ready to its hand. The British [Labour] Party has pointed out the beginning of international order as follows: “During the period of the war we had great international bodies for the control and distribution of shipping, credit, and raw material in accordance not with capacity to pay, but with vital need. Only so could the common enemy be met. There was in these arrangements the beginnings of an organized economic government of the world, a real international society, subjecting to a common control those things essential to the common life. Here was a world-government actually in being.” [page 6]

If the League of Nations had maintained the system, remedied its defects, enlarged its functions, and democratized its administration, the de facto beginnings of an organized economic government of the world would have been constituted. The 18th century phrases in which diplomatic intercourse has been so long conducted, would have dropped away as not fitted to discuss the need of an internationally guaranteed loan, the functions of an Economic Council for the control of food stuffs and raw material, the fuel shortage, credits granted to enemy and liberated countries alike for reconstruction purposes, the effect of [malnutrition] on powers of production, the irreparable results of “hunger [edema].” Some brave spirit might even point out that it is useless to hold an International Labor Congress in order to raise the standard of life and wages throughout the world, if famine continues to steadily depress that standard throughout the great manufacturing regions of Europe. Out of his wide experience in feeding [devastated] Europe, Mr. Hoover once, perhaps hastily, said: “There are certain foundations of industry in Europe that no matter what the national or personal ownership or control may be, yet partake of the nature of public utilities in which other nations have a moral right.” Certainly such a situation presents material for a statesmanship which is genuine and straightforward, and contains a tremendous appeal to the common man.

If this policy of feeding the hungry were once adopted, the League might at last feel the zeal, and excitement of reality and through the sheer processes of life become genuinely significant.

It is too easily assumed that the rights of the League are anterior to and independent of its functioning and we seem to forget that all men are instinctively wary in accepting at their face value, high sounding claims which cannot justify themselves by achievement, and that [page 7] in the long run, “authority must go with function.”

According to a report made recently to the League of Red ↑Cross↓ Societies, a well informed observer wrote: “There was found everywhere never-ending vicious circles of political paradox and economic complication, with consequent paralysis of national life and industry.”

Does this [diagnosis] give a clue to the situation, indicating that the League of Nations must abandon its ↑abstract↓ [politics] treatment of ↑in↓ war worn Europe and consider the starving people as its own concrete problem?

If the stimuli counted upon are failing to evoke an adequate response for this advanced form of human effort, why not assume that the time has now come to make certain that all men shall be insured against death by starvation, to follow not only the religious command but a primitive instinct to feed the hungry, upon an international scale? May not, this world in its various aspects afford a great controlling motive in the world at the present moment, as political democracy, as religious freedom, has moved the world at other times?

One dreamed that the League of Nations would take up such a question as is implicit in the lack of space for the Japanese in their own islands which are manifestly too small for their expanding population, not allowed to emigrate to Australia, the British Columbia, the United States or Mexico; that to find a place for compressed people under fair conditions is exactly the sort of function the League of Nations might be expected to perform if only to avert one of the most ancient causes of war. But it is hard to imagine such a question being fairly considered by the same men who in another capacity as members of the Peace Conference recognized the claims of Japan to a part of China, which was already so crowded that it is said to be difficult to make room for another baby within its borders, men who had looked at the entire eastern [page 8] question from the point of view of political claims rather than great human needs.

In the direction of Public Health the League of Nations did formally engage to function [although] if it fails to assume the obligations of adequate feeding, it is difficult to see how that obligation can be fulfilled. In Paris last May when an association of Red Cross societies was organized, committing itself to a program of Child Welfare and other humanitarian measures for the devastated nations, a letter was received from Mr. Balfour on behalf of the League of Nations, in which he made an eloquent appeal for succor against the disease afflicting the war worn and underfed populations of central and eastern Europe. The Association of Red Cross Societies replied that only if the Allied governments supplied loans to these unhappy nations could food and medical supplies be secured. This of course the League was unable to promise.

The recognition of this obvious economic obligation and a generous attempt to fulfill it, even to the point if need be of losing the life of the League, might have resulted in the one line of action which would most quickly have saved it. If the coal, the iron, the oil and above all the grain, were during this crisis distributed under international control, the League would secure the stable foundations of that type of government towards which the world is straining and in which it is so persistently experimenting.

Nor would such action be “materialistic”, using the word as a term of reproach, more quickly than any other method would it heal the wounds of war; “to feed thine enemy” is a fairly sure road towards forgiveness, to sit around the same table in order to discuss common [page 9] problems with his accredited representatives would be to reach a higher type of idealistic conduct than that attained at Versailles itself even in the days when it claimed to be the world's center of idealism. The men there failed to understand that to perpetuate old economic antagonisms between the nations and even to create new ones was clearly fatal to any possible hope of a League of Nations.

But even then actual conditions drove them to a modification of their political arrangements. A Commission of Enquiry into Freedom of Communications and Transit called in Paris shortly after the armistice was continued by the League of Nations and by the Allied and Associated Powers. Its findings however, must be ratified by the League of Nations, which means not only the Council and Secretariat of the League, but ↑by↓ the Assembly, the first meeting of which is held in 1921. In the meantime the lack of adequate transit is almost as large a factor in the starvation of Europe as lack of production.

But a League zealous to feed the world could never have submitted to such a cumbersome arrangement, lest while it is being complied with, millions of fellow-beings starve to death; it would refuse to permit the tariff regulations which keep Hungarian grain and [Serbian] pork from starving Austria; neither a blockade against Russia, nor war in the Ukraine could be allowed to withhold bread from the mouths of the hungry.

We are told by those familiar with the work carried on at the temporary headquarters of the League of Nations in London that “the economic section has for many months been engaged in a world wide study of such questions as coal, production, markets, food and the movement of raw material. At the first meeting of the Assembly a full report will be ready.”

But how many people may starve to death before those reports are acted upon. It suggests a committee studying the best methods of [page 10] extinguishing fires while granaries are burning down.

It is quite obvious that the League must proceed carefully but there are times when even well considered delay is fatal. While these reports are being prepared, the starving people themselves have ceased to look to the League for help, it has lost all that popular confidence and hope which was its greatest asset. How many times do the friends of the League say in its defense; “that is due to the treaty, the League has not yet begun to function” only to receive the bitter reply “the same men who wrote the treaty, make the League.”

Was the date of its birth unfortunate? Did it have to be surrounded by every caution when nationalistic devotion had attained an abnormal intensity, when the [rancor] and chagrins of war had had no chance to subside, when the victorious nations were quite naturally reluctant to admit the defeated nations to the full benefits of the projected League?

It would seem therefore, all the more necessary to cleanse its purposes with yearning pity and a religious zeal for the redemption of all mankind.

Much has been said during the war about primitive emotion and instinctive action, but certainly their use need not be reserved to purposes of destruction. After all the first friendly communication between tribe and tribe came through the need of food when one or the other was starving and too weak to fight, primitive human pity made the folk way which afterward developed into political relationships.

Why not open the gates and let these primitive emotions flood our [devastated] world. By all means let the [beneficent] tide be directed and canalized by the League of Nations which is after all the outgrowth of century old dreams. The great stumbling block always in the way of its earlier realization [page 11] and the crux of its actual survival now, is the difficulty in interpreting it to the understanding of the common man, grounding it in his affections, appealing to his love for human kind. To such men, who after all compose the bulk of the citizens in every nation participating in the League, the abstract politics of it make little appeal [although] they would gladly contribute their utmost to feed the starving, as the two and a half million French trades unionists regularly tax themselves for the children of Austria; as the British [Labour] Party insists that the British foreign policy shall rest “upon a humane basis, really caring for all mankind, including colored men, women and children;” as the German workmen recommend that “all commodities of first necessity be pooled so that each people gets its share;” or as the American Federation [of Labor] declares its readiness to “give a mighty service in a common effort for all human kind.”

So far as the working man in any country has expressed himself, it is all in this direction. In addition to the organized workers, millions of earths humblest toilers whose lives are consumed in securing the daily needs of existence for themselves and their families, go stumbling towards the light of better international relations largely because “Man is constantly seeking a new and finer adjustment between his inner emotional demands and the practical arrangements of the world in which he lives.” It is absurd for us as advocates of the League to complain that it is difficult to endear it to “the people” when it is precisely the people who are most ready for an act of faith, to whom it seems most natural to feed the hungry. It may take years to popularize the principles of the League but citizens of [civilized nations have already received much religious instruction] [page 12] and the crux of its actual survival now, is the difficulty in interpreting it to the understanding of the common man, grounding it in his affections, appealing to his love for human kind.