The Politics of Altruism: an Introduction To the Food-for-Peace Partnership Between the United States Government and Voluntary Relief Agencies

Published date01 December 1970
Date01 December 1970
Subject MatterArticles
Queens College
FOOD-FOR-PEACE partnership’ between the United States Govern-
ment and American voluntary relief agencies is an aspect of American
political life that is characterized by a strikingly low public visibility. The
low visibility is easy to account for: not one study of the partnership has been pub-
lished or even undertaken.2
The reason no study has been undertaken is not so
easy to account for. The partnership has had political significance. Since its incep-
tion in 1949, it has been the vehicle whereby nearly four billion dollars’ worth of
United States Government resources have been allocated. Such a figure should
have suggested that a great deal of political activity would be involved, but no one
picked up the suggestion. Perhaps this was because the partnership involved
humanitarian agencies like CARE, Catholic Relief Services-NCWC, and Church
World Service. Altruism and politics just do not seem to go together.
This paper has a single simple aim: to present in as little detail as possible a
selective and interpretive yet comprehensive history of the Food-for-Peace partner-
ship. This will make a start toward filling the information gap mentioned above.
The focus throughout will be on the partnership’s social and political structure, its
material scope, and on its dominant trends and issues and their effect upon the
interests and values of the participants.
For convenience, the partnership may be thought of as one between two ideal
types usually not found together. One partner is a political type in the sense that
it represents political interests and values. The political partner is the United
States Government, or more precisely a loose organization comprising the White
House, the Department of State’s economic assistance agency, and the Department
of Agriculture, as well as the Senate and House committees on Foreign Relations
and Agriculture. The political interests and values these groups represent are those
of foreign policy and those of the agricultural sector of the American economy.
Operationally defined, the foreign policy interests relate to the economic, social,
and ultimately political stabilization and recovery or development of foreign areas
This paper is drawn from the author’s Ph.D. dissertation: Robert R. Sullivan, "The Poli-
tics of Altruism: A Study of the Partnership Between the United States Government
and American Voluntary Relief Agencies for the Donation Abroad of Surplus Agricul-
tural Commodities, 1949-1967" (Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, Balti-
more, Md., 1968).
There are only a few related general works on the politics of P.L. 480 and Food-for-Peace.
Especially valuable are "Policies for United States Agricultural Export Surplus Dis-
posal," Technical Bulletin No. 150, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, 1962,
and Charles R. Grader, "Public Law 480: A Study in U.S. Government Policy Forma-
tion" (Ph.D. dissertation, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, 1967). See also
Senator George McGovern, War Against Want: America’s Food for Peace Program
(New York: Walker, 1964), and Peter A. Toma, The Politics of Food for Peace
(Tucson: U. of Arizona Press, 1967).

in which the United States has perceived a significant threat from the Soviet
Union or China. In the early 1950’s this meant Western Europe and East Asia,
whereas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the focus has shifted to the Middle East,
Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia. Similarly defined, the interests of
agriculture are in exploiting a surplus disposal outlet that at least has no effect on
the normal export market for United States farm products and at best has the
potential for developing into a new market. Such is the complex nature of the
political partner.
The second partner is an altruistic type in the sense that for the most part it
represents highly idealistic and humanitarian interests and values. These may be
defined operationally as feeding needy persons regardless of national origin, but not
without some regard to political and religious affiliation. The altruistic partner
comprises a collection of voluntary charity agencies. Although over a dozen agen-
cies have participated in the partnership at one time or another, five agencies have
distributed over 95 percent of the United States Government resources donated to
the voluntary agencies. These five are CARE, the American Jewish Joint Distribu-
tion Committee, Catholic Relief Services-NCWC, Church World Service, and
Lutheran World Relief.3 Because of the general humanitarian and particular
organizational interests involved, these five agencies have aggregated themselves
into the Surplus Commodities Policy Committee of the American Council of Vol-

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT