*** children and war World War II food North America

Children and World War II: National Food Policies-- North America

World War II North American food
Figure 1.--Here an American GI shares his rations with two hungry Japanese children on Okinawa. The food situation on the island as ion the Home Islands was collpasing before the invasion (April 1945). Once the invasion began, food became unavailable to the civilian population. The Japanese military told the Okinawans that the the America wouls torture and kill them. Many Okinawans belied them, but hinger driove many to theAmerican lines. Japanes soldiuers commonkly killed civilains trying to reach Americans. They saw then as traitors who like all loyal Jaoanese should commit suiside rather thnn surrender. The military helped many coommit suisuide or actually murdered the ones that refused, including the children. This would have occurred up and down the Japanese archipelago had America been forced to invade the Home Islands.

North America is dominated by the United States and Canada. Mexico and Central America are also geographically part of North Americs, but we discuss them for cultural reasons under Latin America. And while basically agricultural countries, did not have the capability of producing an agricultural surplus capable of feeding the countries adversely affected by World War II, American and Canada did. And this would primarily come from the Graet Pains. The Great Plains until the Civil War (1861-65) were primarily undisturbed grasslands. It was the domain of the Plains Tribes who since the Spasish brought horses back to North america had developed a culture based on hunting the vast hears of buffalo. European immigrants taking advantage of technological advance (trains, barbed wire, mecahnical reepers, and other advances) turned the primordal grasslands into the iconic 'waving fields of grain'--a vast bread basket. They fed Europe during and after World War I prevening famine. The environmental mistakes leading to the Dust Bowl were corrected by the New Deal (1930s). And both America and Canada again palyed a critical role in saving Britain and feeding war-ravaged countries. And this time there was a far greater need. World War I despite the title was a largely European war, World War II was in every sence a world war. And thus far more people were affected by the War. And the more vicious nature of World War created a far greater need. Hunger and famine in World War I was largely a function of poor policies and incompetence. This was different in World War II. The Axis powers were out to kill civilians and denying food to people was one way of doing this. Again food from the North American breadbasket would save millions. Both America and Canada rationed food, the rationing began earlier and was much more severe in Canada.


Canada like the United States had a major agriucultural economy. The Great Plains extended over large ares of boy American and Canada. The prarie provinces had vast wheat fields which were a huge agriculturasl food-producing resource in fighting World War II. Britain was not self sufficient in food, but with Canadian and American food shipments could continue the War and feed its people--if the Atlantic sea lanes could be kept open. Canada instituted a severe rationing program so as much food as possinle could be shipped to Brtain. Meat was severely rationed, but American SPAM was avilable. Canadians were trenmedously supportive of Britain, especially Anglo Canadians. Canadian food exports provided an essential lifeline to Britain which was vital. Other parts of the Empire produced food, but transport from food producung areas like Australia required enormous amounts of shipping. Canada in cintrast was a shirt hop across the North Atlantic. Cabnadian food shipments were especially important before Anmerican Lend-Lease kicked in (March 1941). 【Britnell and Fowke, p. 210.】 Canadian exports accounted for 57 per cent of British wheat and flour consumption. Before Amerucan Lend Lease, it was nearly 80 percent. Other shipments included bacon (39 percent), eggs (15 percent), cheese (24 percent), and evaporated milk (11 opercent). The diversit of these shipmeents was achieved by transformong Canadian farms. The wheat acreage in the Prairie Provinces was reduced by over 40 percent. The Goverment achieved this through subsidies, price guarantees, and various controls. Acerage was expanded for feed grains (72 percent), flaxseed (800 percent) and pork production (250 percent). 【LAC】 Canada would not only produce food the badly British needed, but built a massive navy to keep the U-boats first at bay and then destroy them.

United States

America was an important agricultural producer before the Civil War. After the Civil the land beyond the Misissippi was settled creating a country with a vast agricultural potential. America and Russia were the two most important agricultural producers in the world, both exporting large qantities of grain. America and Russia were in many ways twins, America expanding west and Russia east. Agricultural could not, howevever, be more different. American agriculture, especilly fter the Civil War, was based on the Nortwest Ordinance and the Homstead Act was based on free labor and family farms. Russian agriculture was based on large landed estates and serf (very close to slave) labor. After the Russian Revolution, Stalin converted the peasants who has seized the land to state serfs under his collectivization program. American harvests were not only affected by expanding the area under cultivation, but by inventions like the mechanical reaper and tractors as well as improved methods. The genius of free market capitalism helped to create an agricultural sector of unrivaled productivity. The Russians Had controlled highly fertile black soil area, but a very inefficent agricultural sector based on traditional serf methods and after the Revolution highly ineffient stte colleectivization. In both World War I and II, when Russian food production was disrupted, American farmers picked up the slack in European harvests saving the lives of millions. Infantry and food was America's principal contributions to World War I because American infantry helped win the war before its undustry could be retooled for war. After the War, America relief saved millions in Eurepe, including the Soviet Union. Children were a special priority in American relief efforts. After World War I and Europe began to recove, rural American experienced a depression because of declineingg demand (1920s). This was about a decade before the Depression hit industrial America. President Roosevelt's New Deal place a considerable emphasis on addressing the problems of rurl America and the farm economy. World War II was different as American industry this time plated a central role in the Allied war effort. Even so, American farmers during World War II again expanded production and not only fed American civilians, but American armies, Allied armies, and allied civilans as well. American food was an inportant component of Lend Lease aid, especially helping to keep Britain, but then the Soviet Union in the War. American agriculture was even more efficient in World War II because of New Deal farm programs including Rural Electrification. Domestic condumption was limited by rationing, but American rationing was mild by European standards. American food saved many from starvation as well as providing vital food needs of the Red Army on the critical Eastern Front. Tragically American food could not reach civilians in Axis occupied countries. Here millions died either because of organized Axis efforts to kill or by incompetent and negligent occuption policies. After the War, American relief programs as in World War I saved millions from starvation, this time not only in Europe, but Asia as well.


Britnell, G.E and V.C. Fowke. Canadian Agriculture in War and Peace, 1935-1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962).

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Department of Agriculture. "Proportion of Canadian Food In The British Diet," RG 17, vol. 3426, file 1500-80.


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Created: 1:27 PM 5/27/2023br> Last updated: 1:27 PM 5/27/2023