* war and social upheaval: World War II -- nationl economies

World War II: Economics: Agriculture

Nazi agriculture
Figure 1.--While the emphasis in World War II histories is on industry, agriculture and food played a major role in World War II. All of the Axis countries had to import food and desired to acquire land to expand agricultural harvests. Hitler in 'Mein Kamp' describes the vast agricultural lands of The East. The problem for the Axis was not only limited territory, but very inefficent agricultural methods, including limited mechnization. German authors described a special attachment with the land with the Volk ethic. Richard Walther Darr´┐Ż popularized the 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and Soil) phrase as the NAZIs were rising to power. He played a major role in increasing the NAZI vote among farmers during the eatrly 1930s.

World War II histories often give considerable attention to industry and the arms including planes, ships, and tanks produced by each country's industry. While perhaps not as dramatic, agriculture was also a vital component of World War II war economies. It is no accident that the Axis was dominated by countries (Germany and Japan) dependent on importing large quantities of food. These countries were intent on acquiring colonial possessions that could provide them the food resources they coveted. It was why Hitler discussed the East at great length in Mein Kampf and that conquering the East (meaning the Soviet Union) was a primary German war goal. The bountiful wheat fields of the Ukraine ererted a magnet-like attractgion for Hitler--an obsession that would result in the most massive military campaign in history, the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union. Japan seized Manchuria with its agricultural potential, a decade before launching the Pacific war. And the resourcs of the Southern Resourze Zone, including agriculture, would lead Japan to attack the United States. The Axis interest in agriculture was primary a concern over food production. Food shortages were a weakness of the German World War I war economy. Hitler was acutely aware of this and determined that it not impair the NAZI war economy. In sharp contrast, the Allies had very strong agricultural sectors. France was a very fertile country. Britain like Germany was dependant on food imports, but had access to the sizeable agricultural sectors of the Dominions and exporting countrieslike Argentina. The Soviet Union had vast agricultural potential, but its agricultural sector was damaged by Stalin and his brutal collectivization campaign. China had a vast agricultural sector, but almost all of its production was consumed domestically. The country with the world largest agricultural section was the United States and not only was America's food production huge, the Government had policies aimed at limiting production to increase prices. This meant that the potential existed to sizeably increase food production. American and Canadian agriculture would prove especially important as they were relatively close to Britain and play a critical role in feeding Britian during the War--as long as the Atlantic life lones could be kept open. Thus a discussion of World War II agriculture has to concentrate on food production. But there were other commodities that have to be considered, including rubber, fibers, tobacco, opium, and other products.


World War II histories often give considerable attention to industry and the arms including planes, ships, and tanks produced by each country's industry. Wars can not be fought without food. While perhaps not as dramatic, agriculture was also a vital component of World War II war economies. Food was required to feed the workers that produced the arms with which the War was fought. It was also needed feed the vast armies mobilized by the combatant countries. And without maintaiing food supplies, the civilian populations would starve. Food was one of the reasons that the Axis countries wanted to expand their territories. Food became a potent weapon. Denying food was one of the major German weapons refined as the Hunger Plan designed to kill people judged undesirable on racial grounds. Only because it took time to starve people did the Germns turn to shootings and poison gas. Famines resulting from the war would, however, kill more people than the Holocaust.

World War I

Food is a major issue in war. Food has to be stockpiled and transported to feed armies or the armies have to live off the land which can have a devestating impact on civilian populations. After the Napoleonic Wars, the wars in Europe were short lived, maning that food did not become a major issue. World War I lasted 4 years and had a devestating impact on the economies of beligerant and occupied countries. The food situation was especially disruppted. Food shortages were a weakness of the German World War I war economy. The ccountry was dependent of food imports to feed its expanding industrialized cities. The Brirish Royal Navy prevented those imports through a naval blockade of German ports. As a result, by the end of the war the Germans had begun to starve. The British also needed to import food, but could obtain needed supplies in the Dominions and America. The Germans also attempted a naval blockade using U-boats. But the Royal Navy was able to keep the sealanes open. Hitler was acutely aware of this and determined that food shortages would not impair the NAZI war economy. People may starve in the War he was planning, but he was going to make sure it would not be the German people. The Japanese adopted similar policies. In the end, it was only vast quantities of American food shipments tht prevented mass starvation in both Germany and Japan.

Country Farm Sectors

The military understandably takes the headlines in the histories of war. There are many wars, however, that agiculture and food play major roles. This is especially true of major drawn out wars not decided by quick military victories at the onset. These include the American Civil War and World War I. There are many other examples in history and World War II is one of them. The major factor in the agriculture a food aspect of the War was the tremendous agricultural potential of the United States. The United States since the late-19 century was the greatest food producing country in the world bcause of both its natural bountry, but also because of the mechinization of agriculture made possible by industrial growth. And during the Depression, the agricultural programs of the New Deal nade American agriculture even more efficent. The Axis in contrast had not only limited agricultural capabilities, but also innefficent farm sectors. Early military victories allowed the Axis to guarantee food supplies to the home country, but over time food shortahes devloped which adversely affected the war effort. In particularly it impaired their ability to fully utilize the economic potential economic potential of the occupied countries. The Soviet Union fought on both sides. It had an agricultural potenial on the same order as the United States, but faced a double whammy. Communism, especially Stalin's brutal collectivization prigram had significantly reduced harbests. Then with Barbarossa, the Germans occupied large areas of the Soviet black soil districts, the most productive agricultural lands.

Agricultural Products

Thus a discussion of World War II agriculture has to concentrate on food production. No country could wage war without food. Grain and the vasst wheat field of North Anerica and the Eurasian steppe were central to the War. Grains were the centrally important food stuffs, but there were many ither food items. Food thus had to thus play an important role it every country's economic planning. This varied from country to country. Some beligerant countries were important agrucultural producers and expoters. Other countries were dependent on food imports. This included all of the Axis countries and important Allied countries as well, especially Britain. The Soviet's Unions huge but damaged agricultural sector in Hitler's twisted mind becme a major cause of the War. Food was vital, but it was not the only agricultural product of importance. There were other commodities that have to be considered, including rubber, fibers, tobacco, opium, and other products. Rubber was paricularly vital given the importance of mechanized warfare. Tires were, however, just one of many vital uses of rubber. Fiber was needed to produce clothing, bith uniforms and civilian clothing. Here cotton and wool were the two most important fibers. Tobacco was not a vital commodity, but it was widely coveted by soldiers and civilians. Opium was of mixed importance. It was used by the Japanese to weaken its primary victim--China. Opiates had, however, medical uses.


Food became a major issue in World War II, as it commonly does in time of war. National food policies varied starkly, especially in the two major producers, the United States nd the Soviet Union. The length and dimensions of the War made food especially important in World War II. Four countries were especially important in regards to food. Agriculture played a key role in forming the aggressive policies of the Axis countries. The Germans coveted the vast aricultural lands of the East. The Japanese coveted the resource of the Southern Resouce Zone (Souheast Asia). Among them were rich agricultural lands. NAZI Germany decided to use food, or more accurately the denial of food, as a weapon. This to an extent was awell established strategy in warfare, to attack the ecoomies of eneny countries and to weaken a country's war making potential. But the Germans went far firtherthan this they used foof as part of a vast plan to chage the ethnic map of Europe by killing millions of targeted peoples in occupied countries. Imperial Japan through both incompetence and indiference caused terrible famines in occupied areas resulting in the death of millions. America had an enormous agriculture sector which could significantly expand food production and supply both war workers and military forces. Amertica would also save millions of people, as in World War I, from starvation by American food supplies both during and after the War. The Soviet agricultural sector was weakened before the War by Stalin's agricultural reforms, essentially murdering most of the country's best farmers and introduing ahighhly inefficent colklectivist system. This gave Stalin control of Soviet agriculture, but substantially reduced havests. Then when Hitler launched Barbarossa (June 1941), the Germans quickly seized contriol of much of the most fertile Soviet agricultural lands, the black soil areas of the south.


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Created: 11:23 PM 11/1/2014
Last updated: 9:38 AM 5/25/2018