An American Enterprise? British participation in US food relief programmes (1914-1923)

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First World War Studies






International Society for First World War Studies

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This article examines a particularly fraught zone where the British and American conceptions of food aid and moral guidance conflicted – the former enemy nations of Austria and Germany. These countries were considered special cases for food relief, not only because the British and American public had little interest in feeding their former foes, but also because each was seen by aid officials as societies that might succumb to social revolution if food security was not established. While the Americans had established a massive child-feeding operation in Europe under the auspices of the American Relief Administration's European Children's Fund and with US government financing, Austria, and especially Germany, posed unique challenges, given the public relations problem in Allied nations with aid to former enemies. To meet these challenges, the Society of Friends (Quakers) became a major player in the food aid schemes in Austria and Germany because, as known pacifists, the Friends championed the non-partisan delivery of relief to war victims. In this article, I argue that in both Germany and Austria, conflicts developed between American and English Quaker societies animated by competing ideals: a British imperial, missionary model couched in internationalist language and an American model emphasizing efficiency, scientific management, and self-help framed with the Wilsonian vocabulary of freedom. In addition, with American public funds propping up many of the foreign aid missions, Hoover and the American Friends wanted recognition of the American nature of the work, while English Quakers sought to identify the work as Quaker international work.

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