Alfred Hassler and the Origins of the FOR Rice Campaign
By Dianne Leonetti (Interviewing Alfred Hassler)
Alfred Hassler (1910-91) was one of the major founding figures in FOR. Imprisoned during World War II as a conscientious objector, he joined the FOR staff and went on to serve as editor of Fellowship magazine and later as executive secretary of FOR and general secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Hassler was asked about the Rice Campaign by Dianne Leonetti, another editor of Fellowship, in an interview in that magazine in 1974. Here’s what he said:
“Do you remember FOR’s campaign in ‘54 and ‘55? There’s a story we haven’t told very often because it was told to us in great confidence — but that was nearly twenty years ago.
“There was a famine in China, extremely grave. We urged people to send President Eisenhower small sacks of grain with the message, ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him. Send surplus food to China.’ The surplus food, in fact, was never sent. On the surface, the project was an utter failure.
“But then — quite by accident — we learned from someone on Eisenhower’s press staff that our campaign was discussed at three separate cabinet meetings. Also discussed at each of these meetings was a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the United States bomb mainland China in response to the Quemoy-Matsu crisis.
“At the third meeting the president turned to a cabinet member responsible for the Food for Peace program and asked, ‘How many of those grain bags have come in?’ The answer was 45,000, plus tens of thousands of letters.
“Eisenhower’s response was that if that many Americans were trying to find a conciliatory solution with China, it wasn’t the time to bomb China. The proposal was vetoed.” (Alfred Hassler, in Fellowship, September 1974)
In the December 1975 Fellowship, in a different context, Hassler told the story again:
“No food was offered to China, of course, although a year later Eisenhower did give surplus grain to some East European countries. Except for one of the accidents of history, the Food-for-China campaign would have appeared to be an imaginative, colorful failure, like many another. But the ‘accident’ was in the information, provided confidentially years later by a former colleague of Eisenhower’s, that the campaign had been discussed in cabinet meetings simultaneously with proposals from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the bombing of mainland China. The President, said our informant, asked how many of the grain bags had been received. When he heard that there had been over 45,000 plus thousands of additional letters, he ruled against bombing — on the grounds that if so many Americans wanted reconciliation with China, it was hardly the time to start bombing it!” (Fellowship, December 1975, p. 13)