By William Lambers
During the Thanksgiving season of 1947 Americans took part in a great peace initiative: The Friendship Train. This story reminds us of the true meaning of Thanksgiving: sharing and feeding the hungry.
It was just two years after World War II, and Europe was in a desperate situation because of food shortages. Hunger is always the aftermath of war. Drought had also struck Europe in the summer of 1947, which added to the existing war recovery problems. Farmers struggled to grow food.
President Harry Truman addressed the American people about the urgency of the hunger crisis. So too did Secretary of State George Marshall, warning that “hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.”
The American people sprang to action. The Friendship Train was started to collect food for Europe. The train(s) took off from California and traveled across the country before Thanksgiving.
Cities and towns would donate boxcars of canned food. Once the Friendship Train reached the U.S. coast the food was sent overseas to France and Italy to feed the hungry. The food helped bring stability to these nations while they recovered from war wounds.
But the food also represented much more. Food is hope. Europeans knew help was on the way and there was a chance for reconstruction.
The American citizen who took part in the Friendship Train was helping guide the foreign policy of our nation. As columnist Drew Pearson, who originated the idea of the Friendship Train, said, “Instead of sitting at home, with no way of expressing themselves other than writing letters to their congressmen, the American people now have come to realize that food is a most important means of American foreign policy and that they can participate in it.”
Seeing how the American people were so dedicated to feeding Europe, the Congress had to act too. In December 1947, Congress approved an interim food aid bill helping Austria, Italy and France.
In 1948 the Marshall Plan was approved by Congress and rebuilt Europe, saving it from possible Communist takeover.
We should remember these lessons from Thanksgiving past. Food is the very basic foundation of society. Yet this week as Thanksgiving arrives there are countless nations living in hunger. Yemen is on the brink of famine from a civil war. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali, Central African Republic and countless other nations are suffering with food shortages. We must save them from deadly malnutrition.
What hope do we have for peace in the world if people are starving?
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.”