Guest columnist William Lambers: A tale of two presidents against famine

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 1933.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 1933. VIA WIKIMEDIA


Published: 02-19-2024 6:01 AM

It was February 1946 when former President Herbert Hoover was contacted by President Harry Truman about an alarming crisis. World War II had been over for months, but there was one fierce enemy remaining: hunger.

Food shortages were so bad in the aftermath of the biggest war in history there was the threat of famine in Europe and Asia.

Hoover traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Truman to discuss the crisis and what action could be taken. The two presidents worked together to prevent the biggest famine in history.

Truman appointed Hoover as a food ambassador. Hoover would travel the globe in 1946 with a team to assess conditions in countries experiencing food shortages. His mission was to find solutions and gain cooperation among nations. Hoover achieved this, and with the support of Truman mobilized world governments and the public to action.

Hoover even addressed America on the radio, encouraging people to get involved through the saving of food. Americans were inspired to give to feed the hungry overseas, recognizing that millions of lives were on the line. Nations hung in the balance as hunger can lead to chaos and give rise to extremist forces.

The Hoover and Truman partnership led to some lifesaving programs, especially for children. Millions of kids in Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy and other nations got school lunches that saved their health and help rebuild their country. Mothers and infants got special feeding programs to fight off malnutrition. Imagine how important it is for a country to have nutrition for its youth. Many today do not because of war, climate change and poverty.

On Presidents Day, let’s think about how inspiring it was that two presidents from different political parties came together at a time of world crisis. Hoover was a Republican and Truman was a Democrat. But political party did not matter. What mattered was defeating hunger, saving lives and giving nations a chance to rebuild. The peace after World War II was owed certainly in part to the Hoover and Truman partnership.

But today we are in the biggest hunger emergency since Hoover and Truman teamed up. War always leads to hunger.

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Wars in Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Burkina Faso, D.R. Congo and other nations are causing severe hunger. The war in Ukraine has caused hunger in that country while it also has impacted a major source of food for other nations.

Save the Children is warning that in Gaza, “Families are becoming increasingly desperate in their search for food, water, and medical care.”

This is where diplomacy, like Hoover and Truman did after World War II, is crucial for supporting humanitarian aid and access. We need to do everything possible to get humanitarian aid to war victims. It’s crucial to end wars because as Hoover said, “the inevitable aftermath of war is famine.”

We also need leaders from both political parties, like Hoover and Truman, to work together on funding humanitarian aid. Right now, funding is so low for the U.N. World Food Program they have been forced to drastically reduce rations in some countries. This is a tragedy taking place every day and we need to mobilize like Truman and Hoover to boost the funding. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency, particularly in Congress, when you are dealing with hunger and the threat of famine.

All Americans can follow the example of President Truman and President Hoover by working together to prevent famine today.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” His writing has been published by the NY Times, Newsweek, Cleveland Plain Dealer and many other news outlets.