C.A.R.E.: Building an Empire through Humanitarian Food Aid, 1957-1966

Dajeong Chung, Visiting Assistant Professor
The College of William and Mary

This paper begins by arguing that US humanitarian food assistance to South Korea was born out of the failure of earlier US Cold War policy. Previously, the United States had supplied relief food directly to the South Korean government. Although it helped avoid famine, it failed to achieve a longer and more pervasive goal of the United States, which was to persuade the South Koreans to the advantages of joining the “free world” in contrast to a communist rule. The result was dismal. New food from the United States, rather than representing the generous gift of the US government, was more associated with the South Korean governmental corruption and US complicity in it. Partly as a corrective to this, the United States introduced a new Voluntary Agency Program under Title III, Public Law 480, which was to provide food aid through international organizations and civilian voluntary agencies, and claimed a higher moral ground in comparison to communist states.

CARE (Cooperation for American Relief Everywhere) inherited the Milk Feeding Program from UNICEF in 1957, and modified it to a School Lunch Program that continued to 1966. South Korean schools, local communities and newspapers responded positively to the UNICEF-CARE programs which engaged the recipients with practices of child care, public hygiene, and nutritional science. However, the fact that the US Department of State donated most of the food for the programs under Title III, US Public Law 480 was not actively promoted. Instead, South Korean newspapers credited UNICEF and CARE as original donors. This paper identifies the mediation through voluntary agencies as a key mechanism of humanitarian food aid. By de-emphasizing the intent of the US government, the voluntary agency programs enabled a humanitarian image of US food aid as coming from multiple, de-centralized, civilian agencies operating through voluntary individual donations from US citizens. Thus established humanitarian image successfully construed a difference from the communists, and it was fed into the metaphors of the American Cold War.

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