General Douglas MacArthur gave many orders during his career, including those as commander of American forces in the Pacific during World War II. But after the war, while in charge of the military government in Japan, MacArthur gave a lesser known, but extremely important order.
Japan was suffering from food shortages after the war. Herbert Hoover visited Japan during his 1946 trip as the “food ambassador” for President Truman. Hoover wrote of Japan, “we were confronted with mass starvation on a gigantic scale. If order was to be preserved and wholesale death prevented, there was only one course of action possible. We must undertake huge imports from overseas…” Hoover and his team set about to obtain the necessary food supplies for Japan.
A critical part of Hoover’s mission was to review the status of child nutrition. Hoover recommended to MacArthur an increased emphasis on child feeding. General MacArthur immediately ordered “extensive child feeding in the schools and canteens” throughout Japan.
Former Food for Peace director George McGovern wrote in 1964 that the school lunch programs “added inches and pounds to the average size of Japanese youth.” McGovern also said that “Japanese school officials have been forced to install larger desks because the children of this generation are larger than their mothers and fathers.”
Child feeding programs remained a critical part of U.S. policy toward Japan into the Eisenhower years. Eisenhower received a report on Food for Peace in 1960 from its coordinator Don Paarlberg, which highlighted school feeding in Japan and also Italy. The subsequent Kennedy administration continued the program as a major part of its foreign policy.
It’s important to remember how crucial child feeding programs are for reconstruction of a society. Many countries around the globe, like Japan in 1946, are recovering from conflict or natural disasters. If these countries get a helping hand to start child feeding programs, they will have one of the key ingredients for progress.
Low funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is stopping school feeding programs in their tracks. In Yemen one WFP program has not seen a distribution since last June. In many other countries child feeding programs are at risk.
The United States supports school feeding programs via the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. This initiative, although not well-funded by Congress, is one of the great American tools for building peace and prosperity around the world. McGovern-Dole should have a more prominent role in American foreign policy.
One note about MacArthur. According to Hoover, MacArthur was a great statesman and his administration of Japan after the war was outstanding. The extensive child feeding programs ordered by MacArthur were part of his great record. Hoover wrote that when MacArthur “marched down their streets with his victorious army, the Japanese people turned their faces and spat at the walls, but when he marched the troops down the streets at his departure, they were in tears.”