The Commissioner in India (Merrell) to the Secretary of State

No. 632

Sir: I have the honor to enclose, for the information of the Department, a copy of an article31 published in the Communist organ People’s Age for June 2, 1946, under the heading “100 Million Indians Threatened with Starvation Death—Where Anglo-American Food Politics Has Brought Our Country”; and to comment on the generally unfavorable publicity the United States has received in the Indian press during the last two months in connection with the food problem. The article in question not only represents an effort on the part of Indian Communists to exploit the food crisis, but is also indicative of the attitude of the Indian press in general on the subject of the United States and food.

It will be noted that the People’s Age article quotes the Indian Food Mission in Washington as stating: “Not a grain of American wheat has reached India”, and attributes to the President the following remark: “The world is a bitch with too big a litter. We have to decide which of the puppies to drown.” The article states Americans are eating twice as much as is necessary to maintain good health; that they are feeding cattle more than enough to make up “India’s total 1946 shortage” because feeding cattle “brings more profit”; that the United States’ “new . . . . colony”, Japan, is receiving food at the expense of India because General MacArthur32 obtains his food data from Japanese officials “who are by and large the same who ruled Japan in wartime”; that “there is no requisitioning of food at the farms and rationing at the food shops” in the United States because “it would be bad for trade”; that the Truman administration is “tied hand and foot to the big banks which control American farming interests” and that “MacArthur, boss of Japan, is himself linked up with American high finance”; that Mr. Hoover’s33 plan for a World Food Administration [Page 89]represents a plot “to guarantee unlimited profits” and means that “the bitch has not got ‘too big a litter’ but it is chained to American big business butchers and the puppy which does not pay a cut-throat price will be ‘drowned’”.

The article then accuses the British of “playing the same game with some variations arising from the fact that they have a huge political empire—not one but many Japans to feed”. The British, the article continues, “pretend they can’t blackmail the world with food simply because they are a ‘poor importing country’” but that in reality two of the four big exporting countries—Australia and Canada—are “under her thumb”, and a third, the Argentine, “is soaked with British capital, with a Fascist government kept in power by them”; the British “attack Americans for ‘eating too much’ but eat “twice as much as is needed for good health” and have in stock over 4,000,000 tons of grain; the British criticize Americans for favoring Japan but put the British zone in Germany first and India next; the biggest scandal of all is the British refusal to allow shipment to India of 500,000 tons of rice offered by the Indonesian Republic. The British, says the article, “like the Americans, would like to use food as a weapon for political domination” but they need food from America to carry out this policy and try to frighten Americans by saying that if sufficient food is not provided for scarcity areas they will play into the hands of “political extremism”.

The concluding paragraphs of the article may be summarized as follows: American policy is “to let the British burn their fingers in an Indian famine and then rush in to the rescue on their own terms—cut-throat profits and a share in the political and economic domination of India”, while it appears “the British game” is “to warn America that an Indian famine would mean the blowup not only of British Imperialism but of the whole world Imperialist system”. The British want to use the threat of famine to push through the Cabinet Mission’s plan and obtain American backing for it. India is “starving to death in a mad world in which two gangs of cut-throats are using food to dominate nations”; leaders of the “two great parties” are “blind to the American game, blind to the British game, and blind to their own people’s suffering”. The only way out is to unite and form an interim government with full powers to appeal to the world for food; other Asiatic countries and the Soviet Union will help such an Indian government, and if Anglo-American reaction still holds out, India will have the whole world’s support if it goes in for trade sanctions against Britain and America.

[Page 90]

Alleged U.S. Opposition to Soviet Exports to India

The article summarized above is followed by a story headed “U.S. Won’t Allow Soviet Food Exports to India”. Opening with an excerpt from a report in the Times of India for May 28 to the effect that American officials in Washington “are understood to be opposed to India’s seeking help from Soviet Russia in the matter of food”, the story goes on to say that the U.S.S.R. has pledged to export 1,100,000 tons of grain to France, Poland, Finland and Rumania; that this grain will be delivered because “Socialist harvests don’t fail”; that the Soviet Government “never thinks of using food as a weapon of political blackmail like the Anglo-American Imperialists” and that this is why “she has saved most of Europe from starvation—despite her limited resources”. Three months ago, the article alleges, the United States and British were “mainly interested in preventing Soviet food aid to starving countries because they wanted to dictate their own terms and wanted no Soviet ‘competition’”.

It will be noted that on the same page as the articles in question there is a cartoon showing the President seated at a table almost hidden by a mammoth loaf of bread. He is flanked by physically gross characters, one of whom is apparently intended to represent Japan, while the other two probably represent Britain and Germany. While the people at the table make ready with knives and forks an emaciated Indian child in the foreground stares at a “Notice” which reads: “Dogs or Indians Not Allowed”. The caption is the aforementioned remark attributed to the President regarding “a bitch with too big a litter”.

The Party Line

Peopled Age has thus utilized a collection of half-truths and maliciously twisted facts (a) to attack the two leading Western democracies jointly, (b) to present a picture calculated to create discord between the two countries, and (c) to support the current official policy of the Communist Party of India—namely, to advocate political unity among Indians in order to oust the British. In view of the Labor Government’s announced intention of granting independence to India, Indian Communists can hardly be criticized for encouraging agreement among Indian political parties, but one cannot avoid the suspicion that the Communists’ eagerness to see the British go stems from the belief that if British authority is withdrawn their opportunities for spreading their doctrines will improve.

Generally Bad Press Received by the United States in India

Attacks on the United States in connection with the food problem are not confined to the Communist press in India. During the past few months virtually all dailies read by the Mission—pro-Hindu, pro-Muslim [Page 91]and pro-British—have exhibited a remarkably anti-American bias in their editorials and in their handling of news stories on the subject of food. Even the Statesman, a paper which often manifests a friendly attitude toward the United States, has recently carried a series of special articles cabled from the United States by a correspondent named Stuart Gelder from which the reader gains the impression that the average American is not only a glutton, but a racketeer, or at best a candidate for an institution for the feeble-minded.

Reasons for anti-American attitudes in the Indian press have been referred to in previous communications. In the first place, it has become obvious that during the early part of our participation in the recent war, our Government—through various official channels—“oversold” itself to Indians. Rightly or wrongly many of them gained the impression that the United States was going to “liberate” them from British rule. When this hope was not realized, Indians were bitterly disappointed and in many cases not only decided to question the United States’ “sincerity” as a democratic nation, but began to class the United States with Britain as an imperialistic power. In some cases this disillusionment dates back to the first World War: Vallabhbhai Patel, for example, remarked to an officer of the Mission some months ago that many Indians had entertained high hopes when President Wilson announced his Fourteen Points, and that when these failed to materialize they came to the conclusion that Britain and the United States’ professions of belief in democracy could not be taken seriously.

Having experienced disillusionment as a result of our Government’s official publicity during the early part of the late war, Indian editors have found it easy, and well suited to their own political objectives, to continue to class the United States as an imperialist power: our Government’s participation—direct or indirect—in the reoccupation of the Dutch East Indies and Indo-China, and its policies vis-à-vis China and Palestine, have been seized upon as material for scores of unfriendly or bitterly critical editorials. Currently the difficulties experienced by the U.N.O. and by the Foreign Ministers at Paris34 are being cited as evidence that the Western democracies are sincerely interested neither in world peace nor in the welfare of small nations and dependent peoples.

Some of the strongest criticism of the United States in recent months has centered around the Government’s reported attitude toward the Palestine problem. Indian editors and commentators, as has been indicated in previous communications to the Department, frequently [Page 92]ask how a Government dedicated to democratic principles can justify support of an immigration policy for Palestine which is reportedly opposed by the majority of the population of that country.

When the foregoing factors are considered it is perhaps not surprising that the Indian press in general is hypercritical of the United States’ efforts to avert famine. An additional factor in this case is the series of contradictory reports which have emanated from Washington—from both official and press sources. In this connection there is no evidence that British officials in London or in New Delhi have gone out of their way to dispel the illusion created in some quarters that Great Britain is making a more determined effort than the United States to cope with the food problem.

The Remedy

Under the circumstances I feel the prevailing attitude of the Indian press toward the United States is not apt to change as a result of any obvious attempt to bring pressure on editors. An increase in the quantity of official handouts and releases cabled from Washington would, in my opinion, merely aggravate the suspicion which Government-sponsored news services so frequently arouse.

Officers of the Mission will, of course, continue to cultivate acquaintance with members of the Indian press with a view to helping them understand the United States. As the Department is aware, this is a long and delicate procedure, and the number of individuals which can be influenced in this way is necessarily limited. For the time being, however, I believe this is the only positive approach which is advisable. Any sort of program patently designed to influence the Indian press would do more harm than good.

Respectfully yours,

George R. Merrell
  1. Not herein reprinted.
  2. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Powers in Japan.
  3. Former President Herbert Hoover, at the request of President Truman, undertook a special mission at this time to study and coordinate the food supplies of 38 countries.
  4. For documentation on the Second Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers at Paris, see vol. ii, pp. 1 ff.