860.03/5–1453: Despatch

No. 29
The Minister in Hungary (Ravndal) to the Department of State

No. 719


  • Legtel 963, May 7, 19531


  • Warsaw’s 529 May 42 and Bucharest’s 273 May 53 re Need for and Possible Reactions to American Offers of Gifts of Food to Soviet Orbit Countries.

I have read with great interest Ambassador Flack’s telegram No. 529 of May 4 and Minister Shantz’s telegram No. 273 of May 5, giving their mission’s assessment of the food situation and the potential impact of American offers of gifts of food to the needy in Poland and Rumania.

Both missions rightly question the advisability of supplementing the Polish and Rumanian food supply in a manner which might permit military stockpiling or diversion of food production for general orbit purposes.

None of the many people who discussed the idea of American offers of gifts of food contemplated distribution of the food in such a manner that it would strengthen the communist regime and its military potential. Distribution of the food was to be by the International Red Cross to the needy who, in Hungary, are found in [Page 61] large numbers among the peasants, the deportees, the aged, and the infirm. These people if reached by the IRC, as they once were through the media of the JDC and CARE systems, would not comsume less of the local supply than they now consume; they would merely have added to their personal intake what they now cannot obtain.

In this connection I note Ambassador Flack’s belief that the present system of individual gift packages from America is the most effective type of propaganda so far as the Polish masses are concerned. The only variations between that system and the one under consideration are (1) there would also be helped needy who do not have connections in the United States and (2) in the case of Hungary at least, the communist regime would no longer have control over the destination and content of the gift parcel nor derive the income it gets from the exorbitant customs duties it now levies on gift parcels and which many would-be recipients cannot afford to pay.

As for the opinion that the counter propaganda attack would include advice to us to give our surplus food to our own unemployed and slum dwellers and to underfed masses in France and Italy, et cetera, it is recalled that the proposal under consideration contemplates that concurrently with or previous to the food offensive against the “peace” camp, food would be offered on the same terms to our friends, such as Italy.

Warsaw suggests that perhaps no one country should be singled out by name; and Bucharest assumes that full consideration is being given to the effect of the proposed offers on Asiatic and other countries where food standards are “lower” than in Rumania and to which the United States in the past has sold not given food. Those who discussed the idea before it was submitted unanimously agreed that the food offers would best be directed simultaneously to all the weak spots of the “peace” front rather than to just one of the captive countries. And the plan of thrusts at many places, using the different foods wanting at the different places, was endorsed by all, the thought of a trial offer to a specific country initiated through a question at the President’s press conference being merely a suggested means of getting the program started under favorable, domestic American, publicity.

Finally, with respect to the warning that embarking on the proposed program would saddle the United States with the moral duty to supply all hardship and famine areas in the world in the indefinite future, unless we are willing to meet charges that we give away food only as part of the “cold war” without humanitarian aims, I submit that American history is illumined by many instances of gifts to needy, whether friends or enemies, and distribution [Page 62] by the International Red Cross would classify the gift as charitable. The program clearly fits into the humanitarian projects of the United Nations and seems a “natural” for inclusion in President Eisenhower’s world-moving concept of using part of the funds now spent on armament in improving the lot of those less fortunate than we.

If incidentally the “peace” camp should violently reject our offers, as it probably would—this we anticipated—we should still retain the initiative with the Kremlin’s defenses weakened.

C.M. Ravndal
  1. Telegram 963 specified certain food shortages expected to occur in Hungary during the following months. (864.03/5–753)
  2. Document 27.
  3. Supra.