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RICE for PEACE

(Updated Feb. 6, 2003)

Many are now urging that we send a little bag of rice to President Bush along with the message, "If your enemy is hungry, then feed him. -- Romans 12:20.  Please send this rice to the people of Iraq, do not attack them."

What a creative, imaginative  idea this is!  It's already circulating widely on the internet.  I am reproducing below one of many e-mails I have gotten regarding this petition.

History of the campaign 

The current campaign was started by Stirling Cousins, as described in an article in the Boulder Daily Camera.  Stirling also writes for Vegetarian Living, the newsletter of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, for example, this article about rainforest destruction and beef consumption.  For more about the campaign, you can also look at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's web site here.   Stirling should be an example to vegetarians and to everyone else of how to be positively involved in social movements.  

I first found out about the campaign through an e-mail from Buddhist friends in California; then I got a similar message from a Unitarian-Universalist Christian friend in North Carolina.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the whole protest had begun in my home state of Colorado.

The Bible Verse

I would add two historical notes about this campaign, one ancient, the other modern.  First, the bible verse cited is Romans 12:20.  But in that verse Paul is quoting the Jewish scriptures.  The reference is to Proverbs 25:21: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink."  I suggest citing Proverbs 25:21 as well as Romans 12:20 -- there is a Jewish rationale for this, as well as a Christian one.  In fact, the Christian reference is secondary, it is just a citation of the Jewish one.

The 1950's protest

The second issue involves the question of the prior incarnation of this protest in the 1950's which is referred to in most internet versions of this appeal.  This prior protest was launched in the 1950's by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  There is a quote from a book by David Albert in which he describes bags of rice being sent to Eisenhower.  The "snopes.com" web site has an interesting analysis of this claim.   They make three important points: (1) Albert gives no footnotes or references as to how he came by this information.  (2) The Fellowship of Reconciliation evidently did launch a campaign to send surplus wheat to China, but it involved sending small bags of wheat to the White House, not bags of rice.  (3) The protest was connected to the famine in China, not the possibility of war with China, as the statements by Albert might seem to imply.   On the basis of these three points, they describe Albert's undocumented reference to the "feed thine enemy" campaign of the 1950's as "garbled" and reject the idea that this campaign had any influence on Eisenhower at all (at least as of Feb. 6, 2003).

Snopes.com is right on all three points.  Albert should have documented his sources, and he has got the bags of wheat mixed up with the bags of rice.  However, the third point (the campaign was about famine, not war), while correct, is not quite relevant -- Albert does not actually say the campaign was directed against the war.  A close reading shows that Albert admits that the campaign was actually about famine -- thus agreeing with snopes.com and other sources.

The source of Albert's information is Alfred Hassler, a founding member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Hassler seems to have most of the details of the campaign right; he refers to "grain" rather than "rice," and spells out the source of his information (an unnamed aide to Eisenhower) as well as the fact that the protest was directed against famine, not war.  According to Hassler, someone on President Eisenhower's press staff told him that the bags of grain had influenced the decision not to go to war with China over the Quemoy and Matsu issue.  Admittedly, it does not necessarily mean that without the bags of wheat Eisenhower would have dropped nuclear weapons on the Chinese.  However, the bags of wheat were apparently cited in a private meeting as a reason for not going to war, so at the least it made it easier for Eisenhower to resist the suggestion to go to war.  

Packaging the Rice

One final issue concerns the packaging of the rice, if you do decide to protest.  The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center points out that you should package your rice carefully and if you use a padded envelope the postage will be more than the $1.06 cited in some messages.  Perhaps you could decrease the rice to 1/3 cup, or add additional postage stamps (four 37-cent stamps instead of three).  For best results, a padded envelope is suggested; it's possible to use a regular envelope but this might break in the Post Office's machinery.  

Another solution is just to send the President the same letter, without the rice, but with a $1 bill, telling him to send food aid to Iraq.  This would avoid the post office having to sort all of this stuff out and examine for anthrax,  etc.; it would actually be cheaper than sending the rice because you'd save on the postage.   

I've reproduced one of the several messages I've received below.

Peace,

Keith Akers

-------------------------------

Dear friends,

This is a grassroots campaign asking President Bush not to take us to war against Iraq. I hope you will participate. 

Place 1/2 c. uncooked rice in a small plastic bag (a snack-sized bag or sandwich bag work fine). Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Wrap it in a piece of paper on which you have written "If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Romans 12:20. Please send this rice to the people of Iraq; do not attack them."

Place the note and rice in an envelope (either a letter-sized or small padded mailing envelope - both are the same cost to mail) and address them to:
President George Bush
White House - 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Three 37 cent stamps will cover the postage.

Please drop this in the mail TODAY. It is important to act now so President Bush gets the letters before Feb.5th, the date he said he is sending Colin Powell to the U.N. 

For the White House to take notice there must be hundreds of thousands of rice deliveries. We can do it if we forward this message to our friends and family. Millions of us in this country do not believe that dropping bombs is a path to peace. Let us send Mr. Bush that message loud and clear.

There is a positive history of this protest. "In the mid 1950s, the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, learning of famine in the Chinese mainland, launched a "Feed Thine Enemy" campaign. Members and friends mailed thousands of little bags of rice to the White House with a tag quoting the Bible, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him." As far as anyone knew for more than ten years, the campaign was an abject failure. The President did not acknowledge receipt of the bags publicly; certainly no rice was ever sent to China.

"What nonviolent activists learned a decade later was that the campaign played a significant, perhaps even determining role in preventing nuclear war. Twice while the campaign was on, President Eisenhower met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider US options in the conflict with China over two islands, Quemoy and Matsu. The generals twice recommended the use of nuclear weapons. President Eisenhower each time turned to his aide and asked how many little bags of rice had come in. When told they numbered in the tens of thousands, Eisenhower told the generals that as long as so many were expressing interest in having the US feed the Chinese, he wasn't going to consider nuclear weapons against them."

From: People Power: Applying Nonviolence Theory by David H. Albert, p. 43, New Society Publishers, 1985.

Please share this request with your friends, family, and communities of faith. You can send a letter individually and also organize rice-bagging parties in your Sanghas, churches, community, or just invite your friends over to send envelopes together.

"May we all be peaceful, happy, and light in body and in spirit"