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The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asiaby Nick Cullather
Synopses & Reviews
Food was a critical front in the Cold War battle for Asia. "Where Communism goes, hunger follows" was the slogan of American nation builders who fanned out into the countryside to divert rivers, remodel villages, and introduce tractors, chemicals, and genes to multiply the crops consumed by millions. This "green revolution" has been credited with averting Malthusian famines, saving billions of lives, and jump-starting Asia's economic revival. Bono and Bill Gates hail it as a model for revitalizing Africa's economy. But this tale of science triumphant conceals a half century of political struggle from the Afghan highlands to the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, a campaign to transform rural societies by changing the way people eat and grow food.
The ambition to lead Asia into an age of plenty grew alongside development theories that targeted hunger as a root cause of war. Scientific agriculture was an instrument for molding peasants into citizens with modern attitudes, loyalties, and reproductive habits. But food policies were as contested then as they are today. While Kennedy and Johnson envisioned Kansas-style agribusiness guarded by strategic hamlets, Indira Gandhi, Marcos, and Suharto inscribed their own visions of progress onto the land.
Out of this campaign, the costliest and most sustained effort for development ever undertaken, emerged the struggles for resources and identity that define the region today. As Obama revives the lost arts of Keynesianism and counter-insurgency, the history of these colossal projects reveals bitter and important lessons for today's missions to feed a hungry world.
Book News Annotation:
Cullather (history, Indiana U.) explores the history of the US engagement with agricultural "development" in Asia, initiated in large part because the advanced technological approach of American agriculture was seen as a means to counter geopolitical instability caused, in American planner's eyes, by the Asian peasant's "revulsion against the acceptance of misery and poverty as the normal conditions of life" (quoting former Secretary of State Dean Acheson), which was being exploited by communists throughout the continent. He describes how American involvement in development was framed as projects to "display" the fruits of modernity and as "models" to be contrasted with the Soviet Union's industrial planning, even if American planners were never able to settle on any single model that could be drawn from the American agricultural system. He also discusses how the American approach pursued conflicting goals of restoring a putatively lost balance between food supply and population; instilling American values in the psychology of the peasant; and increasing the power of the state over the resources, territory, and people of rural Asia. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
2011 Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations
2011 Ellis W. Hawley Prize, Organization of American Historians
About the Author
Nick Cullather is Professor of History and International Studies at Indiana University.
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