It’s not only Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Monday, but also the 70th anniversary of his Friendship Train. Back in 1948, farmers in Nebraska were so inspired by the former president they started a train in his honor to feed the world’s hungry.
We could use the Lincoln Friendship Train spirit again, as the world faces the worst hunger crisis since that era. The U.S. Famine Warning System says “Across 45 countries, an estimated 76 million people are expected to require emergency food assistance during 2018. Four countries – Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria – face a credible risk of Famine.”
Ethiopia, Syria and the Congo are some of the other countries most at risk. Children face potentially deadly malnutrition in these worst affected areas. Food has clearly become a top foreign policy priority for the United States, as it was after World War II. But there needs to be a response as powerful as the Lincoln Friendship Train.
On Lincoln’s birthday in 1948, the train launched from the town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Carloads of food donations were gathered onto sections of the train in Iowa, South Dakota and Illinois. Supplies from Colorado and Wyoming also arrived at start. The train kept moving east toward Philadelphia rounding up even more supplies.
Around 200 freight cars of supplies were collected. By the end of February food was on its way to Austria, Germany, Poland, Japan, Korea and other nations who had suffered so much during World War II. Imagine the relief when hungry children could drink milk again because of this American generosity through the Lincoln train.
Hunger was really the last remaining enemy from World War II. Food production is always a casualty of conflict. Without U.S. assistance, these nations could not rebuild. Without food, you have no strength to recover from such a tragedy.
As Lincoln himself once said “With Malice toward none and charity toward all.” Lincoln was a man who stood for peace and freedom. The Friendship Train in his name back in 1948 gave people freedom from hunger and the chance to live in peace.
Lincoln once said the United States should “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” That sums up the purpose of our United States Food for Peace and other aid programs. For peace and freedom cannot be founded on empty stomachs.
In 1948, Americans fully understood this, which led to Lincoln’s Friendship Train but also much more. There were also other Friendship Trains in the fall of 1947.
President Harry Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall were leading the way on a massive European Recovery program. The Marshall Plan, as it was called, was also signed in 1948 and rebuilt Europe. Food aid was essential for this plan to succeed.
Today, the Congress should increase funding for U.S. food aid programs because of the massive hunger crisis ongoing. The Food for Peace program and the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program should see funding boosts.
Food can write the peace today as it did after World War II with Abraham Lincoln’s Friendship Train.