National Geographic : 1917 Jul
FEARFUL FAMINES OF THE PAST History Will Repeat Itself Unless the American People Conserve Their Resources BY RALPH A. GRAVES GIVE us bread !" is the despairing cry which today comes across the seas to America in a score of tongues from three hundred million peo ple who stand on the brink of the abyss of starvation. All the resources of the nations of Eu rope and Asia Minor have been diverted for three years from gainful pursuits to the destructive activities of war. Men have been forced to put aside the hoe and scythe; fertile fields have been gashed by trench and blasted by shrapnel until they can serve no purpose save as graves for the slain; the plowshare has been beaten into the sword, the fertilizer converted into high explosives. Thus have the agencies of plenty been made to breed havoc over land and sea. What is in store for mankind if Amer ica fails to respond with all her food re sources to this call for help? The fearful famines of history reveal to us what may happen-nay, what inevi tably must happen-now, as in the past, with the difference that whereas famines of a bygone age took their toll in thou sands, the famine of today, if it ma terializes, will compute its death roll in millions. Grim, gaunt, and loathsome, like the three fateful sisters of Greek mythology, war, famine, and pestilence have decreed untimely deaths for the hosts of the earth since the beginning of time. A veritable trinity of evil, the three are as one scourge, equal in their devastating power and in their sinister universality. Twentieth century civilization, with science and industry for its allies, grap pled with these potent forces of destruc tion, and there were those who, as re cently as the early summer of 1914, be lieved that the good fight had been won; that never again would the pleasant places of earth be baptized in the blood of a peaceful people; that never again would ravening plague, following through the fields harvested by cannon, claim its vic tims by the tens of thousands; that never again would the silent specter of hunger stalk through the world with but one na tion to stay its progress. But the era of permanent peace is yet to be won by the sword of democracy, and science finds that she still has her battles to wage against the armies of con tagion mobilized in the charnel houses of ravaged nations. AMERICA ALONE CAN DEFEAT MAN'S THIRD FOE There is still a chance, however, to de feat mankind's third great foe-famine. Is the struggle to feed the world worth the sacrifice which America will be called upon to make? Here are presented a few pages from history's black chronicle of the suffering and the degradation which famine has wrought in every clime and among every people. If to save mankind from a recurrence of these horrors is a goal worthy the industry and the re sources of our republic, the answer is plain. A survey of the past shows that war, pestilence, and famine always have been related, sometimes one and sometimes another being the cause, and the other two the effect. Where one of the trio has occurred the others, sometimes singly, but usually together, have followed. The primary cause of famine almost invariably has been a failure of food crops. This failure has often resulted from a variety of natural causes-long continued drought, blasting hot winds, insect armies, earthquakes, severe and untimely frosts, and destructive inunda tions.