Food and the US Arsenal


In New Orleans food aid is provided only to those who leave the city and in the Astrodome US military recruiters are attempting to recruit young men and women without too many alternatives into their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile overseas, Jay Lefkowitz, the new US envoy on human rights, is suggesting that the paltry food aid provided to northern Korea by the US should be tied to its human rights record. Of course, the government of Colombia was recently recertified by the United States State Department for continued military and other US aid-aid that primarily goes to continuing that government’s appalling record of human rights abuse in its battle against labor activists, rural reformers, and antigovernment rebels. Then again, doesn’t the US provide billions of dollars to the government of Israel, most of it for use by the Israeli Defense Forces in their continued repression of the Palestinian people? And doesn’t that repression include torture, mass imprisonment without charges, and the intentional destruction of Palestinian homes and infrastructure? In addition, the 200,000 prisoners in northern Korean prisons is proportionately about the same as the more than 2,000,000 in prisons and jails across the United States. While there may be more northern Koreans in prison for crimes against the government, I’m certain that there are more prisoners in US prisons for the crime of being poor.

Food aid has been part of the US arsenal for decades. Indeed, much of it is actually dispersed under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)–a CIA subsidiary. Coming out of the post World War Two agency International Cooperation Administration (ICA), which was itself one of several agencies established to unite military and economic programs with technical assistance in those parts of the world under US control after the war. One of the primary reasons for the establishment of USAID was to provide the US government more independence in its efforts to establish a dominating presence around the world. Under the ICA, the US was expected to work much more closely with the United Nations and other world agencies than it is through USAID. In other words, it made it much easier for the US to use food as a weapon.

I’m listening to the news right now and just heard a government spokesman respond to a reporter’s question as to why Pat Robertson’s charity Operation Blessing was one of the top three charities on FEMA’s list of charities for people to contribute money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The spokesman answered the question by stating that the US was open to all offers of help and was not going to refuse help from anyone. If that’s the case, than why is the offer from Cuba to provide doctors, nurses, and several tons of medical supplies still not being accepted? Especially in light of the recently reported fact that Operation Blessing is doing very little direct relief work in Louisiana and most other parts of the hurricane-stricken area. As their website explains: “the 700 Club (is) helping churches to connect displaced persons in need of housing with those churches that are willing to share housing accommodations.” In other words, if you are not in one of those churches connected to Pat Robertson’s ministry, you will not be helped. This is not to suggest that people who believe in Robertson’s version of Christianity wouldn’t help or be helped, but we should question why his Operation Blessing-a charity that is tainted with rumors of past profiteering and fraud-is one of the top three charities FEMA is encouraging people to contribute to.

Speaking of relief efforts, Dick Cheney just returned from a tour of Halliburton areas in the disaster zone. The highlight of the tour was when a spokesman for a large segment of the people of the world told Mr. Cheney to go fuck himself. Meanwhile, his old company Halliburton has already acquired some lucrative reconstruction contracts and one can assume that they will end up with a god portion of the $60 billion in reconstruction funds recently allocated by Congress. Just like in Iraq, the profiteers in blood will walk away with most of the money set aside to rebuild after Katrina’s shock and awe.

USAID continues to facilitate the foreign food aid programs of the United States. As always, this aid is just one part of Washington’s foreign policy. The agency works with the World Bank and other US-controlled international lending agencies. As most readers know, the role of these agencies is essentially to turn the rest of the world into subsidiaries of Wall Street and Washington. As the lessons of Yugoslavia and Iraq tell us, that will occur by force if not through forced “cooperation.” At this point, it is difficult to foresee which route the government in Pyongyang will take. If Lefkowitz has his way though, the use of food as a means to get northern Korea to release its political prisoners and change other aspects of its policies will be a primary weapon. Of course, it doesn’t seem to cross the man’s mind that food is a fundamental human right: without it one ceases to be a living human after a while. In addition, if it’s the government of a particular nation that the US wishes to punish, than why would it hold the people of that nation hostage? Perhaps because Washington cares even less about those folks? I have a feeling you could get the answer to that question from a lot of the folks now homeless in Louisiana and Mississippi.

One more related note-as the United States attempts to cajole and/or force northern Korea to give up its nuclear program and end its manufacture of missiles capable of carrying warheads outside its borders, the US Air Force has begun testing ICBMs (that stands for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, for those who don’t remember) from its Vandenberg base in the California desert. Who’s going to force the US to stop its manufacture of such missiles and the nuclear warheads those missiles are designed to carry? It’s no wonder that Iran and northern Korea want to keep their trump cards.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at:



Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: