Reviving the “CARE Package”?

I may spend too much time thinking about this, but how is it one reverses the hatred of a people after war? WWII was no doubt very different. But interestingly, Germans talk about this a lot — about the brilliance in the American strategy after the war to rebuild (what we weirdly call) “friendship” between the German and American people.

That strategy had a government component (2% of the GDP spent on the Marshall Plan) and a private component. The private component came largely through the delivery of “CARE Packages.” As described on CARE’s website, these packages were originally surplus food packs initially prepared to support a US invasion of Japan. Americans were invited to send these packages to victims of the War. Eventually, over 100,000,000 packages were sent by Americans over the next two decades, first in Europe, then throughout the world.

A German friend this afternoon was recounting this story to me — he too is obsessed with how to reduce Iraqi anger. But the part he emphasized that I had missed originally was how significant it was to Germans to know that these packages were sent by ordinary Americans. It wasn’t the government sending government aid; it was American volunteers taking time to personalize an act of giving.

CARE has given up the CARE Package. So too has it moved far from the individual-driven model of giving that marked its birth. But I wonder how current victims of war would react to a repeat of 1945-giving. A related idea has been taken up by a 10-year old from New Jersey. But what if every city in America selected sister cities throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, and individual volunteers from the US repeated what our parents and grandparents did 60 years ago?

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20 Responses to Reviving the “CARE Package”?

  1. Well,at least in the case of Iraq, I think the fact that there’s a colonial occupation is going to be much more significant. I mean, sending a food package is not a bad thing – but, c’mon, if I were living under an occupying force in the middle of a bloody civil war set off by the occupiers, I suspect I’d think it was pretty small stuff. I suppose that wouldn’t get reported in the paper, the guy who said “Much of my family is dead or injured, my daily life is a shambles, and this American with a guilty conscience thinks a few rations are going to buy my affections for the country which did this? What insanity is that?”

    Again, it’s a kind-hearted thought. But it’s got the flaw of thinking small gestures are going to mean more than they do, because the one making the small gesture desperately wants to make such a difference.

  2. John Stoner says:

    Here’s a thought: pair Sunni Muslim families from America and around the world with Shia families in Iraq, and vice versa, and organize the care packages that way.

    After all, for all the problems they have with us, they have much bigger problems with each other.

  3. anonymous says:

    Nice idea. Probably won’t work. Too many Americans are too self-centered and lacking in empathy or generosity. A good slice of America, i.e. reich wingers, would probably send nasty things to foreigners if given half a chance.

  4. A related concern to Anonymous’s: there are bigger cultural, and especially religious, differences between the USA and Iraq than the USA and Germany. How many US citizens, if it were easy to do, would think it a good idea to send Bibles to Iraq, and how welcome would such a gift be?

  5. Alan says:

    Seth: Interesting assessment. Precisely what did the “colonizers” do to set off this fighting other than free the people from tyranny and given them an opportunity to rule themselves?

  6. adamsj says:


    We destroyed every means they had for keeping order. Believe it or not, even under a police state, the majority of the work law enforcement agents perform has to do with maintaining public order, not tyranny. We destroyed what Iraq in the way of law and order and replaced it with less than zero.

    Next time you want to try out this model of “liberation”, Alan, let me suggest you start by blowing up your own neighborhood’s police station.

  7. Alan says:

    Seth: Just what exactly did the “occupying colonial forces” do to start the fighting in Iraq (except free them and give them the opportunity to govern themselves).

    For one, we don’t have to send anything to the Kurds because they are pretty happy to be freed and are conducting their part of the country quite well (despite the complete lack of reporting to that affect – it gets in the way of the occupying forces narrative for our oh so transparent mass media, don’t you know)

    By the way, when WILL we stop occupying Germany, Japan, etc? Perhaps you can also answer why it is morally wrong to free a people from a dictatorship.

  8. Alan says:

    Oops – double post. I thought it had locked out my last one.

    Interesting point, Seth – then why did this level of problem not happen at the beginning and why didn’t it happen in the Kurdish north?

    Are you saying you are in agreement with us doing what we did as long as we had kept the police and government infrastructure in place?

  9. VeraBass says:

    “…how is it one reverses the hatred of a people after war?”

    I tend to think that an easier question than reversing ‘the hatred of a people’ before a war. The response to any devastion, whether caused by war, natural disaster, etc. is usually strong and spontaneous, or at least fairly easy to motivate. Granted the re-building or new building of post-war relationships is harder, but still easy compared to changing hostile relationships in periods of escalating conflict.

    Human society remains as laden with conflicts (political, religious, etc.) as it ever has been, which means, to me, that wars will continue apace.


  10. ACS says:

    I dont know about colonising but the US has sure stuffed that country up – and in some ways that we dont realise yet.

    For example, take the recent rocket attacks on Haifa. The rockets used were the old Katushyas which are primarily of russian manufacture. Some of these rockets were flown from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran (The arms bazaar of the Middle East) to Syria in the 1990’s. A far larger number have been moved over the border through Iraq (due to lack of border security in that country – which is a continuing problem) since the invasion in 2003.

    I put it to you that if you can transport thousands of three and four meter rockets across a border then there are worse things to come.

    I was strongly against the war in Iraq from the beginning. Like most rational people I could see there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq – Further, it was highly doubtful (now confirmed) that there were and WMDs there since the summer of 91. But lets face it, the genie is out of the bottle and Care packages arent going to solve anything. If the West is to avert a disaster of its own making then a full invasion of iraq would be required and the ‘arms highway’ shut down for good. A pullout will result in catastrophe.

  11. kcoyle says:

    Actually, the care package system is alive and well, although other-directed: for US soldiers abroad. If you tap into you can find your own unit to support through packages and letters. And yes, many Americans are responding. Sure, a number of them do so out of patriotism and support for the war, but there are others, like me, who protested the war AND feel responsible for OUR soldiers. I now have an entirely different view of what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan because there are people I care about who are there. I think that a similar connection with the Iraqi people would not end the war, but would solidify any positive feelings that they have toward the Western world, and, even more importantly, would give Americans a real stake in the day-to-day violence over there. There is no substitute for that kind of personal connection.

  12. michael d. morrison says:

    at present, care packages are being sent to the troops in iraq & afghanistan. grocery stores and the like even mark and highlight some of the best products to send overseas. when i was in vietnam 40 years ago, those packages were very much appreciated by all, especially troops in the field.

    however, is there some way that we as americans can expand this giving in some proper way to both the iraqi & afghani people. are there legitimate charities that we may donate cash to so that they may forward local specific foodstuffs to any and all that need it in these countries?
    occupation of a country is one thing, but feeding people what they prefer to eat may lessen the negative feelings about americans that persist. medcaps by the military are always crowded by those in need, so those would be a likely venue for foodstuffs. any ideas, dear hearts and gentle people?

  13. Janet Hawtin says:

    Which takes us back to Seth’s post where it is about what those care packages mean. If they are an extension of the packages sent to soldiers occupying the country then they are a part of the act of occupying. Blankets and beads in exchange for sovereignty.

    If they are part of a structural change in policy to focus on empowering local people and to provide resources for Iraq to rebuild then that is something different.

    Unfortunately often even the reconstruction phases of these wars are structured so that they generate crippling debt for the recipient, making the nation dependent. ie a Larger scale version of beads and blankets for sovereignty.

    Check out Perkins, Confessions of an economic hitman.
    While it is a bit strong on conspiracy I think that the underlying patterns will be familiar.

    Perkins writes that his economic projections cooked the books Enron-style to convince foreign governments to accept billions of dollars of loans from the World Bank and other institutions to build dams, airports, electric grids, and other infrastructure he knew they couldn’t afford. The loans were given on condition that construction and engineering contracts went to U.S. companies. Often, the money would simply be transferred from one bank account in Washington, D.C., to another one in New York or San Francisco. The deals were smoothed over with bribes for foreign officials, but it was the taxpayers in the foreign countries who had to pay back the loans. When their governments couldn’t do so, as was often the case, the U.S. or its henchmen at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund would step in and essentially place the country in trusteeship, dictating everything from its spending budget to security agreements and even its United Nations votes. It was, Perkins writes, a clever way for the U.S. to expand its “empire” at the expense of Third World citizens. While at times he seems a little overly focused on conspiracies, perhaps that’s not surprising considering the life he’s led. –Alex Roslin

  14. BostonBookEd says:

    There is a deeper, underlying sentiment here that is about accountability. As the world becomes smaller, as people say, there is less accountability. So as American troops march in arrogantly to a country chosen by leaders due to economic interests, not because of the oppressive regime (no one’s heading to Zimbabwe with such speed), American people are watching and are horrified and are feeling helpless. That’s our children going over, 18 – 20 years old and merely following orders. That’s our tax dollars being wasted as corporate coffers grow. That’s our reputation getting ruined globally. The CARE package may be ineffectual for the reasons people suggest, but what are we to do locally to counter our government’s ill-advised actions globally??

  15. jh says:

    I fully agree with how you feel. I feel the same way about my government which is equally complicit. However if care packages is the best we can do it is basically a gesture of apology for not having a democracy but actually being a signatory to entity which is corrupt and destructive and unaccountable because we can’t figure out how to make it accountable. I feel that we are accountable for the impact of our actions on others. in a democracy we are accountable for the impact of our governments on others. If a care package is a way for us to feel better about the actions of our government then it feels to me more like a way of avoiding responsibility for the war than something of positive meaning for people in Iraq.
    ie its using the blanket as a shroud.

  16. Wes says:

    I agree that one of the fundamental problems with the occupation of Iraq is the anger the Iraqi people feel toward the USA. Despite the claims of the Bush administration that Iar is a “democracy”, Bush has the ultimate authority in Iraq. Although, it may play well with people in the USA, Bush is sitting back and telling the Iraqis to solve their own problems. In a sense, Bush is the worst kind of dictator, he has absolute control over the Iraq (no one has the ability to force him from power) but he refuses to use this power to solve the problems in Iraq.

    It is worth noting that there is a key difference between the situation in Iraq and the situations in Germany and Japan after WWII. As soon as Japan and Germany went to war with the rest of the world, it was inevitable that they would be defeated and occupied. The only question was who would be doing the occupation. Germany had a choice between being occupied by the Soviet Union or the USA and Japan had a choice between being occupied by China or the USA. Germany and Japan had actually invaded the Soviet Union and China, respectively, and they had killed millions of people in those countries and caused massive destruction. The choice was whether to be occupied by a country that was very angry and wanted rettribution or whether to be occupied by a country that was more interested in long term stability. Given this choice, a desire in Germany and Japan to be occupied by the USA and to cooperate with the USA is not really surprising.

    In the case of Iraq, the choice was not which country would occupy Iraq, the choice was whether Iraq would be occupied at all. Given this choice, it is not really surprising that people in Iraq resent the occupation and are very angry with the USA.

  17. Juergen Fenn says:

    My mother received a CARE package after Wordl War II. She was 16 when the war was over.

    It is true, it was a quite impressive gesture to Germans after the war to receive such a package from ordinary Americans because Germans were afraid of the occupying allied forces that had destroyed almost all housing in the cities and people were rather afraid of all the invading soldiers, although it were mostly the Russians who were really aggressive towards ordinary German citizens in the Eastern part of Germany they had occupied. Millions of German soldiers were in captivity then. The last ones kept in Russia were released only about ten years after the war. So the cruelty and the horror Germany had brought to the world had finally returned home and hit the Germans back there. Most people had absolutely nothing left, then.

    I’m not quite sure whether you can compare this situation with what we find in Iraq today. I think Iraq is much better off as far as food supply is concerned than Germany was then. The culture is quite different too from what we find in Europe and America. This division will remain whatever Americans would do for the Iraqi people.

    I’m afraid the CARE package wouldn’t work today because after World War II there were still many family links between the US and Germany that lay the groundwork for the whole idea. A lot of Germans had emigrated to America, either a long time ago, or before and during the war due to Nazi persecution. There were a lot of Germans (compared to Americans of German decent) living in America at the time. So the Americans taking part in the program knew who they were sending their CARE package to from their own experience.

    Of course, the CARE program was supported by the Marshall plan investing really a lot of money into restructuring the German economy. And Germans were not fighting their infrastructure being re-built.

    No reason, though, not to think about it…

  18. Dima says:

    Well, I have to say that “YES” it would be nice if we all decided to contribute and help Iraq using food packages. But, us helping them and the government will keep on fighting Iraq, the package sending idea would be constant, my point is that its nice to receive a package, but how many people actually right would want to spend time sending one?

  19. jh says:

    a friend of mine Tom who I told about this thread suggested that our care package should be good policy from our governments.
    certainly in the long run its a more fundamental commitment to peace, not just for iraqis but for many of our partner countries and also domestically for ourselves. perhaps a care package that included a letter explaining that commitment might be a bit of the best of both worlds.

  20. Joy Wandrey says:

    I believe you have missed a large-ish segment of the population. I am a knitter, spinner and weaver, and these “care” projects are alive and well in these communities. A short search will yield many projects such as the Dulaan project, where warm articles of handmade clothing and accessories are sent by ordinary americans to a people in need. Many of us also send to soldiers, and send items specifically for the soldiers to hand out to the people in need. The care package is far from dead, do a quick search and you will find many projects out there to support anything you want, from the iraqi children needing school supplies to american indian elders needing warm clothes and food.

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