I really hate to do this, but I hate more to put energy and passion behind a cause, only to have it all dissipated when the naysayers are able to torpedo some insignificant part of it. It doesn't take much to reduce a national movement to a laughingstock.

And that's why I'm worried about the Rice for Peace (also called the feed thine enemy) campaign. It's a good idea and a powerful image, but it might be discredited and ignored if the origin story behind it is debunked (even though that story has no bearing on the power or the convictions of people protesting the war with Iraq). So I started trying to find out something about it...

There's no evidence that Eisenhower based his military policy on the number of bags of rice he got in the mail. You would think that a story like this would have been widespread already, but it doesn't show up on the web. The vast majority of the references to it are part of the modern Iraq protest, and the few that aren't only go back as far as 1999. The 1999 source(1) claims that it has been known since Eisenhower's papers were made public in the 1980s, so there's no reason it shouldn't have surfaced before this. A skeptical blogger(2) claims to have sent the story to Dr. Jack Holl, "one of the most eminent Eisenhower scholars in the world today." Holl writes that he had never heard this story, that Eisenhower would not have allowed public opinion to steer his decisions in such an important matter, and that -- most significantly -- He does "not recall that the Joint Chief of Staff ever advised using atomic weapons in relationship to the Quemoy and Matsu crisis"! Eisenhower was known to be contemplating the use of nukes over the Korean war, Holl says, although even that was merely a feint intended to intimidate the communist world.

The one flaw here is that said blogger is a conservative, who writes extensively about his vitriolic contempt for the modern liberal movement. I can't confirm that Dr. Holl actually wrote this, although Holl's credentials as an academic(3) are real.

snopes.com(4) confirms that the modern movement is real, but has been unable to learn anything about its purported historical roots.

Every mailing that offers a source for the Eisenhower story uses the same citation: People Power: Applying Nonviolence Theory, by David Albert (or a few calendars which cite the book). I haven't been able to get ahold of a copy.

Better information about this story could be obtained by asking Dr. Holl to verify the comments attributed to him, and by requesting substantiating information from Mr. Albert. However, I've already wasted too much time on something of no practical consequence (since no one can stop the spread of story like this), so I will demur.

Conclusion: There is a real campaign to send George W. Bush bags of rice as a protest against his impending war on Iraq. It may be true that the (real) Fellowship of Reconciliation(5) used a similar tactic to protest Eisenhower's apparent willingness to use nuclear weapons against China. However, it is probably false that this campaign substantially dissuaded him from using nuclear weapons.

Q: enkidu, why are you being such a jerk? Don't you understand that stories are important?

A: Yes, but when people base a large and controversial movement on an untrue story, it's easy to discredit them. And once their opponents (who in this case happen to hold all the conventional power) have formally "debunked" them, it gives them an excuse to ignore the bulk of their criticisms, however true or important they may be.

1: http://www.cincinnatifriends.org/archive_of_homilies/112899-corporatesin.html
2: http://clubbeaux.blogspot.com/
3: http://www.mediarelations.ksu.edu/WEB/News/MediaGuide/hollbio.html
4: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/petition/rice.asp
5: http://www.forusa.org/nonviolence/0900_63Deats.html