Deaths by famine are the ultimate outcome in every community where other means of relieving the overcrowding have failed. It seems almost too simple to mention that people cannot live without food, and yet it is necessary to emphasize the fact that famine at once reduces the population to the point where there is enough to go round. The close association between famine and war has been noticed for ages and it is almost always assumed that war causes the famines. They generally follow wars, of course, because agriculture is apt to be interrupted. In the Philippines, for instance, several provinces were in a deplorable condition in 1903 from this cause. The famine in Japan, in 1906, had no relation to the Russian war, so it is said, but was a local phenomenon caused by crop failures due to unprecedented dryness of the season. Nevertheless, lack of labor may have been a contributing cause, as many of the farmers had been drafted into Kuroki's army from these Northern districts.
This must not blind us to the fact that famine or lack of food is generally, if not always, the first cause of war. Even our civil war was so caused. The slave holders saw the destitution to come by the abolition of slavery, and the final result fully came up to expectation. Our sympathy for the slaves has entirely blinded us to the greater though silent and proud suffering in the South which followed our Civil War. For a principle needed in advanced civilization, we injured the best to help the worst, and did it for the good of the nation as a whole.
Starvation is always local, and even then it affects a few only. It can never affect all nor be widespread. Malthus and all writers of that school ignored this fact, and assumed that in time overpopulation would cause universal suffering. In his time, and before, and since, the invariable rule of nature is that a few must die that the rest may live. There is thus always a compensation whereby populations are quickly reduced to the proper numbers as soon as they become too numerous. Famine, then, is a normal phenomenon in every stage of human existence. In the lowest savage races it might destroy forty to fifty per cent, occasionally, but in higher nations it rarely kills more than five to ten per cent. The numbers look huge in Chinese famines - 10,000,000 deaths - but the percentage is about two or three. In ordinary savage life starvation occurred periodically. Where provision had to be made to tide over from season to season, accidents might happen and food be scarce. My own investigations in California, showed that every thirty or forty years there occurred a great snow which prevented the improvident from getting food, and nearly all of the very young, the old and feeble starved to death; only those survived who were strong enough to seize the stores of food.
When we come to the crowded communities who cultivate land a new element is found. It is now known that the weather conditions go in cycles, and that there may be a succession of good years and then some bad years. This has been our experience in America for a century. The curious result of this investigation in India deserves mention. It has been found that these cycles agree fairly well with the regular eleven-year cycles of sun spots. The way one affects the other is yet undiscovered, but it is probable that the sun spots only show cyclic variations in electric phenomenon, and these react upon the storms and vary the yearly amounts of rain. No matter what the cause, we know that in a succession of fat years, the saturation point is raised and the population increased. Then follow the corresponding lean years with reduction of saturation and starvation of the surplus. Hence, famines have been periodical in the lower Indian races from the beginning of the first civilizations. British occupation of India has stopped the frightful but necessary destruction of life by native means, religious ceremonies, wars, infanticide, etc., so that its famines, though no more frequent, are now appalling. The famine of 1900 was worse than that of two years before, 4,000,000 being fed by government agents, some places being entirely destitute of both food and drink, and many millions of the starving could not possibly be reached. Henry C. Potter in the Century for August, 1901, says:
"During 700 years the warring races of Central Asia and Afghanistan filled up their measure of bloodshed and pillage to the full. Sometimes they returned with their spoil to their mountains, leaving only desolation behind; sometimes they killed off or drove out the former inhabitants and settled down in India as lords of the soil; sometimes they founded imperial dynasties, destined to be crushed each in its turn by a new host sweeping into India through the Afghan passes. The precise meaning of invasion in India during the last (eighteenth) century may be gathered from the following facts: It signified not merely a host of 20,000 to a 100,000 barbarians on the march, paying for nothing and eating up every town and cottage and farm-yard; burning and slaughtering on the slightest provocation, and often in mere sport. It usually also meant a grand final sack and massacre at the capital of the invaded country. And besides these wars from without were the intestine conflicts in which Hindu fought with Hindu, Mohammedan with Mohammedan, and each with the other. The readers of Macaulay will remember his description of the unspeakable brutalities of the Mahrattas. The story of the bloody ravages of Pindarees, of the Sultan Mohammed Shah of Gulbarga, and of the Hindu Maharaja of Vijayanager (the first-named of whom swore an oath on the Koran that he would not sheath the sword until he had put to death 100,000 infidels), is told by Meadows Taylor in his 'Indian History,' with a ghastly detail that no one who has read it can recall without a shudder.
"With the maintenance and permanence of British rule in India marched the safety of life and property, freedom to go about unmolested on one's honest errands, the peace and good order, in one word, of the social fabric. Under the present conditions the humblest Indian servant knows this one fact, which of all others is of paramount consequence to him; he is no longer the creature of another man's whim; his life, his property, his right to go to and fro, his family ties, his task or employment - all these things are within his own control".