Within recent years famines have been reported from almost every part of the world, even from East Africa, where the Government was trying to feed 50,000 natives of Uganda, where crops failed. It would be impossible to mention all the stricken spots. Even the famines of Ireland seem to come as often as ever, if not more often, although they are now more localized. Indeed, there are hundreds of spots, such as Achill Island, where the peasants are ever on the verge of starvation, although nearby each place there are untold thousands of acres of productive land uncultivated, and, of course, the slightest interference with their usual food supplies is followed by real famine. In 1903, the press was full of accounts of the famine in Finland, which was described as worse than that of 1867, when 100,000 died of starvation and its consequences. In 1903, Sweden also appealed to the world for aid when crops failed and they had nothing to sell for food. Macedonia suffered in 1904.
In parts of Russia famines may be described as chronic, and in many places the peasants, through the ordinary laws of selection, have developed the well-known ability to sink into a kind of hibernation, which they have practiced for so long a time that it has a special name - lotska - which is interpreted as "winter sleep." Whole families sleep all the time, except for a few minutes once a day, when they each take a nibble of bread and a drink of water, one person being on watch to keep the fire going. Some Eskimos have a greater ability to sleep through the winter with less food.
Consequently, the famine reports from Russia are annual, although they are worse in some years than in others. Modern news agencies have merely made the facts better known, though there is a general impression that the conditions are new. In 1901 it was said that the conditions could scarcely be worse, when an area three times the size of France, with a population almost as big as the United States, suffered failure of crops, and only two of the seventy odd provinces "were officially returned as having fairly good harvests." Nevertheless, in 1906 and 1907, worse famines were reported, for the sufferers were estimated as 20,000,000. The peasants were then selling their daughters into Mohammedan slavery, though there is evidence that they have always done this. People who get hysterical over Russian famines, must remember that Russia is undersat-urated, and always has enough food which it exports to more intelligent buyers, mostly in Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Scandinavia. In spite of overpopulation of inefficients, all the Slav countries are really undersaturated, and are exporters of food - Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and Servia - and yet suffer from famines more than the rest of Europe. The Balkans require periodical "blood-lettings" now as ever. We cannot understand their desire for war, but they like it more than famine. European concerts will not pacify the Balkans for a long time - even treaties are violated with impunity.
It is easy to understand why it is desirable to have an occasional "blood-letting" in Russia, by means of a foreign war. The peasants themselves desire it, indeed, the magnificent way they fought in Manchuria against such great odds should silence forever the foolish cry that they are mere animals goaded into battle by a brutal government. They were fighting for more land, just as the Japs were, and the fittest survived in Corea and Manchuria, as in every other war for land.
There is no difference between Russian and Japanese famines. The Orientals have been so chronically underfed that only-unceasing toil and economy keep them alive, and "even then the most awful famines, sometimes sweeping off a million or two people, have been recurrent, even to monotony, as the historic records show."* The nation has not felt the blood lost in the Manchurian war - has been benefited, indeed.
Murder and starvation, then, are the two great alternatives of old, one taking the place of the other as a means of reducing surplus populations. Where a population is adjusted to constant blood-lettings, a long peace increases the numbers so greatly that dreadful suffering results. For instance, the long, profound peace in Italy has brought about a pitiful condition of overcrowding and starvation, from the saving of lives, formerly destroyed in almost constant war. It is described by Mr. Edward C. Strutt,* "Famine and Its Causes in Italy." He mentions how the people even commit crimes so as to be sent to jail - the prison ration being a princely fare compared to their home food. There is an enormous number of women sold into prostitution, and a revival of the jus prima noctis exacted from serfs and tenants by petty lords for small loans. The worst conditions are in the richest regions, as we would expect, because the richest places always have the densest population - Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria and Apulia. No wonder people from these places are pouring into other countries at such a tremendous rate. The majority of these emigrants are the Southern type, more stupid than the Northern Italian, many of whom are of Aryan extraction or remnants of Germanic invasions in historic times.
What an improvement on all this there is in America, where the deaths from starvation are so few as to be negligible, and chronic distress affects but one-eighth of the population - a state of prosperity probably unequalled in the history of the world. Mr. Robert Hunter, instead of wrongfully accusing economical conditions for the distress of one-eighth of the people who are underfed, should be thankful that they render seven-eighths of the population beyond the possibility of suffering for the necessaries of life. We cannot repeat too often - that he will not find another nation on earth in which anywhere near seven-eighths of the people are so well off. In spite of the slight overpopulation which exists here, as in every other inhabitable place in greater degree, we are reaping the benefit of living in a new country whose wealth had not been extracted by the native Indians. The starving in New York City are a tiny fraction of the population.
* Dr. W. E. Griffis, formerly of the University of Tokyo, The Times, New, York, May 6, 1906. * Monthly Review.
A century ago, following the publication of Malthus' book, there were long discussions as to whether increase of food caused populations to increase, or whether the increased population demanded more food which was thereupon produced to supply the demand. No such discussions would have been made if it had been realized that the periodical famines show that populations depend upon the food, and that the biblical famines, when Joseph ruled Egypt, have always been with us as one of nature's means of keeping down populations which have increased beyond the average food supply.