What has World War II got to do with food security in 2021?

Over 70 million people died in World War Two, most of them civilians. As of December 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic had claimed 5.3 million worldwide. We don’t want another world war…

The Second World War was a global disaster. 

Over 100 million personnel from 30 countries created the deadliest conflict in human history, with over 70 million fatalities, the majority civilian. It brought genocide, the blanket bombing of cities, and the first use of nuclear weapons. 

On September 1, 1939, the invasion of Poland prompted the declarations of war on Nazi Germany by Britain and France. It was the proximal trigger, the step too far, but not the ultimate cause of the conflict.

Historians have debated the causes of WW2, and as with much of history, there is complexity.

Primary themes in historical analysis of the war’s origins include the political takeover of Germany in 1933 by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party; Japanese militarism against China, which led to the Second Sino-Japanese War; Italian aggression against Ethiopia, which led to the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and Germany’s initial success in negotiating the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union to divide the territorial control of Eastern Europe between them


No doubt, the legacy of WWI played a part. Specifically, French security demands that included reparations, coal payments, and a demilitarized Rhineland, all formalised in the Treaty of Versailles.  That and the perceived failure of the League of nations.

It’s the last potential cause that is of interest here, territory. 

Specifically, as theorised by historian Timothy Mason that a “flight into war” had been imposed on Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making complex financial decisions or aggression. 

Expansionism for economic gain, which morphed into megalomania and the subsequent atrocities, was built primarily on an expansion response to insufficient resources. Both Germany and Japan wanted more natural resources for their empires; they wanted more land and raw materials. 

Early success likely fueled expansionist thinking, but resource acquisition and access to future natural resources were a driver of the decision to go to war and many of the decisions made during the conflicts. 

It would be preferable if this didn’t happen again. 

statue at the Canadian National Viimy WW1 Memorial, France
Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. Photo by Alloporus

Food security

Uncertainty and unrest go together, as we saw in the runup to the US election in 2020. Many rusted on Trump supporters had not seen real gains in living standards for over a decade. Unrest was inevitable and easily stoked with promises of greatness, however hollow.

The US has calmed somewhat, but the uncertainty has not gone away. Not least because of the tension with China.

A modern war would be a disaster for the planet and most of the people on it, and everyone would be touched in one way or another. The number of theatre nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic weapons means that mutual destruction is almost assured. 

We don’t want to go down that path.

The challenge is that we haven’t had eight billion people before. 

A lack of food is fundamental. Most modern famines have been in countries where people are poor or already in civil conflict. Imagine a famine in the US where half the population own semi-automatic weapons. That’s not going to be pretty. 

Hard to believe that the US will ever have a famine. 

Well, it’s entirely possible. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, is a federal initiative that helps low-income Americans with food purchases. SNAP benefits supported roughly 40 million Americans in 2018, at the cost of $57.1 billion. Around 9.2% of American households obtained SNAP benefits at some point during 2017, with approximately 16.7% of all children living in homes with SNAP benefits.

More Americans receive food aid than there are Canadians.

Names of soldier killed in WW1 engraved into sandstone walls of the Vimy Memorial, France
Source: Alloporus

What sustainably FED suggests…

This post sounds desperate, a doomsday scenario and purposely so.

It is essential to learn from history. Not just to piece together events to see how megalomaniacs seize opportunities, but to help understand why the ordinary people allowed it.

Food insecurity is a powerful force that could fuel expansionism.

So far, the global food supply systems have kept pace with demand for the majority. Only we have limited knowledge of how fragile this all is.

Hero image modified from photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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