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CARE International Project

The CARE International Project at the CWAR Institute uses a combination of monthly online discussions, and in-person research at Cold War archives which will culminate in conferences and publications.

CARE International Project

The CARE International Project at the CWAR Institute uses a combination of monthly online discussions, and in-person research at Cold War archives which will culminate in conferences and publications. Competitively selected early and mid-career scholars will join senior scholars at the institute to explore the history of CARE International through the collaborative cross reading of international archives. The institute will hone critical research skills in historical and archival methodologies, and then develop these skills to meet the new demands of global history through shared and collaborative document analysis. While the CARE archives are English language based, and early publications and discussions will take place in English, the project relies on the language and cultural knowledge of scholars across the over 40 nations in which CARE worked during the Cold War.

Group projects will include conferences, publications, and internet-based networking and data presentations, and the scholars will also use the research to further their own work in Cold War history. As public historians, the scholars will add to the Wilson Center database of annotated archival documents and primary sources. The long-term goal of the institute is to provide historical context to current-day problems of immediate war and postwar aid, as well as long term rebuilding projects. In this sense, the institute seeks to use historical perspectives to understand the coordination between hard and soft power, private and governmental institutions, and the pitfalls and promise of postwar rebuilding and humanitarian aid.

With the conclusion of the CARE International Project, the CWAR Institute will seek other topics in global Cold War history that can address current-day issues.

CARE International: History and Rationale

The Cooperative for American Relief Europe/Everywhere (CARE) was officially organized in 1945 as a merger among 22 not-for-profit organizations including American Friends Service Committee, the International Rescue and Relief Committee, Save the Children Federation, and others, many of which had been founded during World War I. Delivery of the first CARE packages took place in post-World War II France six months after incorporation. These early CARE packages were surplus United States Army food rations parcels, pre-boxed and ready for shipment. By 1946, CARE had designed parcels for families, offering specific foods to meet national tastes in Europe. The government-funded Marshall Plan distributed CARE International packages throughout both Western and Eastern Europe. By the summer of 1948, CARE opened a non-European mission in Japan, followed by India, Pakistan, and Mexico. It began transitioning into the export of other packages, including books for the Free University founded during the Soviet Berlin Blockade of West Germany. CARE continued sending packages to East Germany and other Soviet bloc nations. With the start of hot wars in Asia, CARE moved into Korea and Vietnam. CARE’s success inspired President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Food for Peace” Act in 1954, giving not-for-profit foundations access to domestic food surpluses for global humanitarian relief.

By 1955, only 25% of CARE’s work addressed disaster or refugee crises with food packages. CARE began shipping packages with farming and other tools, self-help materials, books for libraries and universities, and initiated several micro-finance businesses that included a short-lived import-export bank. Vocational kits, sewing machines, and building tools began to replace food packages as the institutional aims transitioned from aid to development projects that included the construction of schools and agricultural systems. In addition, the Medical aid organization MEDICO merged with CARE providing medical supplies and education. In the 1960s, CARE joined with President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps, and moved into South American and Africa. At the end of the Cold War in 1991, CARE had missions in 39 nations.

The extensive CARE International archives, held at the New York Public Library in New York City, have a plethora of country and institutional files that have been under-utilized even by Western scholars. From the general to the specific, the CARE Records are a vital source of new explorations in the history of the Cold War. Yet in order to fully comprehend the complexities of power relations and humanitarianism, the cause and effect of efforts by victors must be complicated by reception in host nations. Thus, government and private archives in the 40-plus nations in which CARE International operated must be cross-read with the CARE documents that show intention alongside US government, covert, and military documents. The history of international twentieth-century humanitarian aid as a result of world wars engages issues of politics and private aid, private and governmental networks, propaganda and power, gender, race, and empire.

Get Involved

To learn more about this project and to get involved, contact Dr. Victoria Phillips, Wilson Center Global Fellow and Visiting Fellow at the Department of International History, The London School of Economics and Political Science.