The billion-dollar builders

What do the recipients of American aid think of America in 1962?

WHAT DOES THE WORLD THINK OF AMERICAN AID?

THE United States gives less prosperous nations massive aid in money, manpower and technological know-how.

The policy costs Americans an average of 15 dollars (five guineas) a year. And 2,000,000 US. citizens — many of them linked with American aid — are living and working and spending abroad.

The Intertel programme on Wednesday is a portrait America Abroad.

Producer and writer Peter Hunt, who has been working on the programme for a year, says: “We chose to show American aid in action in four countries — Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Ghana.

“They are key countries in the sense that they are ex-colonies, all newly independent, all with regimes that are not democratic — in the American and British sense — and all with different attitudes towards foreign policy.

“For example, Pakistan is a military ally of the United States and it is anti-Communist. In Cambodia, there’s competition between various countries: the Russians have built them a hospital, the Chinese are putting up factories, the French have built them a port, and the Americans arc building a highway — all of which we show in the film.

“Ghana, which under Nkrumah has caused the Americans some uneasiness, is getting aid from China and Russia so the Americans have overcome their uneasiness and provided money for the Volta Dam project and sent 52 young members of the Peace Corps to teach.”

Peter Hunt visited the four countries, collected his impressions and wrote a working script. Then director Michael Ingrams went round the same circuit with the camera crew filming Hunt’s script.

Hunt summed up lus impressions: “Tremendous appreciation of what is being tried, though we feel that help is not always being given in the right way. But some countries cannot survive without American support.

“The American attitude is a mixture of idealism and self-interest, for they know that they stand a better chance of trading and living in peace with countries that are solving their economic problems.”

America Abroad gives many spectacular examples of America helping to build, to defend, to educate, to feed and to cure.

The views on U.S. aid given in the main article in these pages may he controversial, but they are those of William Clark, who is not only a respected author and journalist but also a director of the Overseas Development Institute which deals with problems of foreign aid.

TVTimes cover
From the TVTimes for 27 May to 2 June 1962

AID to the poorer countries of the world is one of the big political issues in America; it gets as much debate in Congress and in the American press as our defence programme does in Britain.

This is not surprising because, in fact, American aid has underpinned the free world (and some of the not so-free world) since the end of the war. In 1945 the United States was an island booming in prosperity in a world sunk beneath the waves of war. Europe and much of Asia was devastated: Britain, and much of the Commonwealth, was exhausted.

America could then have turned back to isolation but, fortunately, the new President, Harry Truman, was determined that his country should play a larger, more active part in the world.

The result was, first of all, the loan to Britain (about £1,000 million) and, when that proved insufficient, the Marshall Plan, under which more than £5,000 million was poured into Europe. Our affluent, prosperous society of today was built on that American help.

A person stands in front of a class of children
An American Peace Corps teacher at work in a tiny village in Ghana

Ever since the Marshall Plan succeeded, America has increasingly turned the flow of its aid in the direction of the countries which have for so long been very poor — in Asia, Africa and, of course, the United States’ own poor neighbours in Latin America.

Today more than half the total aid given to all these developing countries comes from America.

It is true that as the richest country in the world America can best afford to help; but rich people do not always do voluntarily what they should, and it is worth having in mind that American aid is “voluntary” — no one can force the U.S. Government to give it.

In fact, the President sometimes has the greatest difficulty in getting Congress to force the taxpayers to cough up.

It is just here that most of the argument about American aid arises; to persuade the taxpayers to part with their money it is necessary to show that aid helps America. As a result, the whole programme is represented, all too often, as simply part of American foreign policy; a part of the cold war against Communism.

A person punts a boat down a river
President Kennedy pledged help to poor people in villages like this one in Vietnam

It is this fear that America is meddling in other countries’ affairs for her own private benefit which leads to the criticism of American aid constantly pouring out of Moscow Radio — and repeated from time to time in the countries receiving the help.

What is the American record? How far is their motive to help others, or to defend themselves? Is there anything wrong in giving aid to stop Communism? Is aid given for such a purpose effective, or does it simply shore up worn-out, reactionary governments, which eventually collapse of their own dead weight? It is some of these questions that the programme America Abroad seeks to answer.

President Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address last year, said:

To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required — not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.

But, to be specific, how far is American aid to Vietnam really an attempt to help the Vietnamese break the bonds of mass misery and how far an attempt to stop the Communists with tanks and guns? Americans ask these questions.

On the other hand, Americans ask very different sorts of questions about the aid they are giving to Ghana. It is very extensive and expensive aid; without the American contribution Ghana could not hope to carry out her grand plan for a hydro-electric scheme on the Volta River, on which President Nkrumah’s whole scheme for the development of Ghana depends.

Two people crouch on a pile of rocks
American technicians work on Ghana's Volta Dam project

Ghanaians have sometimes criticised America for interfering in their affairs and attaching strings to their aid; Americans sometimes criticise this aid as being given to an undemocratic regime with strong anti-American pro-Russian leanings.

Perhaps the most important and undisputed fact is that the aid has continued, in spite of political up and downs, because Ghana desperately needs aid on a scale which the Commonwealth, of which she remains a member, cannot provide.

But American aid is not just money; people are involved, too. The best known form of personal aid is the Peace Corps. For instance, in Ghana this year, there are 50 young Americans teaching in the secondary schools as part of this organisation.

Three people chat around a table
In Cambodia, this doctor from California sees 150 patients every working day

The Peace Corps, which to some extent was modelled on our Voluntary Service Overseas, was intended specifically to counter the myth that American aid was an attempt by hard-faced Wall Street bankers to gain control of young, poor countries.

It was meant to show that young Americans, very far from hard-faced, were prepared to give up a few years of their lives to helping people in far-off countries, of which their own parents had probably never even heard.

It was a demonstration of human solidarity.

What should our final judgment be on America’s role abroad? If we, or they, try to judge it as a popularity contest, it may well prove to be an expensive failure. People don’t like being helped (America was never less popular in Britain than in the period of Marshall Aid); powerful countries are not popular countries.

Two children look mournful
What will these Pakistani children think having the American help which builds them a new town?

If we judge the programme on the success of its avowed aims of helping the poor and weak countries to get on their own feet — then it is far too early to judge. The decade of development has only just begun.

But we should never forget that around the world the development plans of India, Nigeria, Brazil or the Philippines. depend largely on American aid. Take that away and our battle against world poverty would be lost.

William Clarke

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