Hunger and War in WWI Germany: Remembering the Slaughter of Pigs
As we move along in the centennial of the World War I, we come to some strange centennials. The year 1915 brought poison gas, the great shell crises which actually shifted the crisis mode of the war up to Higgsian levels, and the spectacular failure of the Entente powers at Gallipoli. In thinking of the 1915, so much of the war fed directly into the collectivist war-and-welfare state of modern times, it is hard to single out the most significant “crisis.” But I have a nomination for the weirdest.
It is a spectacular case illustrating both the complexities and the cost of central planning.
I am thinking of the Schweinmord, the Pig Slaughter of 1915 in Germany. War broke out, of course, in August 1914. Already by November 1914, the government had put in place price ceilings on potatoes, which made it more profitable for farmers to feed their potatoes to their hogs than to sell them, though the government—naturally—also rapidly outlawed the foddering of potatoes. The inevitable potato shortages were immediate and severe. In the cities, outcries were raised, but against the farmers rather than the government.
Soon, journalists and politicians were claiming that people and pigs were in a competition for the potatoes, and that some portion of Germany's twenty-seven million pigs must go. Beginning in March, the government therefore signed the death warrant of nine million of the ravenous swine. It is hardly surprising that in this welter of planning and intervention, neither potatoes nor pork became more plentiful.
For more on the economics of World War I, see “The Hindenburg Program of 1916: A Central Experiment in Wartime Planning."