Skip to main content

How They Were Needed

(1) Godchaux to Senator Ellender

(1)

(2) Senator Ellender to Godchaux

(2)

(3) Camp Livingston to Godchaux

(3)

(4) Senator Ellender to Godchaux

(4)

(5) Senator Ellender to Provost Marshal General

(5)

(6) Godchaux to Camp Livingston

(6)

(7) Godchaux to Senator Ellender

(7)

(8) War Department to Senator Ellender

(8)

(9) Senator Ellender to Godchaux

(9)

(10) Godchaux to Senator Ellender

(10)

(11) Ellender's Secretary to Godchaux

(11)

(12) Godchaux to Ellender's Secretary

(12)

(13) Senator Ellender to Lallande

(13)

(14) American Sugar Cane League, Memo<br />

(14)

(15) American Sugar Cane League to Several

(15)

(16) Senator Ellender to General Donovan

(16)

(17) Senator Ellender to Klock

(17)

The following series of letters, not always in concert, from farmers, politicians, and war personnel, shows that World War II was fought in other ways on the homefront. Of course it was not a war of casualties, but a war of words, of politics, of wills. In the end, the farmers, through their persistence and craft, won the struggle. It was a loss the American government would likely admit to relishing; the loss of harvests such as sugarcane would have had disastrous effects on the economy....

(1) Jules Godchaux, a farmer, writes Senator Ellender, requesting prisoner of war labor. Notice the special request for Italian or Japanese labor. This is a common theme in these archived letters, not only from Godchaux Sugars. It is indicative of the misunderstanding of what it meant to be German, and that Nazi sympathizers, contrary to what many around the world thought, comprised only a small part of the whole.




(2) Although there is no name for the signature line, this is presumably a response from Senator Ellender. Notice how he somewhat skirts the issue, bringing up the use of camps in North and Central Louisiana, even a specific one in Camp Livingston near Alexandria, but ultimately pushes the next moves onto Godchaux. Actually, it is two moves: to gather forces behind the American Sugar Cane League and to contact Camp Livingston himself. 

At this point Ellender makes no mention of an incredibly important policy that will emerge in later letters in this collection. It is a policy so binding that it almost prohibited farmers like Godchaux from receiving any prisoners whatsoever.

Although the letter was not filed in the archives, Godchaux Sugars did in fact write to Camp Livingston on June 25, a fact that will emerge in the next letter of the collection's sequence.





(3) Major Coyne appears to do here a little what Senator Ellender appeared to do in the previous letter in the sequence. Judging from Godchaux's original letter to Ellender, it is clear that he is ready to "make the arrangements" early, since he knows the time to act is now even though the harvest is still sometime away. The very letter sent on June 25 is a clear indication that he is indeed making these arrangements with Major Coyne. The latter's response, however, is indirect at best. He mentions the likelihood of a contract he will presumably have to sign before Washington approves it, potentially a covert attempt to remind Godchaux of the coming beauracracy if the farmer continues to pursue this. Finally, Coyne's invitation to "talk this matter over" is delaying what information could be transferred in this very letter. Coyne knows well what Godchaux Sugars needs, and as we will see in its next letter, Godchaux (a different representative of the company) seems to use a kind yet snarky tone in his response to the invitation to meet. 




(4) Once again, given the format of the letter, this appears to be a response from Senator Ellender. At this point in the sequence, Ellender's direction for Godchaux to contact Camp Livingston should be comical. The farmer is getting no assistance there. In addition, the letter is abundantly non-committal, as is evidenced by the phrases "should be possible," "work something out," "probably." This tone immediately proceeds the suggestion concerning Livingston, which likely would have increased Godchaux's frustration with the process. He likely began this process in early June, thinking it would be resolved by the end of the month, two months before grinding season. Now it is almost the end of June and nothing appears to be happening. 









(5) In good faith, Senator Ellender has indeed sent a note to the General Provost Marshal. But he makes no personal effort to fight on the Godchaux's behalf. Perhaps the food poisoning and missed work time was forcing him to be pithy with work he deemed not a priority. 














(6) Here is Godchaux Sugars' response to Major Coyne at Camp Livingston. Walter's tone is much more formal than Jules.' He also asks the question about the contract Coyne could very well have addressed in his last letter, thereby saving time. In this letter, Walter is acutely specific with his requests, no longer just seeking information in a vague way in the hopes that the reader will volunteer the details needed.












(7) In Godchaux Sugars' latest letter to Senator Ellender, Jules Godchaux is explicit in his requests and his fears concerning the approaching grinding season. As Walter is in the previous letter in the sequence, Jules is no longer leaving it to chance that the letter reader will in any way underestimate the importance of this situation. Did a conversation concerning a change in approach to letter writing occur between Jules and Walter before these June 28 letters were sent? It is likely, especially since he specifically addresses Walter's letter to Major Coyne here.

After making another appeal to Ellender for his involvement in establishing more local camps, he hits Ellender point blank with the reality of the situation: if nothing happens, the government will have to subsidize--provide more tax payer dollars--a program that will double the pay of agricultural labor from twenty cents to forty, which would put it on equal ground with what industrial workers are making--which was made necessary in the first place by the war itself. Godchaux makes another reference to lost money at the very end of the letter. The approach is clear: Godchaux Sugars is shifting their tactics from seeking honest goodwill to reminding the government that prisoner of war labor can actually save them money, and that the alternative would be disastrous for a country already embroiled in a war. 

(8) The office of the Provost Marshal General provides information on the most prevailing obstacle in Godchaux Sugars' proposal. This obstacle will continue to be front and center in all written exchanges, both in and outside this collection. The politics of it will eventually catch fire and explode when sugarcane farmers discover that the 150-mile policy was changed for farmers in other states. 











(9) Senator Ellender brings little else but bad news to Godchaux Sugars, concerning several items of discussion. 

















(10) Walter Godchaux has talked with Major Coyne, who was much more informative that he had been in the beginning. Notice that Major Coyne, likely not knowing the level of fruitless correspondence the Godchauxs have had with Senator Ellender and the Provost Marshal General, believes it would likely be productive for the Godchauxs to take that route. This is a typical example of what can happen when a program, whether it be war related or not, is decentralized. 

Notice Godchaux's adamant insistence, despite Major Coyne's information about the Germans, that it be Italian prisoners of war used in the fields. Godchaux's fear of the approaching grinding season seems at least equivalent in degree at this point with his fear of the "Nazis."






(11) It is perhaps outside the realm of possibility to imagine the Godchaux's frustration upon receipt of this letter. Not only has Senator Ellender not been of help at all, but now he has absconded and left someone else to answer his correspondence. 

Notice, however, that amidst all of this opposition, there appears to be good news concerning the Provost Marshal General and the Commanding General of the Southern Defense Command. Or it could be just more micropolitics, more of one person shoveling the issue off to another. 

All of this, and grinding season is now only about two months away. 







(12) Godchaux Sugars continues to show tact and patience, and more importantly, a drive that will eventually, through many an obstacle, get them what they want. 

















(13) The appeals have failed. The next step by the Agriculture Department is to explore the possibilities of obtaining labor from Mexicans, Bahamians, Jamaicans, and even off-duty American soldiers. Even these possibilities, however, involve caveats and the carousel of politics.














(14) This seems to be a final stamp of rejection for the farmers' persistent efforts to save the harvest as grinding season quickly approaches. For two months now, the farmers have received essentially no hope. It is rock bottom, the burn in the ashes, that perhaps even they didn't see could change.















(15) And then, the beginning of the rise from those ashes...With grinding season just three weeks away, Farwell fires two bombs at the powers-that-be, citing the "continuous run around" of politics," and even more powerful, the finding that another state is employing prisoners of war within the 150-mile minimum.

From here the securing of prisoner of war labor began to materialize, albeit at varying rates for different farmers. 












(16) Of course, even after the POWs were secured for labor purposes, the political merry-go-round continued with other issues. Here, Senator Ellender is aggressive, using a parallel camp situation in Mississippi to fight against the discrimination Louisiana farmers are apparently receiving.














(17) "One obstacle after another was placed before us, but we have finally cleared all of them, with the exception of flooring for tent camps in Louisiana."

And so, the beat went on. Such is the nature of politics. Such is the nature of war.

Jeff LeJeune

How They Were Needed