Tag Archives: military

Momma Told Me Life is a Box of Chocolates

In interviewing my mother about her relationship with chocolate, I initially came into the interview expecting to hear a lot about chocolate playing a major role in her past romantic relationships during times like Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. I didn’t expect chocolate to have played such an important role in the many ways it did in my mother’s life. It was amazing to me how versatile chocolate was as a food item, and even then, how versatile it was in terms of the many different purposes it could serve from day to day for different people. It really gave me a much more personal and relatable example of how the impact of chocolate on the lives of many goes beyond being enjoyed as a snack. The numerous sentimental attachments my mother had to chocolate were surprising.

 When I asked my mom about her first encounters with chocolate, she recollected a story her mother told her about the day she was born. My grandmother was a military wife raising my mother and my uncle at home while my grandfather was overseas. The day she gave birth to my mother, my grandfather had a friend of his deliver a box of chocolates to the labor room to show his love and support for her. When my mom told me this, I was shocked at the way chocolate was being used. It kind of made sense to me because he sent them partially to express his love for my grandmother, but it wasn’t the same type of love, at least to me, as Valentine’s Day. Before hearing this, I had the impression that chocolate and love were only connected through expressions of romanticlove that is shown to appreciate the connection between two individuals. The love being expressed in this situation was more of the love one would get from having a child and feeling a special sense of family and love for a spouse througha child. For that reason, it was unique to me that chocolate was used in that situation. Nonetheless, I thought it was a successful attempt to use chocolate as a gesture of love because my mom said it gave her older brother and my grandmother a strong sense of comfort at the time.

Apparently this trend continued as my mother grew up, as her father would send the family gifts from overseas that often times included some quantity of chocolate. It seemed to me, though, that these gifts of chocolate meant something slightly different than the one given on the day of my mother’s birth. According to my mother, my grandfather would send packages with papers that bore information about the area he was in at the time, food typical of that particular area (with some chocolate always added in for fun), and a cool souvenir. My mom told me that the chocolate they received here was not so much a comfort item. Of course the arrival of the packages certainly made my mother and her family feel comfortable to know that my grandfather was still alive, but that wasn’t the overall point of them. These gift boxes seemed to be more about exposure to the foreign cultures and traditions throughout the world, and not so much about expressing love. For one, the chocolate was an incentive for my mom and my uncle to open the boxes that came, but each time, the chocolate was from different regions of the world and each had a slightly different taste. I thought this was very interesting because the chocolate my grandfather was sending served more as a souvenir than a comfort item. Chocolate in this sense not only comes with an attachment of emotion, but a capsule of information and experiences in a place that you’ve never been. This proved to me how chocolate could be used for the spread of culture and not just to express some form of love. 

As the interview went on, we got into the role chocolate served for my mom when she was in college. Growing up on Fort Bragg, a military base in Fayetteville, North Carolina, my mother was exposed to the opportunity for economic mobility that the military offered young black people. She had seen first hand that while my grandfather may not have been able to be there all the time because he was constantly deployed, they at least knew each pay period that a check would be in the mail with a certain amount of money on it. The bills were always paid and there was never a question whether or not the money would come. In seeing this throughout her childhood, my mother got involved in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) as early as she could. When it came time to come to college, she had gotten into all of her dream schools, but couldn’t afford to go to even her in-state schools, much less out of state. She went to college on Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship, but all they paid for was her schooling. She was forced to work a job to pay for her room on campus, but unfortunately she had to make it work in terms of what to eat. According to my mom, in times of need in college, she would rely on a Pepsi and a Snickers Bar many days for meals. While this is definitely not an ideal circumstance, nor is it necessarily good for one’s health, it shows a different type of significance that chocolate has for people that isn’t so deeply entrenched in the meaning behind it. In this case, chocolate served as nothing more than a not so filling snack used to replace a meal due to hard times. It was humbling to hear an example of such a vital role that chocolate played in my mother’s life.

Image result for snickers bar

Also while in college, my mother met my dad. Initially, their relationship didn’t involve any chocolate at all, besides the fact that my mom described him as “tall, chocolate, and handsome”. My dad was a Bahamian (from the Bahamas) immigrant at the time and his accent was still very strong. He saw my mother one day walking across the yard and waited until she got near his window to wisper out the window to him. She was in love with his accent from the start, though it has faded overtime, and that is part of what made her allow him to take her on a date. She was telling me about how she was expecting to go to a strange restaurant that my father would have liked and wasn’t expecting to enjoy her night very much at all but would give it a try. Nonetheless, she gave it a try and when he picked her up, he greeted her with flowers, a card expressing his feelings for her and… you guessed it—a heart shaped box of chocolates. They went to a normal restaurant and had a good meal, and in the end, my dad even treated her to a chocolate desert, also a “smooth move”, according to him, to confess his feelings for my mother. They later got married and at their wedding, chocolate was served on a big platter along with a chocolate waterfall meant to let drip on strawberries. In both cases, chocolate was used as a display of romantic affection for another individual. 

Image result for flowers and chocolate

Here is where I found one of the most interesting pieces of information, to me. My mother and I both talked to my dad about the day they met in college and he said that he too was very skeptical about how that date would go. He told me that at the time he met my mom, he hadn’t been in the United States for more than a few years, so he was trying to do everything that he saw in movies to seem Americanized and not blow his cover as a foreigner, as if the accent didn’t give it away. The whole story about whispering out of the window and displaying such confidence that actually wasn’t there is a silly story but it shows how chocolate can serve not only as a display of romantic love for another individual, as mentioned before, but as a certification of a certain amount of familiarity one has with American culture. I thought it was interesting that to someone who had never been to America before the late 80s like my dad, chocolate was an Americanthing.

Later in the interview, I was able to ask questions about the role chocolate had played in my mother’s adult life. She continued on from her stories about her wedding and described that chocolate actually played major roles in our family life as she had my brother and I. First off, she received loads of chocolate attached to gifts from family members when she had her baby showers for my brother and me.  This expands on the attachment of chocolate to love and support, whether romantic or not. She also went on to tell me about how when I was younger, I would become immune to the different tricks she would pull to get me to go to sleep, but that warm chocolate milk always did the trick. I went through not needing anything, then after a few sleepless nights, my mom tried warm milk. That worked for quite some time, but it got to a point where even that wasn’t working (What? I know). When she switched to chocolate milk, apparently those were the easiest nights she had with me when I was a baby. I don’t know what this says about chocolate, but I would assume from the context that this example was given in that chocolate is held dear to people’s heart’s for reasons that don’t have anything to do with symbolism. The pure taste of chocolate can sometimes simply warm somebody’s soul and bring a calm smile to their face. Possibly, this is one main reason chocolate has persisted as such a symbolic food item today.

By far, the most unique example of the symbolism of chocolate was through my mom’s talk about her favorite holiday of the year—one that we created ourselves. Almost every year for the past fifteen years, my family has had some member of our family graduate from either high school or college. Each time, my family holds a party to celebrate and my mom bakes a chocolate cake that has deep meaning behind it. Both of my parents and all of my aunts and uncles have faced loads of adversity throughout their lives just because they were black in America. All have prevailed to become very successful at their many endeavors, and take much pride in their children representing not only our family, but also black people in general in a moral and respectable manner. The chocolate cake served at these parties is a reminder that throughout life, the color of our skin will present challenges that we will simply have to deal with. It also let’s us know that if we look around, we have plenty of role models right there within our own immediate families that are breathing examples of people that have prevailed. The chocolate used in this case is symbolic of a sense of deep pride and responsibility toward one’s people. This was the most powerful use of chocolate I heard from her throughout our entire interview.

Image result for chocolate cake

It is clear that chocolate played a major role in my mother’s life, but in many different ways that I had no idea about. I found out about many relationships between my mother and chocolate that were expected, like receiving chocolate on dates, at weddings, at baby showers, etc. in attempts to express either romantic or non-romantic love and affection. The forms I was not prepared to hear about were mainly the symbolism that chocolate had for my dad as an American food item and the chocolate cake my mom makes at every graduation party to remind us that we have more people relying on us than just ourselves. All in all, chocolate has proven to me now, more than ever, how versatile it really is in that it can fulfill many different roles in people’s life.

A Salute to Chocolate

Endurance to Diplomacy: Highlights of Chocolate in the Military

Chocolate is enjoyed worldwide by both children and adults and its popularity continues to grow. A recent report by Technavio valued the global chocolate market at $105.56 billion with an estimated value of 137.12 billion in 2021.[1] With these earnings, chocolate is truly the “food of the [shareholder] gods.”

Setting market success aside, chocolate is a unique fruit that contains theobromine, caffeine, and cocoa butter (fat), which can provide a needed energy boost, stave off hunger, and it is less likely to spoil on long journeys. These qualities make chocolate practical for many uses. One use probably not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, is military use, which has its roots in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Map of Mesoamerica highlighting Mayan and Aztec empires
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (partial view). Highlighting Mayan influence and Aztec empire. (1994 Encyclopedia Britannica)

Statuette of Mayan with cacao pods on uniform
Cacao pods dangle from this Mayan warrior or Mayan athlete? Academic debate continues on this Mayan’s identity. Either way, he would benefit from cacao’s energy boosting and fortifying properties. (Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Class Lecture 2)

The people of Mesoamerica may not have known the scientific reasons why their chocolate, or cacao, gave them energy or satisfied their hunger, but they were certainly aware of these benefits. Chocolate was a common ration for both Mayan and Aztec warriors. Although the Aztecs limited their chocolate consumption to the elite, their soldiers were allowed to partake. Ground cacao could be made into small wafers for easier travel and remote preparation.[2] Chocolate use, among Mayans, was more democratized and consumed along many classes for rituals, medicinal, and social occasions. Mayan soldiers too carried chocolate into battle.[3] Flexible and fortifying, chocolate provided a handy fix to fight hunger, or an opponent, for soldiers in Mesoamerica as for those in North America.

In 1757, 1,200 French and Indian forces were preparing for battle from Fort Carillon (then Fort Ticonderoga) in New York state. The officers issued an additional “two pounds of chocolate,” to energize the troops.[4] Twenty years later at that very fort, chocolate continued to fortify. During the American Revolution, young Captain Moses Greenleaf noted in his diary that he had hot chocolate when he first arrived at Fort Ticonderoga in the spring of 1777.[5] That summer, when he and his small army were ordered to evacuation the fort, he ate chocolate dinner and breakfast to strengthen him on “as fatigueing [sic] aa March as ever known.”[6] In additional to fortifying soldiers, chocolate’s popularity was also due to its perceived health benefits.

General Grant sits atop of horse in front of Union Army camp
Composite showing General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point during Civil War. Close quarters like these, for long periods of time, could create unsanitary conditions. (Image Library of Congress)

During the Civil War unsanitary field conditions and malnutrition claimed more lives than battle. Concerned with this growing public health crisis, The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), purchased more than $20,000 pounds of chocolate during the Civil War from the Baker Chocolate Company. The USSC believed chocolate had nutritional and healing properties and served it to wounded soldiers to improve their health. [8] In 1864, Dr. E. Donnelly, a field surgeon wrote the Baker Company with this endorsement “a chocolate should be made to keep in a powdered condition, not too sweet, and free from all husks or other irritating substances. Chocolate … would be much more nutritious than coffee, not so irritating to the bowels.” [9] The Baker Company would later show their patriotism through chocolate.

During World War I, the Baker Company would stamp chocolate with the initials “W.T.W” (Win The War).[10] A warm sentiment that would reach Allied soldiers around the world, forming strong bonds with them. This is just one example of chocolate diplomacy.

Berlin Airlift, Lt. Halverson, Chocolate Flyer
Miniature parachutes can be seen dropping from Halvorsen’s C-54 as he brings the plane in for a landing at Tempelhof. (Image Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum)

Another example of chocolate diplomacy against a backdrop of hardship and despair comes in post World War II Germany. Berlin was split between the U.S. and its Allies (West Germany) and the Soviets (East Germany). In 1948 the Soviet Union sought to control all of Berlin and closed it off in hopes of starving out West Berliners. For over a year, Allied forces provided daily airdrops of provisions to West Berliners. One the most popular pilots was Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen, better known as the “the Chocolate Flyer.” Inspired by meeting the children of Berlin and their shy demeanor, Halvorsen wrapped candy bars and gum into little packages, then dropped them to the awaiting children. As Halvorsen explains “Day by day the crowd of kids waiting for the drop got bigger, and day by day my supply of handkerchiefs, old shirts, GI sheets, and old shorts, all of which I use for parachutes, gets smaller.”[11] The chocolate drops would be repeated many times after Halverson left Germany. The Operation was covered by the International press displaying Allied forces in a positive light on the world stage.

On the heels of World War II and at the start of the Cold War, chocolate was able to perform yet another service – publicity.  For centuries, chocolate has been serving the military on many levels. From fortification to diplomacy; energy to encouragement; now publicity and propaganda, chocolate continues to serve.

Works Cited

[1] Business Wire. Technavio. Top 6 Vendors in the Global Chocolate Market from 2017 to 2021: Technavio. June 28, 2017. Web. March 4, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170628005998/en/Top-6-Vendors-Global-Chocolate-Market-2017

[2] Coe, Sophie D.. The True History of Chocolate (Kindle Locations 1372-1373). Thames & Hudson. Kindle Edition.

[3] Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerican and the “food of the gods”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Jan. 31, 2018. Class Lecture 2.

[4] Grivetti, Louis E.; Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage (Kindle Locations 15908-15911). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[5] Ibid. (Kindle Location 15887).

[6] Ibid. (Kindle Location 16244).

[7] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 12681-12682).

[8] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14089).

[9] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 14093-14094).

[10] Ibid. (Kindle Location 14212).

[11] Giangreco, D.M. and Griffin, Robert E. The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath. Presidio Press. New York. Excerpts Published by Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Web. March 8, 2018. https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/BERLIN_A/CHOCOLAT.HTM

Ration D-day: Chocolate’s role in Warfare


When you think of warfare, you probably think of soldiers, tanks, or guns; you probably do not think of chocolate, however, chocolate played an integral part in World War II. The military in the first half of the 20th century had a problem. Men were fighting on the front lines were in conditions where field kitchens could not be established. Sustenance would have to be shipped in and it would have to be compact and portable. It was to this end that Captain Paul Logan, of the office of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, turned to chocolate. He met with William Murrie, then president of Hershey Chocolate Corporation, and Sam Hinkle, his chief scientist, in 1937 about developing a chocolate bar emergency ration that could stand up to the rigorous military standards required for field rations[1]. Chocolate was uniquely qualified as a choice for rations as it is not only lightweight and portable but it is also is a stimulant, provides a quick burst of energy and is fairly nutritious. There were, however, some technical issues that need to be dealt with before chocolate was ready for duty on the front lines.Nestle's 1943 Ad

As anyone who has left a chocolate bar in their pocket on a summer’s day knows, chocolate tends to melt in moderately high temperatures. This gives chocolate its wonderful mouthfeel but also makes it a challenge to transport it hot climates. This is due to one of chocolate main ingredients; cocoa butter, which has a melting point of 78 degrees Fahrenheit[2], turning any chocolate above that mark, whether in your mouth or in your pocket, from a solid bar to a mushy mess.


Furthermore, as it was to be an emergency ration, this chocolate couldn’t be the tempting treat you usually think of when you think chocolate bar. According to Sam Hinkle, chief scientist at Hershey at the time, “Captain Logan said that he wanted it to taste not too good, because, if so, the soldier would eat it before he faced an emergency and have nothing to eat when the emergency came,” Hinkle said. “So he said, ‘Make it taste about like a boiled potato.'”[3]

chocolate propaganda

Hershey scientists and the US Army Quartermaster Corps set out together to engineer a chocolate that could stand up to the military’s exacting standards. As Joel Glenn Brenner states in her book, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, “The result was the famous Field Ration D, nutrition-packed “subsistence” chocolate made from a thick paste of chocolate liquor, sugar, oat flour, powdered milk and vitamins …it could withstand temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and contained 600 calories in a single serving.” (Brenner 8). That was all well and good but the military needed to make sure that these Ration D bars could stand up to the challenge of the harsh environment of war. According to the Hershey Community Archives, “The first of the Field Ration D bars were used for field tests in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Texas border, and at various Army posts and depots throughout the United States. These bars also found their way to Antarctica with Admiral Byrd’s last expedition in 1939. The results of the test were satisfactory and Field Ration D was approved for wartime use.”


Once assured of these chocolate bars being up to snuff, the military put them into production. In her book, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, Anastacia Marx de Salcedo describes the packaging process: “The finished bars were sealed in foil and then paper-wrapped in sets of three, for a total of 1,800 calories, enough to sustain a man for a day. (Later, when foil became scarce during World War II and the use of chemical weapons seemed imminent—mustard and chlorine gas had been used frequently in World War I—waterproof cellophane and wax coated boxes were used [to prevent any deadly chemicals from leaching into the soldiers’ food]). By the end of 1945 Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week[4].


As for what the soldiers thought of them, their thoughts can be seen in the nickname they gave it; “Hitler’s secret weapon”. In his article, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”, Terry W. Burger interviews John Otto, a platoon leader in Company A of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Regiment, for his experience with the Ration D bars, “They were awful,” “They were big, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ’em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once…. Whatever they put in didn’t make them taste any better.” Nevertheless, the Ration D bars kept the soldiers alive on the battlefield and in other precarious situations. Not only that, because chocolate contains stimulants such as theobromine and caffeine, it kept the soldiers awake and alert, which was vital to their survival and success, especially in hostile territories like Nazi-occupied France. Some of the soldiers dislikes of the bar may have stem from their quick consumption; the instructions clearly stated the bars are to be eaten slowly (in about half an hour the label says), so a soldier on the move who consumed his Ration D bar a little too quickly may have experienced quite a bit of gastronomic distress.

1943 chocolate Life Magazine

Either way, the Ration D bars served also as a diplomatic tool, turning many starving Europeans into friends of the United States[5], as described by 82nd Airborne Veteran John Otto, “People wanted them, You’d give them to kids. In some places they were very hungry. And they sure helped relax people about American soldiers.”


Chocolate has been part of the military ever since. In 1943, Hershey created the Tropical Bar, the Ration D’s ever-so-slightly better tasting cousin, for consuming in the hot and humid Pacific[6]. This bar saw action during the Korean War (1950-53) up through the early days of the Vietnam War[7].  In 1990 Hershey created the Desert Bar, which tasted like an original Hershey bar but could withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit[8]. Not that Hershey was the only game in town; Forrest Mars introduced M&M’s in 1940; just in time for the chocolate candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” to be added to soldiers rations[9]. Today soldiers receive chocolate in a variety of places, whether it’s in a MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat)[10] ration or a care package that boosts their spirit and gives them a little taste of home.



[1] Hershey Community Archives

[2] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 11

[3] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[4] Hershey Community Archives

[5] Terry W. Burger, “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!”

[6] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[7] Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, page 87

[8] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 10

[9] Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, page 46

[10] John C. Fisher and Carol Fisher, Food in the American Military, page 183

Works Cited

Marx de Salcedo, Anastacia. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat. Penguin. 2015.

Brenner, Joel Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey And Mars. Random House, Inc. 1999.

Fisher, John C., and Carol Fisher. Food in the American Military: A History. McFarlan & Company, Inc. 2011.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The war’s secret weapon: our GIs went to war well supplied with weapons, clothing–and chocolate!” America in WWII, Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General OneFile, libraries.state.ma.us/login?gwurl=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GPS&sw=w&u=ntn&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA400957701&asid=4593f3eb2321afb7732288b7e5322620. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

“Ration D Bars” Hershey Community Archives. http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.

Schumm, Laura. “The Wartime Origins of the M&M”, June 2, 2014.  History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-wartime-origins-of-the-mm. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Butler, Stephanie. “D-Day Rations: How Chocolate Helped Win the War”, June 6, 2014. History.com. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war. Accessed  3 Mar. 2017.

Graber, Cynthia and Twilley, Nicola. (2017, Jan 30). We Heart Chocolate. Gastropod. Podcast retrieved from https://gastropod.com/we-heart-chocolate/

Image Credits

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Chocolate Diplomacy : An Effective Tool for Political Military Peace

Over the years, chocolate has been adapted to suit various different roles. Starting from ancient Mayan rituals where chocolate signified religious and social values, to current global marketing efforts and political agendas, the use of chocolate as a tool has been shifting for centuries. However, chocolate has come to symbolize peace in twentieth century war zones and conflict contexts as diplomatic military gestures; efforts of which remain till this day.

One of the most prominent examples of chocolate diplomacy can be seen through the story of Operation Little Vittles, which was established in 1948 during the Berlin Airlift. The photo below is of Gail Halvorsen, or more popularly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber, the mastermind behind Little Vittles.

Gail Halvorsen. Photo from: http://www.geo.de/geolino/mensch/6210-rtkl-rosinenbomber-interview-mit-pilot-gail-halvorsen

Operation Little Vittles started in Germany, when Halvorsen noticed a group of thirty children standing against barbed wire in Tempelhof, as he was filming on his day off. While talking about it on “Candy Bomber”, an episode by PBS, he remembers when he first encountered the children. He says: “these kids had no gum, no chocolate for months, not enough to eat, and I suddenly realized not one of thirty kids had put out their hand”.(Halvorsen, 2014) This then triggered him to say, “hey these kids would like some chocolate”.(Halvorsen, 2014) He then reached into his pocket and all he had were two sticks of double mint Wrigley’s gum. Expecting a brawl after sharing the gum with the children, Halvorsen was shocked when there was no fight. In fact, he recounts, as seen in the video, “the kids that didn’t get any gum, took that piece of paper and held it up to their nose, and smelled, and smelled. Smelled the piece of paper”.(Halvorsen, 2014) He stood there dumbfounded. That was the moment when he said to himself, “Boy! I gotta do something for these guys!”.(Halvorsen, 2014) Next day, Halvorsen went back and delivered bags of candy by attaching them to small parachutes, and dropping them from his C-47. Children gathered and watched from the airfield below as bags of candies floated towards them. And thus, began Operation Little Vittles, an initiative that was carried long after Halvorsen returned to the United States of America. The event marked the establishment of a unique diplomatic role of chocolate, one that could bring joy and peace in a war zone. It showed that the act of giving chocolate has the ability to go beyond war, enemies or allies.

candy bomber plane.jpg
Airplane bombing candies. Photo from: https://www.tes.com/lessons/zTqT3cQP1at-Qg/candy-bombers

While Operation Little Vittles occurred during World War II, prior to, and after that, various other events have occurred in World War I as well as in recent times, that exemplified chocolate diplomacy. Operation Little Vittles showed efforts of humanitarian acts by the military for the civilians on enemy grounds, however, there have been instances where interactions within the military itself showed signs of peace through the language of chocolate.

During World War I, in 1914 on Christmas Day, the British and German Army stopped battle for a day on the Western Front, an event that came to be known as the Christmas Truce. The soldiers interacted and exchanged chocolates, gifts and even played football with each other in hopes that the war would not resume the next day. “As Lieutenant Johannes Niemann, a Saxon who served with the 133rd, recalled that on Christmas morning” (Dash, 2011), he grabbed his “binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy”(Dash, 2011). 

Christmas Truce 1914, as seen by the Illustrated London News.
Christmas Truce Illustrated. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce#/media/File:Illustrated_London_News_-_Christmas_Truce_1914.jpg

Above is a painting, an artist’s depiction of the Christmas Truce. It was originally published in The Illustrated London News, in January 9, 1915. The illustration shows fraternizing efforts on no man’s land during the season of peace, hope and goodwill. During the Christmas Truce, the exchange of chocolate is seen as an agreement to peace. It goes beyond the act of kindness during war, to effectively becoming a symbol for halting the battle itself.

A similar act, in recent times, has been seen at the border of India and China in June, 2015. As outlined by an article from India Today, Chinese troops had stepped into Indian territory in the northern region of Arunachal Pradesh which led to some tension as minor scuffles unfolded. However, the Chinese officials then offered chocolates as a gesture of peace to the Indian People’s Liberation Army (PLA)  to settle the matter. (Sandhu, 2016) In this instance, chocolate was used in the military milieu as a settlement. Chocolate, then, once again became an active tool for political and military diplomacy to maintain peace in the region.

All three incidents, spanning over a hundred years, from World War I to June 2015, show the changing role of chocolate in political military contexts.  In the case of Operation Little Vittles, chocolate plays a more passive role as an act of peace and as an act of kindness, providing subtle political message showcasing the goodwill of the American Army during war. However, during both the other instances, chocolate takes on a more active role and acts as an effective tool to physically symbolize an agreement and a settlement that shows peace.

Work Cited

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Dash, Mike. The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce. Smithsonian. December, 2011. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-story-of-the-wwi-christmas-truce-11972213/

Davies, Caroline. Children to mark WWI’s ‘Christmas Truce’ with plays and football. The Guardian. May, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/09/children-mark-first-world-war-christmas-truce-plays-football

PBS. The Chocolate Pilot. PBS. 2007. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/airlift/sfeature/candy.html#top

Sandhu, Kamaljit Kaur. Chocolate diplomacy: PLA makes up with Indian Army after another trangression attempt. India Today. New Delhi. June, 2015. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/china-and-india-chocolate-diplomacy-pla-makes-up-after-another-trangression-attempt/1/692712.html

Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Wiley. 2009

The Candy Bomber. Perf. Gail Halvorsen. PBS. October, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmanS-4nc4Y



An Army Marches on its Stomach: A History of Chocolate in the Military

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “an army marches on its stomach.” The famous French Emperor was also said to have carried chocolate on his many military campaigns to provide energy. Unlike much of chocolate’s decadent history, the story of chocolate in the military is utilitarian, putting practicality before pleasure.  The development of the functional use of chocolate parallels and contrasts its evolution as an indulgent treat with broader implications on social roles and taste.

Military use of chocolate can be traced to antiquity, with the Aztec army’s use of cacao and chocolate documented by various sources. With chocolate consumption restricted to certain social groups, the army occupied a high class in Aztec society and was crucial in ensuring the state’s continued prosperity. Given their critical roles, Aztec warriors were among the few who were given the right to eat chocolate, able to purchase it in public markets in addition to receiving it on their military campaigns (Presilla 19).  Fray Diego Duran gave particularly descriptive accounts of cacao’s use as a military ration, which was made into pellets, wafers, and balls and distributed to each soldier (Coe 98). While chocolate was typically consumed as a beverage during this time, these solid forms were easier to carry and could be shaved into pieces or dissolved in water.

Aztec Warriors
Aztec Warriors from the Codex Mendoza

Old World soldiers were among the earliest to encounter chocolate, and they initially showed an aversion to its bitter taste. Greater exposure over time as well as a hybridization of flavors improved receipt among conquistadors, with one “gentleman of Hernan Cortes” asserting in 1556 that “the drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else” (Coe 84).

For the next two centuries, chocolate spread throughout Europe. From the late 17th century on, chocolate could be found in public coffee-houses, the caffeinated drinks fueling political debate. Chocolate houses came into their own in the mid-1700s, and these meeting houses nurtured political ties and talks of revolution. Chocolate played a role in Europe’s revolutions, but it was not yet listed among standard military provisions.

In the late 1600s and 1700s, chocolate made its way back across the Atlantic to British colonies in America. As early as 1755, chocolate was used as a ration for troops during the French and Indian War, as it that could be transported without spoiling. Benjamin Franklin himself helped to supply chocolate to officers serving under General Braddock (Snyder). Chocolate rations were also distributed by rank to Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary war (McKay). As the war stretched on, chocolate was limited due to British interception of imports and occupation of chocolate production centers (Grivetti and Shapiro). With dwindling supplies, Massachusetts even forbade its export as it was needed “for the supply of the army” (Snyder).

American military use of chocolate proved to be long-lived, playing an important role in feeding troops and boosting morale in every war and conflict thereafter. During the Civil War, Union soldier Henry Pippitt of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry wrote of the capture of rebel supplies, saying “we were quite surprised to find what our enemy subsisted upon. Aside from similar particulars including hard tack and smoked meats, it appears our southern brethren quite prefer the taste of peaches… bologna links, and milk sweetened by what appears to be chocolate.”

Industrial revolution and the turn of the century brought greater organization surrounding the transportation and distribution of food products, both at home and overseas. After the outbreak of WWI, R.F. Mackenzie, president of the National Confectioners Association remarked that “The world must have its sweets. As the wise man has said, ’Candy’s fair in love and war.’ The lover demands his package of bon-bons with which to propitiate his sweetheart; and the veteran of the tranches requests his strength-renewing tablet of chocolate” (Kawash).

Organizations such as the YMCA set up canteens to provide treats and entertainment to soldiers, including hot chocolate which was said to make the soldiers feel “like new men” (McKay). YMCA canteens supported soldiers in both WWI and WWII, and as one canteen girl wrote, “we had ministered to the boys’ souls in the morning, fortified the inner man with free hot chocolate at six o’clock, now we were going to finish out the day by satisfying their romantic cravings with a film drama of love and adventure” (Morse).

YMCA Canteen Girls Distribute Hot Chocolate During WWII

The military officially sanctioned chocolate as part of the standard ration in 1937, working closely with Hershey to develop a special bar for hard-traveling, calorie-expending soldiers. The bar was designed to be heat resistant, high in food energy, and low on sugar and taste so as to prevent soldiers from snacking on the chocolate in non-emergency situations. Field Ration D, coined the Logan Bar after the Army Quartermaster Captain who helped develop it, was broadly disliked. These brick-like chocolate rations were distributed to the Allied troops across Europe, and spurred other chocolate manufacturers such as Cadbury and Nestle to target soldier consumers.

war chocolate poster
Nestle WWII Campaign

On the home front, chocolate was often rationed during WWII, and occupied countries especially saw very little of it. Chocolate, then, was used by soldiers to exchange for other goods and foods or to build good-will with foreign populations, fueling both fighting and diplomacy.

Soldiers Donate (Delicious) Chocolate to Children at Christmas

Continuous refinement of the military-grade bar, from the Logan Bar, to the high-heat resistant Tropical Bar, to the much later desert bar in the from the 1980s, showed efforts to improve the flavor of the bar, particularly by adding sugar, while preserving its long shelf-life and heat-resistant qualities. Still, the bar was far from artisan. Globalized military use of chocolate became increasingly common in the 20th century, with chocolate included in standard military rations or Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) as a treat that provides sustenance as well as morale.

Scandinavian MRE chocolate comparison. Denmark was unanimously voted least edible. #MRElivetweet pic.twitter.com/WWIc3y3k

— Filet mignon (@momecat) December 30, 2012

To the military, chocolate’s function is largely practical in giving troops energy to fight. But its use in war is also multipurpose, as a soldier’s ration, a morale boost, a method of diplomacy and good will, and sometimes as one of its spoils. Military-grade chocolate, while very different than that sold to the public, shares some aspects with its commercial counterpart. Even on the battlefield, chocolate serves to bring moments of happiness and forge friendships, adding some sweetness to an otherwise serious, somber world.


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