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Famine uproar hides issues

Column/Simson L. Garfinkel


"We are the world, we are the children." -- Another African-starvation song whose sole redeeming feature will be its quick demise.

I am fed up with famine in Africa. Every where I go, in every publication I read, I am told of the famine in Africa. And now even my radio is telling me about the starving children.

Sure, I think it is terrible that people are starving to death in Africa. I am sorry for these people. I'm glad I'm not starving in Africa. But I think that there is a more pressing issue facing the United States today than starvation in Ethiopia.

I am worried that this recent concern over Africa is obscuring an issue of far more importance.

Today we are poised at the edge of a nuclear abyss, as we were yesterday, and as we will be tomorrow. We have lived under the threat of instant extermination from Soviet nuclear weapons since the late 1950s, just as the Soviets have lived under our similar threat.

The fate of the world is now being decided at the current round of arms talks in Geneva. For the past forty years, the United States has been steadily building more nuclear weapons. Other countries, notably the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, China, Israel, and India, have been doing the same.

At the talks in Geneva, which unfortunately only the United States and the Soviet Union are attending, negotiators are calmly discussing the destructive power each country will aim at its opponents' homes, how these weapons will be delivered, and where they will be deployed. The Soviets also want to discuss what weapons President Reagan intends to place into the heavens.

If we cannot resolve these issues through negotiation, they will not be resolved. If the issues are not resolved, then both countries will step up the pace of the arms race.

We are not at war with the Soviet Union. But with each successive generation of weapons the United States and the Soviet Union deploy on Earth and in space, the spectre of war approaches.

What difference does it make if ten thousand or ten million Africans die of starvation in 1985 if our planet is destroyed by nuclear hellfire in 1990?

Contrasting famine in Africa with nuclear war seems a bit unfair. The dangers of nuclear war appear too terrible to contrast them to anything, too terrible even to be considered. And so we have stopped considering them. US citizens have always, with a few notable exceptions, been completely desensitized to the military's nuclear capacity.

It is easier to get people excited about helping poor starving blacks in Africa than to make people think about issues like arms control and civil defense. It is another instance of the White Man's Burden: Let's help out those poor Africans who are less fortunate than we, and we can deal with our other problems later.

We simultaniously ignore our faults and feel superior to others.

We must reevaulate our priorities. We must concern ourselves more with the issue of world survival. It is wonderful that rock artists can band together and produce records which help to feed starving children.

It is great that housewives can start organizations which send millions of dollars worth of food to the Third World. But it will not matter much if the world gets blown away because we did not listen when Reagan said he wanted to finance space-weapons research.

Normally, writing about national issues in The Tech is just useless flaming. Normally, MIT is seen as little more than a small and disorganized community of fewer than twenty thousand voters.

But in areas of weapons research and space technology, we are incredibly influential. We cannot turn our back on these issues in order to feed starving Africa. While this statement is true for the entire country, it is especially true for us. We have a higher purpose.

The media, the artists, the politicians and the very citizens of this country have all spent too much time and effort on Africa. Before we turn to the internal problems of other countries, we must solve the questions facing the superpowers in Geneva. Before we can save the children, we must save the world. It is time to change our agenda.

Please do not write to the Editor about famine in Africa.