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Continue generosity for those starving even after publicity

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Simson Garfinkel's column ["Famine Uproar Hides Issues," March 22]. Before anything else, I'd like to say that Mr. Garfinkel is a pretty smart guy. I'll be graduating this year after four years at MIT. So will Mr. Garfinkel, after three years (Course V). But as we all know, intelligence and common sense don't always go hand in hand. You may be a terrific chemist, Simson, but you really don't make a whole lot of sense.

You state that you are "fed up" with the African famine. You claim that the famine, overexposed by the media, has consumed too much of our time and effort and has diverted our attention away from the arms race in general and the Geneva disarmament talks in particular. We must, you feel, "solve the questions facing the superpowers in Geneva" before we can solve the problems in Africa. This is particularly true for those of us at MIT, you say, since we are "incredibly influential" in space weapons research, which you advocate as a solution to the threat of nuclear annihilation. As you so pompously declare, "We have a higher purpose."

First of all, I don't think we've been overindulgent in the African famine problem. The drought and the resulting famine began long before television brought us the first frightening pictures of gaunt Ethiopian women clutching their emaciated, dying children. As disasters go, this one is every bit as grand and horrifying as the Nazi Holocaust. Belatedly, we began sending in huge quantities of food, medicine, and farm equipment in one great outpouring of generosity. Private citizens donated millions to relief agencies, Midwestern farmers freely gave tons of their grain, thousands volunteered their services to the relief effort (and many of these had to be turned away).

Unfortunately, not all of this aid has reached the famine victims. The Communist Ethiopian government has not cooperated in the relief effort and has, in fact, blocked many relief shipments to its own people. Furthermore, one should be aware that the famine will not disappear overnight. It will take years of diligent, patient work on the part of foreign and Ethiopian workers to reform the blighted areas and to wipe out the famine. In the meantime, millions more may die of starvation. We must, therefore, continue to donate our time and money long after the initial euphoric surge of altruism has faded away. Since we have short memories, we must be continually reminded that the problem still exsists. It's called responsibility, Simson.

Second of all, I don't see how anything could possibly obscure the threat of nuclear war. The Bomb both frightens and angers me since I may never have the chance to fall in love, get married, raise a family and live a full life. Thinking about nuclear war is like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, so I keep these thoughts in the back of my mind. But they will never leave my mind, Simson. They will never leave anyone's mind. "The Day After" made it perfectly clear what a nuclear holocaust is all about.

It's easy to say that we must try harder to save the world from nuclear war, but I honestly don't think we can do more than we've already done. Despite the efforts of antinuke protesters here and abroad, cruise missiles are sprinkled throughout western Europe and the MX will soon find a home in the Midwestern plains. It's a sad fact that control of nuclear power rests in the hands of a few men who are, for the most part, too old to care about when they die. And given the failure of the last Geneva arms talks, it's hard to take the present round of talks completely seriously. It's frustrating to watch all this craziness while standing powerlessly on the sidelines. We can, however, do something about the famine in Africa.

Believe it or not, Simson, it's possible to worry about nuclear war and feed starving Africans, too. The Soviets have done absolutely nothing to help Africa, but are they any more committed than we are to ending the arms race? Maybe if the Soviets saw how determined we were to save the lives of starving Africans, they would think that we were equally determined to save the lives of everyone else as well.

As far as MIT students are concerned, few of us would actually go to Africa because of financial obligations, but how long and how much effort does it take to write a check to a relief organization? Furthermore, our concern for the Africans can hardly diminish our research capabilities. Rather, it can only make us better human beings.

Lastly, you seem to have a hangup about the saving grace of technology. Technology began the arms race, but it won't end it. Space-based weapons won't do what Reagan thinks they can do. The Soviets have some pretty smart scientists who can devise counterweapons to anything the US can come up with. The arms race won't end in a research lab at MIT or Moscow State University. It'll end when a Russian and an American sit down together at the same table and decide that enough is enough.

Joaquin Tinio '85->