Famine: The Instrument of War

Famine%3A+The+Instrument+of+War

Jennie Torres

“Never again should a people starve in a world of plenty,” executive director of the world peace foundation and professor at Tufts University, Alex de Waal said, quoting a statement from the Irish monument in Cambridge, Massachusetts. De Waal aimed to depict the separation of an Irish mother and father who are each holding a child in their hand and reaching out toward one another.

De Waal pointed out through that quote that famine is not an experience of an individual, but it’s an action made by one person to another. Starvation is more akin to murder and contributes to the death of a culture, de Waal said.

[media-credit id=2257 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]The Albert Schweitzer Institute sponsored an event for de Waal to speak to an audience of students and faculty where he spoke about how conscious political decision or failing has been an essential element in every modern famine in Buckman Theater on Oct. 11.

“It signals that famine is not just hunger, or a generic manifestation of poverty, but is a collective and national experience,” de Waal said. “In doing that it actually identifies who the memorial intends to have the authority to memorialize.”

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, elaborated on de Waal’s accomplishments that lead him to study the use of famine in history.

“(De Waal) got started in that area while working on his Ph.D., his doctor of visitation, which was the beginning of a long journey where he has worked on Africa on both the scholarly side and humanitarian direct action side ever since,” Duffy said. “He is known for working on human rights, working on AIDS and HIV/AIDS and working on poverty and governance more broadly.”

The lecture focused on various genocides that involved the crime of famine. De Waal used an operation done in World War II as an example. It involved the U.S Army Air Force parachuting sea mines into the harbors of Japan to pressure the country into surrendering. The operation was called Operation Starvation.

“A French colonel who was an advisor to counter insurgent the operations in France, Vietnam and Nigeria wrote, ‘But it is necessary to make the ground unsuitable for the guerilla,” de Waal said. “Anything that can facilitate the existence of the guerilla in any way must be systematically destroyed.”

De Waal jumped forward in time to the famine in Nigeria that took place in 2011, which he says was predicted by the United Nations, yet the United States government cut back on who gave things to the citizens out of concern of being vulnerable to terrorists.

What all of these famine related genocides have in common, according to de Waal, is that human lives are seen as expendable and in each of the cases he addressed, western countries had a dishonorable role by collectively being prepared to look the other way from these atrocities.

“(Famine is) long and miserable. Everyday they bring these painful and difficult choices to those who are suffering. Parents must allocate their crumbs of food among their children, they may have to choose which ones are fed and which ones are not fed. Which ones get treatment, which ones do not,” de Waal said. “It is these realities that bring the element of self blame among the victims.”

Audience members were able to ask questions to de Waal, as well as buy a copy of one of his books for $20 and share in a brief discussion after the event.

Sophomore physical therapy major Andreya Pencak said that she wasn’t too sure about what this event would entail upon attending it, but she listened to the lecture anyway because of her personal tie to one of the famines.

“I’m Ukrainian, so the whole Ukrainian famine is very close to home,” Pencak said. “I wanted to see what Professor de Waal would have to say about famine more globally so that I could take that larger perspective and see where the Ukrainian famine fits in.”

Pencak found de Waal’s words to be really insightful.

“It was really interesting to hear a lot of things that he had to say,” Pencak said. “Especially about the culpability and the fact that we have to put more emphasis on the perpetrators rather than just the event itself.”