I have just returned from an idyllic and peaceful kayaking vacation in the Finger Lakes. During this time, I didn’t watch, read, or listen to the news, but now I’m home, back to work, and watching, reading, and listening. And there is much to wail over (as usual, it seems), but when I read about Somalia, all that vacation rest went out the door. I read that the World Food Program was sending 800 tons of high energy biscuits to East Africa to help fight the famine and nine airlifts would be enough to feed l.6 million people for a day. I read that more than 12 million people are suffering from the effects of drought and famine in East Africa. And then the U.S. announced an additional $105 million in aid. Hundreds of thousands of Somali children will die in this famine if there is not a strong aid response. It’s complicated with drought, warlords, high food prices, and even climate change. Delivering food is a short-term response, a mere band-aid to the problem, but as Mary Robinson, president of Oxfam said, “We cannot let children die; it is the 21st century!” Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland and one who remembers Ireland’s own famine, what is known as the potato famine, that was also a political famine. There is a way, she said, for the aid agencies to circumvent the warlords and provide relief. There is a way…
And then I read responses to this news piece about Somalia online. It seems that many of my fellow Americans have lost their souls and when they speak of the warlords, they speak of themselves, for they have the same hatred and heartlessness. I couldn’t stop thinking of these responses, for they hearkened back to another time in history – An Gorta Mor, the Irish Hunger that occurred from 1845-1850. Different times, different people, and Somalia is not a colony of America as Ireland was a colony of Great Britain. And yet it is this racist, hateful, and ignorant part of humanity that continues to rage throughout the world. And it is not only in the warlords and terrorists of the world, but lurking silently behind internet screen names. Because I studied Ireland’s Great Hunger from 1845 to 1850 and wrote a young adult book about it, I recognized the same responses of hate that were printed during the Hunger. Let’s painfully read these words written a few days ago and then painfully read the words written during The Great Hunger.
“Yay, I love it when we send food and money to terrorist countries. Makes me feel all warm and fckin fuzzy inside”
“The only aid these people require are sterilization clinics and birth control.”
“Someone yesterday said it perfectly cant feed em, dont breed em. Don’t we have enough monkeys here on welfare to feed, now we have to feed those morons too”?
“A few tons of birth control products in the food would seem wise to me. They breed like flies and with the help of the corrupt government, they starve.”
“800 tons of food going to parasites”
“If they would stop breeding there wouldn’t be 10 million starving people…”
“Condoms and Birth control for these leeches and parasites. They are the same Black animals burning London as we speak. CONDOMS yes Food, NO!”
“The great evil with which we have to contend… is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish perverse, and turbulent character of the people” (qtd. in Woodham-Smith by Treasurer in charge of all Famine relief)
“…that he feared the famine…in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do any good” (quoted by an Oxford man that Thomas Gallagher, author of Paddy’s Lament, read)
“Punch, for instance, published cartoons week after week, depicting the Irishman as a filthy, brutal creature, an assassin and a murderer, begging for money, under a pretense of buying food, to spend on weapons…Ireland was a disturbing thought, and it was therefore a comfort to be able to believe that the Irish were not starving or, if some of them were, the depravity of the Irish was such that they deserved to starve…” (Cecil Woodham-Smith)
“An Irishman in Connemara will soon be as rare a sight as a Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.” (London Times)
What more can I say? Monkeys? Punch was a satirical magazine famous in England for its political cartoons. Punch portrayed the Irish as having bestial, ape-like faces. And round about 1852, during the time my character, Norah, is in New York City, it was written by a well-known diarist, “America would be a great country if every Irishman murdered an African and was hung for it.” The nameless internet commentators are probably not diarists, magazine writers, or treasurers of famine relief, but they are human beings. Or are they?
I think of what Martin Luther King, Jr. said n a speech, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Don’t read this and sigh. Get out from behind your computer and contribute to this disaster…yes, another disaster that many of us with overweight bodies complaining about our savings and lifestyles going down the drain, need to address.