“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.
Thank you for this. Amartya Sen has also written eloquently on the subject of famine. He has proven that there has never been a natural famine. All famines have been politically induced for reasons of profit. The cruel and induced Irish famine follows the play book the political class as it has been used for centuries; centralize wealth into a loyal and manageable one percent with a 1/10 of one percent ruling class.
Amartya Sen went on to expand his work in “The Idea of Justice.” This illuminating work concludes that equal and real justice is the only path to a sustainable human culture. The modern, information-age definition of justice according to Sen has three aspects:
Liberty and justice for all. Justice for the future. Justice with Nature.
I appreciate this information and recognize the frustration inherent in not having history told as thoroughly as experts in a particular field might like, but please stop blaming schools. There simply isn’t enough time in 12 or 13 years of school to teach everything about everything, let alone hope that students remember it all.
I think the blame does lie with the schools. It is not a matter of “teaching everything” more a matter of censorship and teaching what corporations see fit.
It has been a conspiracy, yes I’m going there, of the elites to keep the public dumbed down to run the machines with docility. Google Frederick Gates and John D. Rockefeller to learn more. George Carlin also had some great routines on the matter.
Thank you, marlborough, for that interesting post. Isn’t it a pity that now, with something like prosperity, St. Patrick’s day is now an excuse, in Ireland at least, for a week or so of wasteful boozing!
Important article. It has been happening steadily since, most notabily in Africa in recent and current times. Little is done or published on the plight in Africa.
Except the movie…Darwin’s Nightmare. Watch it. I dare yea.
Someone in the comments a while ago put a link to a movie showing the destruction of food in california during the great depression. The movie was about FDR, not the food destruction nessisarily that seemed to be from republican establishment.
right and of course the “political class” plays a major role in deciding which information makes the cut and what facts are ignored. maybe because politicians tend to over-estimate their importance to historical events, history students get tasked with an assignment to memorize the names and dates of the kings, the presidents and such. i preformed well in history mainly because of an innate talent for memorizing–for whatever that’s worth. in his Lies My Teachers Taught Me bigelow points out that perhaps social studies and history are designed to bore the student. after all, the “little people” must remain in awe of the important ones, the shakers and shapers. this all serves to promote a false feeling of disconnect with events both past and present.
lately, i’ve been re-watching neil degrasse tyson’s “cosmos” series and just this week picked up on lens crafter, joeseph fraunhofer who conducted studies in how light moves and designed wonderful telescopes to better study the galaxy. you know what!!! the government of bavaria declared his work “top secret” so the populace remained ignorant. i’ll bet anything the government officials saw the surveillance opportunities in his inventions. also, elites enjoy keeping higher-learning among their fine selves. tyson said that fraunhofer developed a prosperous business. hm, obviously his industry had but one customer–today we call it the mic! imagine what wondrous knowledge might have been discovered if the children had seen the stars through the telescope!
today, we have the computer, we have dedicated educators like bill bigelow and the writings of the late, great howard zinn and…wherever curiosity leads. all who have children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces or neighborhood kids must take the initiative to pass knowledge in an interesting and inspirational way. don’t leave it in the hands of government and their corporate masters to privatize. it’s our responsibility, too, “teach the children well!”
Much the same happened in India during the Bengal famine where the British overlords were exporting food from India even as the people starved.
That said we will read to no end about the famines attributed to the collectivization of agriculture. When reading the typical text in the west (such as Stalin killed 60 million of his own people) , every death to famine in such countries deemed an act of mass murder.
If the Capitalists do it than it just “sound business practices”
One of my Irish classmates pointed out to our English economics professor that there wasn’t a famine. There was plenty of food around, but it was being shipped to England and the Irish starved.
The Englishster smiled and replied that it was a “distribution problem.”
“… a distribution problem…”
Your professor was right! There’s a terrible maldistribution of humility, empathy, honesty and conscience.
The US brags about championing “universal education”. After all, wasn’t “universal education” at the top of Thomas Jefferson’s “how to ensure an informed electorate” list? That’s the myth.
The reality bears little resemblance to the myth. “Universal education” (such as it is) did not become a reality in the US until some hundred years after the framing of the Constitution. Late in the 19th century the industrialists decided they needed a disciplined marginally educated workforce to work in the factories, and thus “universal education” (such as it is) became a reality in the US.
From its very inception “an informed electorate” was scratched off the list of reasons for “universal education” and it’s not at all difficult to see why. Clearly it would interfere with worker productivity, incite workers to seek more from their lives, and endanger the ruling class.
How refreshing! A curriculum rich with actual details. Note how the questions don’t fall back on the illusion of one uniform “We” and instead talk about REAL actors bearing REAL complicity for serious events:
"In a role play, “Hunger on Trial,” that I wrote and taught to my own students in Portland, Oregon—included at the Zinn Education Project website— students investigate who or what was responsible for the famine. The British landlords, who demanded rent from the starving poor and exported other food crops? The British government, which allowed these food exports and offered scant aid to Irish peasants? The Anglican Church, which failed to denounce selfish landlords or to act on behalf of the poor? A system of distribution, which sacrificed Irish peasants to the logic of colonialism and the capitalist market?
“These are rich and troubling ethical questions. They are exactly the kind of issues that fire students to life and allow them to see that history is not simply a chronology of dead facts stretching through time.”
Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher, Mr. Bigelow!
I don’t think your quote works when applied to things like massive droughts leading to very real famine in parts of Africa, or even what the dust bowl did for food production in the U.S. back in the l930s.
There are very problematic weather and climate anomalies that may be used by elites to drive up prices of foodstuffs, but I would hardly say that ALL famines are politicall induced. I think that’s a logical fallacy.
Mr. Bigelow is putting far more pressure on textbook producers (like the Pearson company) than on schools, per se. Schools use these textbooks and often the producers of recommended texts have friends positioned in high govt. places.
This is what Mr. Bigelow is critiquing:
“Holt McDougal’s U.S. history textbook The Americans, devotes a flat two sentences to “The Great Potato Famine.” Prentice Hall’s America: Pathways to the Present fails to offer a single quote from the time. The text calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake. And in an awful single paragraph, Houghton Mifflin’s The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People blames the “ravages of famine” simply on “a blight,” and the only contemporaneous quote comes, inappropriately, from a landlord, who describes the surviving tenants as “famished and ghastly skeletons.” Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.”
How many schools and teachers these days have as much influence over curriculum as the big testing companies? These testing companies are in bed with the textbook producers.
It’s a shell game intended to dull learning not inspire it, and turn kids into Pavlovian dogs barking the right answers to facile test questions in order to get their bone… i.e. passing grade.
During that dust bowl there was still a food surplus in the USA. The scenes in The Grapes of Wrath where persons growing food burned the surplus so as to drive up profits was very real.
The number that died to hunger in the USA during that period has rarely been examined. US researchers acknowledge that the overall population of the USA when studying the era were a few millions short but concluded it because many people left the USA to return to their home countries.
Researchers in Russia conclude there in fact death by famine in the USA.
To those other countries in Africa suffering drought I would use the example of Mali. The Government of Mali recognized they in a country subject to droughts so they implemented a program where excess food raised when the rain plentiful, this used to feed the population when rains did not occur. It was a simple program really where the Government simply guaranteed to buy all the farmers surplus in times of plenty and store it at their expense.
The IMF and World Bank got wind of this and instructed Mali to sell that surplus food and use the Capital to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure( built by western firms at profit) and Mali complied.
The results were predictable.
It was true that there was food but it was exported and remained out of reach by the impoverished peasants.
Anyone notice that we do the exact same thing? Americans used to have a myth about how much money were spending on foreign aid that only ended when finally they realized that foreign aid had become military aid.
My point is on how decent ordinary people will excuse what they do because they didn’t actually intend for the result of those decisions. Nobody said I want to starve someone to death so I am exporting food. Yet people did starve because the food was exported.
The hundreds of millions who starve and barely survive in near starvation will walk along an even thinner border line (between life and death) in the future. They grew used to seeing the starving and the dying in Ireland I suppose. We grow used to seeing it too around the world. Many contribute to charities but most people just take it for granted that people are starving and dying and change the channel or turn the page.
Did the many Irish who fled famine become advocates against famine elsewhere? Some certainly did and do but like most Americans, like the Anglo-Irish who had food back then, most people simply don’t feel connected to others in that way.
Why do some have the empathy of a Mother Theresa and others have none like a Stalin? We choose and get used to what we have chosen to be until we never think about changing those views anymore.
Prepare for a climate changed world where seriously bad things will happen on a large scale quite frequently. No end of the world crap, no extinction of humanity either…just real hard times that get worse with every year. That is the difference… They will keep getting worse.
There is no place to emigrate to.
There are more and more people being born as food resources and water are affected by big changes.
People are greedy (sound familiar reading this article?) and many will regret these few years of fracking and the long term damage they are doing to the water table and our wells.
Climate change, overpopulation and a lack of empathy… Welcome to the age of famines?
The idea that famines are oligarchical symptoms is not my logical fallacy. And after reading Amartya Sen, I can say this much; he is a deep thinker who I study and have not as yet encountered any logical errors.
This article pointed out how the Irish famine occurred even as oligarchic fascists were exporting huge amounts of food. You mention starvation during the dustbowl. The point here, really, is; What good did loyalty to a distant capitol do for those in trouble? Not much more than current loyalty gets relief from fracking earthquakes.
I suggest the following book be required reading in every school.:
The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy Hardcover – November 27, 2012
by Tim Pat Coogan
A famine of the factual