This picture by Käthe Kollwitz hung in my childhood home in Berlin when I grew up, and later in my mother’s apartment in Washington Heights. My nephews and I donated it to the Israel Museum when my mother died some ten years ago.
The picture was part of a leftist Weimar-era teaching, which my parents conveyed to me, that we have an obligation to feed the poor of the world. Everyone I have ever known, or ever hope to know, agrees with this sentiment. But who has made it a priority ? A priority on the level, say, of war-time priorities to protect our freedoms ?
I think that this election year gives an opportunity to rethink priorities. I think that poverty in the Third World, particularly Africa, hangs over all of us as a terrible threat. How can we enjoy what we have when we know that, in Africa alone, there are some 300 million people without enough to eat ?
The problem of poverty is enormously complex, containing at the very least six interrelated components: under-development, governmental greed and corruption, chronic inter-ethnic violence, disease, western indifference and greed, and hunger itself. One expert, Alex de Waal, has done us the tremendous service of reviewing some recent scholarly work, and any thinking on the subject may well start with the study of such materials.
One of the things that I learned from de Waal is that the British government, beginning with Tony Blair, established a new, Cabinet-level Department for International Development
to administer and coordinate British concerns for feeding the hungry. This is more than we have done, it seems to me.
I think that, with due regard for the great complexity of the issue, and the great unlikelihood that fully satisfactory solutions can be found soon, we need more of a sense of urgency on the part of our top political leadership.
Whether you favorite presidential candidate’s name starts with an O or an M, will you write to him and ask him to place world hunger somewhere on the top of his concerns ?