April 12, 2007

McGovern Speaks Out on Hunger

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On a troop ship pulling into Naples harbor during World War II, former Senator George McGovern heard several hundred starved children crying out from the dock for Hershey bars and Wrigley’s gum. The commanding officer warned his troops not to throw anything to the children, as 25 of them had recently drowned after jumping into the water to retrieve pieces of candy. This experience was McGovern’s introduction to the problems of world hunger, the topic on which he spoke last night in Statler Auditorium.
George McGovern, the first United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger and the 1972 Democratic Party candidate for U.S. president, is no stranger to college campuses and has spoke at almost 1,500 different campuses over the years. His lecture last night, entitled “Ending Hunger in Our Time,” was presented to a highly enthusiastic audience.
McGovern began with a short discussion of his political career, imbuing his loss to Nixon in the 1972 landslide presidential election with humor.
“We didn’t have the most votes but we had the best ones,” he said, adding that even from Nixon’s standpoint, “he would be better off if I had won.”
After briefly delving into his opposition to the Vietnam War, McGovern moved on to the main topic of the night: the problem of world hunger and malnutrition.
Named ambassador to the World Food Program in 2001, McGovern asked what concrete things could be done to help the 850 million chronically hungry people in the world. One of his solutions was the International School Lunch program, directed towards the 300 million school age children who went without adequate lunch every day.
McGovern spoke mainly about the connection between nutrition and education. According to McGovern, the pilot school lunch programs operated by the United Nations had numerous positive effects, including increased school enrollment and higher academic performance. McGovern particularly noted “the power of education to change the life of little girls, who otherwise have nothing to look forward to but illiteracy, ignorance and one child after another”.
McGovern was ultimately optimistic about eliminating world hunger.
“This is a problem we can actually solve within the lifetime of most of the people in this room … I have great confidence in the young people coming out of Cornell and the other places I’ve been,” he said.
The audience questions drew McGovern back to discussing his political stances, including his opposition to the Iraq war, his belief that it is impossible to win the battle against terror with military tactics and his disappointment with the “soft, timid and frightened” Democratic Party.
Many of McGovern’s remarks were greeted with confirmative applause. According to CJ Fonza grad, McGovern was speaking to a sympathetic audience. Others said they were affected deeply by McGovern’s talk.
“I felt he was speaking directly from his heart the whole time. He was speaking directly to us,” said Tom Guderman.
However, those who came to hear about innovative new strategies for ending hunger in our time were disappointed.
“There is so much new stuff going on impacting the poorest of the poor. I would have liked a higher level of discussion about what is new now and what has changed since the 1960s when McGovern began working on the problem,” said Fonza, referring to the role of enterprise and business in dealing with world hunger.
The program was presented by Cornell University Program Board and was coordinated in association with Big Red Relief. The lecture is part of a larger event, the 2007 Big Red Relief Concert to be held on Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. in Bailey Hall. All the proceeds from the concert will be donated to the World Food Program’s Darfur mission.