When Duke's President Richard Brodhead announced the selection of novelist and ardent leftist Barbara Kingsolver as the school's 2008 commencement speaker, many were critical of the choice. Some noted Kinsgolver's often been wrong on obvious and important matters most people understood.
Brodhead told the critics they needed to "read more."
Fast forward to Duke's May. 11 commencement and all those people shivering in the cold and rain listening (or trying not to listen) as Kingsolver delivered a lengthy leftist rant one of her fans assures me didn't last "much more than a half-hour."
Who was surprised Kingsolver didn't consider her audience sitting in the rain and cold(a Duke staffer held an umbrella over Kingsolver's head)?
Sure, Kingsolver couldn't disappoint Brodhead and the others who selected her knowing she'd deliver a leftist rant.
But given the circumstances, Kingsolver could've said
"In view of the rain and cold, I'll dispense with my prepared speech and just tell you 10 things you should all hate about Bush and America.What could be wrong with that? Even those leftist faculty sitting in the rain would've shivered their agreement, don't you agree?
And I'll keep it to 5 minutes, which is more time than Lincoln used at Gettysburg."
All Kingsolver needed to do was recognize the obvious and respond sensibly.
But Kingsolver often misses the obvious, even when it's, to use a phrase President Brodhead's made memorable, "brought to glaring visibility."
And as for acting sensibly, consider the following - - -
In the late Fall of 2001 one of the largest and most successful famine-prevention operations in recent history occurred in Afghanistan. The job was done by America's military under war conditions. Millions of lives were saved.
But Kingsolver missed it. She was busy bashing President Bush and America's response to 9/11.
On Nov, 23, 2001 as American forces were driving the brutal Taliban regime from government power in Afghanistan, the Washington Post published a Kingsolver op-ed that attacked our 9/11.
Kingsolver's op-ed included this:
”Freedom from fear, freedom from want -- these clearly aren't meant just now for the millions of Afghan civilians placed at risk of starvation because of the war.”That was nonsense! The war hadn't placed millions of Afghan’s at risk of starvation, something even most leftists knew by Nov. 2001.
For many months a famine in Afghanistan had been widely reported in the Western press and by international relief agencies.
Here's an example of that reporting from a July 2001 UN World Food Program (WFP) report:
A third successive year of drought has left Afghanistan teetering on the brink of widespread famine and placed the lives of millions of people at risk.When Kingsolver wrote her op-ed, America's military was in the midst of extensive and heroic relief operations to avert the famine.
A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment mission sent to Afghanistan in May has returned from the field warning that the almost total failure of the 2001 harvest means some five million people will require humanitarian food aid to survive.(emphasis added)
Excerpts from the Oct. 20, 2001 NY Times:
The C-17 cargo plane was 10 minutes from its drop zone when the rear door opened onto the night sky high above Afghanistan. Frigid air burst into the cabin, washing over food boxes that stood like soldiers at attention before an American flag.By Jan. 4, 2002 the State Department was able to report:
Crouching before the door, his oxygen mask pressing hard against his face, a staff sergeant named Paul signaled that the plane was one minute from its target.
Suddenly, with a rush like a powerful freight train gathering speed, 42 boxes flew out the door, opening in midair and raining their contents -- bright yellow packets of food -- on the countryside below.
Within seconds, the C-17 and two sister planes had spilled 51,000 plastic packages, each containing two ready-to-eat meals, over a remote valley in northern Afghanistan. Each wrapper bore a message, ''Food gift from the people of the United States of America,'' in English. . . .
For all the apparent simplicity of tossing food from a plane, the air drops are complex missions. . . .
Each flight requires a large supporting cast, including KC-135 tankers, Awacs command and control planes and fighter jets to protect the C-17's over hostile territory. . .
The planes fly at unusually high altitudes -- typically over 25,000 feet -- to avoid Taliban antiaircraft fire.
But at those heights crews run the risk of decompression sickness, caused by the bubbling of nitrogen out of the blood, when the cabin is depressurized so the cargo door can be safely opened.
In extreme cases, those bubbles can clog veins, causing severe pain and even death. Flight surgeons or physiologists have been assigned to the crews to watch for early symptoms of the illness.
U.S. and U.N. efforts in Afghanistan appear to have averted starvation in the country, U.S. State Department officials said Jan. 3.Many of you who know Duke now under Brodhead's and BOT Chair Robert Steel's leadership may be saying Kingsolver was a very suitable commencement speaker selection.
Aid organizations have moved more than 200,000 tons of food into Afghanistan since Oct. 1, according to U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios and Alan Kreczko, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
"Of that 200,000 tons, 64 percent of it came from the United States," Natsios said. "So almost two-thirds of the food that went in came from America."
Natsios forecast earlier that more than 1.5 million Afghans faced starvation unless help could flow into the war-torn country.
True enough, but Duke can do better.
Here’s another look at what Kingsolver wrote Nov. 23, 2001 concerning America's efforts to displace the Taliban and prevent starvation in Afshanistan:
”Freedom from fear, freedom from want -- these clearly aren't meant just now for the millions of Afghan civilians placed at risk of starvation because of the war.”