MARVed by your ICBMs
Birds of prey
Your Disarmament Issue (No. 97) suggests that the American people may say 'no' to increased defence spending. But should such a backlash ever develop, the Pentagon is ready to combat it. They have a highly developed 'public relations' effort which could easily be revved up. Even now, with the assurance of a sympathetic administration in the White House, they are making their advertising message more aggressive.
'Helping to keep the eyes and the talons strong. Lockheed knows how.' So runs the ad copy for one of America's largest defence contractors, alluding to this nation's symbol - the eagle. 'We would have considered that ad insensitive two or three years ago,' says William D. Perrault, Lockheed's Vice President for corporate commications. But now, with the 'Vietnam Syndrome' over and a bellicose Reagan administration promising bigger defence budgets, Perrault feels that the American people find such a message 'comforting'.
The danger of fanning the flames of war with such advertisements is clear. As George C. Wilson, who has analysed the arms manufacturers' new aggressive mood for the Washington Post, concludes: 'one side effect of all the advertising could be to condition the public and federal decision makers to the idea that intervening military in such distant areas would be an acceptable use of American power.'
Chris Sheppard's editorial on 'Wisdom from Above' (N.I. Issue 96) is unbalanced, distorts evidence and is entirely negative.
Firstly, the balance. It devotes two pages or more to describing the bad side of the expert game, and only ten lines to 'good experts'. Most of which merely says they don't exist. But they do: I could name you plenty.
Secondly, the distortion. Your facts page shows that half of all experts are teachers, but none of the examples discussed are from education.
The most depressing aspect, though is the negative approach. There is just as much, if not more, to learn from the rare successes as from the painfully familiar failures. So why not analyse the ingredients of effective expertise? Why not look for guidelines to success, instead of putting more nails into well-sealed coffins?
There are plenty of medical 'experts' keeping hospitals and clinics from collapse. There are educational 'experts' in, for example, the exam sections of some Ministries of Education who have transformed national exams for the benefit of rural children. There are engineers quickly building hundreds of miles of all-weather roads with labour intensive methods. And very few of the many teachers live in the air-conditioned splendour you caricature.
It's a great pity that you belittle their contribution.Assessing and satisfying the needs of the poor is difficult anywhere. When welfare workers mostly fail to do it in a developed country like England, why should you expect more of them when abroad?
The Editor replies:
Yes, the article on development experts was negative. It is a sorry tale about a sad reality. Its purpose was to expose the weaknesses of top-down development - as planned and supervised by a powerful minority of experts. The hard-working and highly-motivated teachers and doctors who Mr. Peacock rightly defends can do little to change this pattern of development. Such change can only come from the people. And it is here that the imbalance lies. The magazine was intended to administer a hefty dose of self-criticism, and to put the goals of technical assistance programmes into a realistic perspective. We do need to learn from success stories, and later this year there will be a special issue of the New Internationalist investigating breakthroughs in development throughout the world. Readers' suggestions will be welcomed.
Your article on 'The Maze of the Mind' made absolutely no attempt at comprehending the social context of mental illness - and this in a magazine (N.I. No. 95) blazoning 'The Disabling World' across its cover.
The barely hidden assumptions of good solid bourgeois normality underlying the case-studies - happy careers, sporting fun, and sensible, subservient women for the all-normal household - reveal clearly the institutionalisation of prejudice in psychiatric practice.
As for the comment 'mentally subnormal people are born subnormal - and remain so' this is tautologous and inaccurate drivel. Mental handicap can be organic, at birth, but it may result early in life from diseases such as meningitis, or it may be the result of social conditions operating upon the individual. 'Subnormal' is a term implying a social context - that of 'normality' - and some of the people we label 'subnormal' and blandly confer to long-stay wards, would, if living independently, not be 'subnormal' at all.
Yvonne Crofts ('More Good News' N.I. February 1981) is right in asking for reports of success. Success is necessary to sustain human endeavour - be it only on a small scale. In all human problems the basic unit is the individual. Many aid schemes either ignore this simple fact or consider it irrelevant. But more and more organisations are now operating individual sponsorship schemes which enable us lesser mortals to become involved.
For four years we have been sponsoring a young boy who lives in the semi-nomadic Samburu area of Kenya. He receives a meal a day, school clothes and any necessary extras. A percentage of our money helps the school with buildings and equipment. We exchange letters and hear of his progress. Initially we only had the word of the organisation Action Aid that our money was actually used to help Lomojong and his school. So that we could check for ourselves Action Aid agreed to let us visit sponsored schools in Kenya.
During our visit in 1979 we spoke with hundreds of people - children, parents, teachers, Action Aid workers and the Director of Basic Education - all of them considered the scheme to be a success. The money is controlled right down to the point where the child or school receives the benefit. This control is achieved by a staff of about 150, mostly working in the field, of whom all but four are Kenyans.
There are 50,000 of us in Action Aid, only a small number, but very willing to be joined by anyone who would like to achieve a similar small success.
John & Joyce Humphries
Having heard about America's new wave of Born Again Christians which helped sweep President Reagan into office, I wonder if we were all reading the same Bible.
Let me quote from the New English Bible (Acts 2. 42-47):