by Christopher Bachler
I first heard about hunger strikes 47 years ago when I was in sixth grade. We were studying India, and we learned about a skinny old fellow called Mahatma Gandhi who had become as famous for his hunger strikes as he had been for his unseemly loin cloth and emaciated body. If his objective was to keep the pounds off, then I must say that the tactic worked well and that millions of Americans today ought to try it.
But we curious students were surprised to learn that Gandhi’s hunger strikes had nothing to do with weight control, but that he was abusing his health in order to persuade the British to leave India.
How this tactic was supposed to work was a mystery to me; I could not understand why king and Parliament were supposed to care about Gandhi’s health. I would think that they would welcome the demise of this persistent gadfly and, if anything, would encourage him to persist in his futile effort.
Of course, we learned that the Brits did finally leave India, and we thus got the impression that Gandhi’s hunger strikes had something to do with it. Years later I learned that Great Britain had abandoned India not because of Gandhi’s antics but because the British Empire was exhausted by two world wars and was forced to re-invent itself in order to cope with a very different world.
The British also abandoned numerous other former colonies, none of which was inspired by a half-naked hunger striker who was constantly stirring things up by pretending to calm things down.
Perhaps this misconception had not been limited to me and my old classmates for this inane tactic has been tried a few times since Gandhi’s time — though with no great success. I remember a group of Irish Republican Army members who starved themselves to death in 1981. Unlike Gandhi, who managed to end his fasts before they ended him, Bobby Sands and his followers actually finished the job and were buried before the eyes of an incredulous world. Like Gandhi, their efforts were for naught, and the Queen’s soldiers remain in Northern Ireland to this day.
All of this history was brought to my mind by some recent events in Philadelphia. In June I heard that some Philadelphians had announced their intention to go on their own hunger strike to protest school funding cuts. Since the funding cuts were a result of funding shortages and not mean-spiritedness, I did not see how this tactic was supposed to affect anything.
Will one person’s threat to starve him – or herself to death somehow cause money to magically appear out of thin air? And are overburdened taxpayers supposed to surrender to childish tactics? Doesn’t this sound like the child who threatens to hold his breath until he turns blue or throws a tantrum on the floor unless he gets what he wants?
In recent weeks I heard that these employees were back on the warpath with another hunger strike. I wasn’t aware that they had discontinued the first one. I guess they were just hungry. It was lucky for them for by this time they would either be dead or on life support. On the other hand, from the photos I’ve seen, several of them could subsist for many months on their surplus body mass.
One might think that these threats of self-starvation are just baloney (excuse the expression). Do ya think? This is a reasonable suspicion since the hunger strikers are still alive and look nothing like the late Mahatma. It puzzles me why our news hounds haven’t had such suspicions while covering this “continuing story.” I’ve seen TV reporters with the gravest expressions of concern for the alleged hunger strikers. Are they serious?
The only people sillier than those who make the news are those who report it. If the hunger strikers are serious (and if the Easter Bunny and global warming are real), then I urge the media to verify this by weighing the hunger strikers each day to see if any pounds are coming off. (Be sure to use a heavy duty scale.)
I don’t mean to suggest that there should be no hunger strikes; to the contrary, I think there should be more. At the very least, we’ll get more excess pounds off of more obese Americans.
And here’s a tip for the hunger strikers: Should your hunger strike fail, try holding your breath. If that fails, go to the governor or the mayor, fall to the floor and kick and scream until they give in.