Letter to the editor: Leaders must not ignore reality in times of crisis

When I was young I was regularly admonished to finish all of my dinner because children were starving in China. While the logic of this still eludes me, the sad reality is that it was true. An estimated 39 million Chinese starved to death during this time. The tragedy is chronicled in great detail in “Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962” by Yang Jisheng. The reason this is relevant today is because the famine was not the result of a natural disaster, but the direct result of leaders failing to face reality.
In an effort to promote their own careers and prove the success of agricultural collectives, local Chinese leaders in the newly created People’s Republic of China began to inflate their reports of crop yields. Even when harvests declined, the figures were manipulated so as not to send bad news up the leadership chain. Based on those inflated figures, the provinces were required to send an increasing portion of their production to feed the cities. Meeting ever-increasing quotas based on false production reports was unsustainable and soon there was nothing left to feed the people in the countryside who were actually producing the food. Afraid to tell the truth, leaders let the people starve and ignored the catastrophe unfolding before them. 
Leaders ignoring “inconvenient truths” is happening again, both in China and the United States. Similar to Mao a generation ago, our President has surrounded himself with “yes men” eager to please and afraid to speak the truth. Expert advice is ignored or spun to support politically motivated “beliefs” rather than “facts.” Knowledgeable professionals are herded into line or pushed out. Pronouncements are made in direct contradiction to the evidence at hand. When responsible leadership is needed, we get confusion and obfuscation.
Each day seems to bring a new crisis: climate disasters, COVID 19, economic free fall. These are real problems that require honest consideration and serious intervention. They will not be solved by pretending they don’t exist. While the President himself has boasted that he does not read books, it is hoped that at least some of the people around him do and that they have learned the lessons of history before the challenges we face today become history.
Richard Isenberg

Share this story:

More News

Guest editorial: Democracy, autocracy and the U.S.A.

The major issue here is that democracies, where they exist, are open to every conceivable … (read more)

Education Op/Ed

Community forum: Poverty limits school success

It’s no surprise that the latest educational report of the widening gap in student perform … (read more)


Ways of Seeing: Time to improve your apology skills

Every day seems to bring a new revelation of a public person behaving badly and then botch … (read more)

Share this story: