One of the most controversial accolades ever to be bestowed upon any person, the somewhat ubiquitous title of "the Greatest Man" in the world, let alone History, is often given to individuals who have, at some point in time, performed great deeds or sacrifices.
And it doesn't get more controversial than this: Ask the Christians, and they'd say that their supposed Son of God, Jesus, is the greatest man ever. The average Buddhist will vote for Buddha, and the Muslims will tell you that Muhammad, the dessert warrior cum Prophet, deserves the "greatest man" tag. Historians might get too obsessed with war and vote for Genghis Khan. Boxing fans will no doubt idolize Muhammad Ali or Bruce Li and call them "great", and so the list goes on.
All of these men (and possibly more) were enigmatic in their own ways; from baptizing armies with blood and slaughtering human beings by the cattle load along the way, to forging whole empires and religions, these are men, who for good or for bad, have left their legacy for posterity.
Yes, there have been suitors and pretenders for this inspiring title, but one man probably deserves this title more than anyone else.
A great-grandchild of Norwegian migrants in USA, Norman Borlaug was born in 1914 in his grandparents' farm house.
Growing up in the Borlaug household, Borlaug was accustomed to earning his own keep; like many victims of the Depression era, poverty was a constant menace and threat for a young man who desired for himself a decent education. One of his stints included working in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Depression Era America, and that left a profound, indelible impression in the young Borlaug: The importance of living on a full stomach.
"At the camps they were able to recover some semblance of health and self-confidence. I saw how food changed them...All of this left scars on me."
Surmounting the terrible realities of poverty, a brave Norman managed to finish his studies and acquire a Bachelor Degree of Science forestry degree in 1937.
Norman's Turning Point
Norman Borlaug's turning point came when he attended a Sigma Xi lecture held by Elvin Charles Stakman, a professor who would soon become the head of the plant pathology group in the University of Minnesota. The talk was titled: "These Shifty Little Enemies that Destroyed our Food Crops", and after attending the talk it dawned upon him that humanity was in a constant battle with Mother Nature, and Borlaug was immediately hooked by the immense possibilities of creating crops that were resistant to fungus.
Under the advice of Stakman, Borlaug abandoned Forestry (his post was eliminated anyway due to budget cuts) and undertook another education odyssey, this time earning him a Masters Degree in Science in 1940 and a subsequent Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics in 1942.
Norman's Great Achievements
Despite the advent of the Industrial Revolution and its prevailing technological advances, Mankind has to grapple constantly with Mother Nature in order to fill up empty stomachs, and it is to this end that Norman Borlaug dedicated his whole life to.
Heralded as the pioneer for the "Green Revolution", Norman Borlaug worked extremely hard in third world countries, ranging from the harsh terrain of Mexico to war-torn countries in Africa, bringing with him the expertise and know-how to increase food crops dramatically, and by some estimates, he managed to stave off hunger and saved the lives of 1 billion people.
1 billion people..... there aren't that many philanthropists or great men who can make what seems like a boisterous claim, but one man, moved by the plight of a starving generation, strove on, without the fame, the glory and the riches that accompany men aspiring for greatness and in the process saved so many lives.
Living in squalid conditions, dinghy hotels, mosquito-infested areas, Norman Borlaug put his heart and soul into his work, against numerous odds: Environmental nutcases, bureaucratic bullshit, and sometimes political problems, and through it all, his determination was stoic and unyielding.
Some of his achievements include:
1. Turning wheat dependent nation such as Mexico and India into wheat exporters by using genetic engineering to dramatically increase product.
2. Creating disease-resistant crops to avert famine.
3. Creating an awareness with regards to feeding a population of human beings which have already crossed the 6-billion mark.
4. A Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Such is the nobility of his accomplishments, that it is difficult to imagine anyone opposing it, unless, of course, you are one of those Green Peace morons who worry about whether your food is "organic" enough for your stomach. A hungry person is an angry person, and one can hardly expect peace and order in countries which are often living on the edge of famine and death.
Norman Borlaug: The Greatest Man on Earth
Such is the humility of Norman Borlaug, that few, if ever any, outside the field of Science has ever heard of this man. At 94 yrs of age, he is still continuing his work, hoping to fill the stomachs of people living in atrocious, inhumane conditions in war-ravaged, poverty-stricken countries.
Norman Borlaug symbolizes the epitome and noble qualities of mankind: Kindness, endeavor and above all, a conviction to save the lives of his fellow human being, regardless of race, creed and religion.
Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, etc........none of them added together, in their insignificant, yet slightly alleviated statuses, had ever achieved what Norman did in 6 decades.
In sum, Norman Borlaug is The GREATEST MAN in the history of civilization. And you'd probably never heard of him.
"You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.. "
"When he (Norman Borlaug) won the Nobel Prize in 1970, they said he had saved a billion people. That's BILLION. "BUH!" That's Carl Sagan billion with a "B". And most of them were of different race from him. Norman is the greatest human being. And you've probably never heard of him."
-Penn, the Biggest, louder partner of the magician duo, "Penn and Teller"
"It gives me great pleasure to add my voice to all those paying tribute to Dr. Norman E. Borlaug on his 90th birthday. As we celebrate Dr. Borlaug's long and remarkable life, we also celebrate the long and productive lives that his achievements have made possible for so many millions of people around the world. And as the United Nations continues its efforts to reach the ambitious but achievable Millennium Development Goal of reducing, by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, we will continue to be inspired by his enduring devotion to the poor, needy and vulnerable of our world. Dr. Borlaug, for your many contributions to the work of the United Nations, please accept my best wishes on this happy occasion."- Kofi A. Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations