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Wither the Nobel Peace Prize

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In 1993, F.W. De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for his efforts, as then President of South Africa, in helping to bring an end to Apartheid. At the time, many debated the merits of giving the prize to De Klerk. Many saw him more as the leader of the National Party, which had invented Apartheid. And rather than considering him an active dismantler of the oppressive system, many merely saw him living out its inevitable demise.

The current flap over whether President Barack Obama deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, in my estimation, is ridiculous when considered in the context of past debates about whether the committee’s choices merited the honor – in particular the De Klerk/Mandela debate. For those inclined to defend De Klerk, or the committee’s decision to honor him, based on news reports, biographies, or what have you, I offer the following:

In 1996, F.W. De Klerk spoke at my undergraduate school. Protests erupted over his invitation to give a Distinguished Lecture, and particularly the large sum of money that he received to so do. Though wholly sympathetic with the protests, I chose to attend the lecture, as I thought it would be of great value to hear his story straight from the man. It was. Among his defenses of his actions in the National Party – and this will forever be seared into my consciousness for its atrocity – he described Apartheid as “a failed system of justice”. This speaks loudly in favor of characterizing him as a political leader simply living out the demise of his politics, for his lament was about failure, not that Apartheid was a racist system of oppression. Furthermore, to connect Apartheid with justice is not only laughable, but insulting to those who suffered through it and those who lost their lives fighting it.

I later joined the protests. De Klerk never indicated what measure he would have used to mark Apartheid’s success, but one can only imagine that it would be too appalling for a Nobel Peace Prize winner to utter in public.

So to those who find themselves swept up in the media-driven fury-du-jour about Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, I recommend that you review the list of past winners, and direct your ire toward the committee who awards what, given the Prize’s history, is a now-empty honor.

About Brian Sorrell

Writer, Storyteller, Philosopher, Expat, Father
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/christine-lakatos/ Christine

    Brian, thanks for the history lesson. Lot’s of debate going on in the politics section of BC about this. Didn’t Yassar Arafat win the prize in 1994? Very strange! What is the criteria? And what has Obama done to deserve this? But, maybe according to your article it is really about nothing anymore? And this choice may be more proof of that! Unless they are betting on his “future” progress in “world peace”.

    Oh, I found this..

    The Nobel Prize goes to Obama, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    It’s clear that the awarding of the Novel Peace Prize is a political event and has little to do with actual peace.

    I was amazed to see that on day 1 of Obama’s presidency he told the Haaretz newspaper that he gave unconditional support to Israel and we’ve seen how consistent he has been when Israel bombed Gaza. Although Obama was mildly critical, he didn’t turn off the funding of the Israeli military machine, so he wasn’t THAT critical.

    In addition, under his presidency, he has doubled troop numbers in Afghanistan and the death toll has doubled compared with under the (execrable) George Bush. And of course, we’re still waiting for peace in Iraq.

    He certainly, like all politicians, talks the talk. If his principles were so clear, he could surely refuse the prize on the grounds that he hadn’t yet done work of sufficient callibre to generate results.

    Sure, he has the hawks bearing down on him all the time, but wasn’t he put there to deal with that?

    Good article Brian. We should all be a lot more skeptical about the Obama train.

  • Clavos

    In my youth, I had the good fortune of actually knowing an individual who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Dr. Norman Borlaug (1970), the father of the “Green Revolution,” is credited with saving as many as a billion human beings from starvation as a result of his work.

    Dr. Borlaug just died last month.

    He richly deserved the Prize.

  • http://mizbviewsfromthetower.blogspot.com Jeanne Browne

    Nice, concise piece, Brian.

    I can’t help but be pleased for the President; winning the Peace Prize is still an honor, even though the Nobel committee lowered the bar considerably by bestowing it on people like De Klerk and Arafat. I appreciate that Mr. Obama said he saw the win as a call to action, a prod to further success in peacemaking, rather than a reward for a peace job already well done. I’m proud of him for taking bold, original and effective steps towards improving America’s standing abroad and for advocating diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of age-old conflicts around the world. But unless Obama truly uses the Peace Prize as a power tool to speed up our exit from Iraq, get us completely out of the futile bog that is Afghanistan and totally depart from the Bush-era approach to handling prisoners of war and terror suspects, my feelings will continue to be mixed. I am certainly allowing for the fact that he’s only been in office for less than a year. But he has not yet delivered on the change he asked us to believe in, nor has he been forceful enough in advancing a truly progressive agenda here at home. At the end of each New Day, he cannot be a Peace Prize winner and a wartime president simultaneously. He still has a lot of work to do to finish earning this award.

  • Clavos

    Didn’t we see comment #4 on another thread?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Thanks Brian for reminding us why many of us had sadly felt the desire to write off the Nobel Peace prize many years ago as superfluous and more political than any measure of actual peace efforts.

    Well done review.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Say what you will about deKlerk, Brian. It took his courage to

    a) reliquish power as the leader of the Republic of South Africa,
    b) allow Mr. Mandela, a convicted terrorist in a prison, to attain to power in South Africa, and
    c) stick to his word in his agreements.

    There was no race war in South Africa. There very easily could have been. Afrikaners had no logical reason not to implement their own version of the “Samson Option”, killing as many non-whites as they could before they were killed off themselves.

    This is a point you ought to consider before making roundhouse condemnations of deKlerk receiving a prize with his interlocutor, Mandela.

    Yassir Arafat received a similar prize – but unlike deKlerk, he never stood to his word, and conducted murder and terror operations against Jews in Israel. To be blunt, it has only been the humanism and unwillkingness of Jews to participate in a bloodbath that has prevented a massacre of Arabs here. The Arabs, utter fools that they are, take this as a sign of weakness.

    The day will come when the Arabs will push us too far, and we will rinse our feet in Arab blood – a massacre like you have never seen before, and likely will not see again.