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.