Here Comes the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Dragging a Broken Moral Compass

Tawakkul Karman Leymah Gbowee Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Nobel Peace Prize 2011 Harry WadThe announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, set for October 11, is sure to make big news. The prize remains the most prestigious in the world. But the award has fallen into an evasive pattern, ignoring the USA’s continuous “war on terror” and even giving it tacit support.

In his 1895 will, the dynamite inventor and ammunition magnate Alfred Nobel specified that Norway’s parliament should elect a five-member committee for awarding the prize to “champions of peace.” Yet the list of recent Nobel peace laureates is notably short on such champions. Instead, the erstwhile politicians on the Norwegian Nobel Committee have largely bypassed the original purpose of the prize.

Despite all its claims of independence, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee is enmeshed in Norwegian politics. The global prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize has obscured the reality that its selection committee is chosen by leaders of Norway’s main political parties — and, as a member of NATO, Norway is deeply entangled in the military alliance.

When the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama in 2009, he was in the midst of drastically escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, in tandem with the rest of NATO. The same prize went to the European Union in 2012, a year after many of its member states intervened with military force in Libya. On both occasions, in effect, the Nobel Committee bestowed a “good war-making seal of approval.”

Since 2001, the Nobel Peace Prize has been on a prolonged detour around the U.S. government’s far-flung warfare, declining to honor anyone who had challenged any of it anywhere in the world. But the Nobel Committee has done more than just ignore peace activism seeking to stop U.S.-led war efforts. By giving the Peace Prize to Obama and the E.U., the committee has implicitly endorsed those military efforts as part of a rhetorical process that conflates war-making with peace-making. Orwell’s 1984 specter of “War Is Peace” looms uncomfortably large.

At times, the Peace Prize has earned goodwill in NGO circles by honoring humanitarian work that is laudable but not directly related to peace. And so far in this century, when the Nobel Committee has focused the prize on human rights, it has danced around Uncle Sam’s global shadow. The Peace Prize has gone only to dissidents in countries where governments are in conflict with Washington — such as Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003 and Liu Xiaobo of China in 2010 — while failing to honor any of the profuse activism against severe abuses by U.S.-backed governments.

It was not always this way. During previous decades, the annual announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize might alternately please or enrage the top leaders in the capital of a world power. In 1983, the awarding of the prize to Poland’s Solidarity leader Lech Walesa infuriated the Kremlin. When the 1992 prize went to Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous foe of U.S.-supported tyrants killing Guatemalan civilians in large numbers, it was a much-needed rebuke to Washington.

Yes, some Peace Prize choices were dubious or worse. After an Orwellian one, the caustic songwriter Tom Lehrer commented: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” In an exercise of absurd equivalency, the Nobel Committee had given the 1973 prize to Kissinger and North Vietnam’s negotiator Le Duc Tho.

The 1980s brought the Peace Prize to brave activists like Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, as well as International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In 1996, longtime opponents of Indonesia’s U.S.-backed genocidal occupation of East Timor had reason to cheer when the Nobel Peace Prize went to East Timorese heroes Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta. The next year also brought good news when the prize went to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

But in the “war on terror” world of this century, the Nobel Committee — far from an independent, evenhanded course — has steered the Peace Prize away from terrain where the U.S. government and its allies might appear to be anything other than noble peace-seekers. Relying on such a broken moral compass, the mission to assist “champions of peace” with the Nobel Peace Prize has lost its way.

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Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I don’t even bother to dust mine anymore. Last time my sister and her family came over to visit I just let the kids play with it. I figger, “Eh, what’s the big deal? I can always get another one if anything happens.”

    • Ted Heistman

      Its only points toward magnetic North anyway.

  • Ted Heistman

    Maybe the war on terror is in keeping with the idea of “Peace” championed by the Founder and the culture of the Nobel Peace Committee. The War on terror is a strange war. Its not so much a conflict between Nations as it is like a type of Global Law Enforcement.

    I have never really been part of the whole “XYZ war is wrong because all war is wrong” crowd. I just feel like its a good sentiment, but it seems to be about achieving some type of moral victory only. These anti-war protests have always struck me as a kind of religious purification ritual such as abstaining from meat. Its a merely symbolic gesture that has absolutely no effect on foreign policy.

    So maybe the goal has always been to have some type of Global hegemony that sees all opposition to it is a crime. What is a terrorist but an anti-state actor?

    • InfvoCuernos

      This is a pretty good analysis. When they call it a war instead of law enforcement, then they can set up gitmos and get away with all sorts of activities that would normally be called criminal. Its one of the reasons that so many Americans freak out over the idea of drones flying over the US. We can see what those drones are used for and the idea that the govt. would do that to Us scares the shit of us, nevermind that we’ve been “terrorizing” all those people in Pakistan, Yeman, and coming soon to Syria.

      I especially like the idea of the war protests being a cleansing ritual. Many societies have had ceremonies for keeping their collective conscience blood-free. They certainly don’t slow down the war machine-not one bit.

      • Ted Heistman

        Yeah. And I also think these cleansing rituals kind of make people go crazy eventually. I guess I feel like I am not pure or anything. I might fight for something that seemed important. I just don’t want to throw my life away. But I don’t think war machines collapse from people passing moral judgement against them.

    • http://pneumerology.com/ pneumerology

      “What is a terrorist but an anti-state actor?”

      An alternate state or wannabe state actor.

  • Charlie Primero

    “Orwellian” doesn’t even do it justice anymore.

    I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition today for the first time in over a year. Every segment was the upside-down-opposite of reality.

    At least Winston Smith could occasionally sneak away for some time off. Not today.

    • bobbiethejean

      Your idea of upside-down opposite seems to be anything that is liberal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem a tad biased.

      • Charlie Primero

        I am a liberal. That is my bias.

        I was referring to the fact that every item on NPR this morning was fake. Fake terror, fake political theater, fake crisis, fake statistics. War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Oceana has always been at war with Eastasia. Igsoc helps people. I’m so sick of it I’m about ready to give up and join.

        • bobbiethejean

          Unfortunately, seeing as how I did not witness this for myself, I cannot attest to the veracity or inaccuracy of your statement about NPR’s programming. However, I must say, you do not seem terribly liberal to me, at least not from what I’ve gleaned of your comments.

          • Charlie Primero

            I suspect this is because you have been purposely miseducated to think Liberalism is the Orwellian opposite of what it actually is.

            Read some philosophical essays written by Liberals from the 300 years prior to the 1960′s.

          • emperorreagan

            NPR generally has the same pro-power bias that almost all other news sources have. They play up the political theater as much as anyone else.

            They get accused of left/right bias, though that seems mostly to be on the part of ideologues on one side or the other.

    • emperorreagan

      24 hours of propaganda in a dozen or more different flavors. Take your pick, you don’t need a single face – they all use cream and sugar as their base.

  • http://pneumerology.com/ pneumerology

    The bar for good leadership in the political realm has been set so low that the prize is more likely to be given to somebody who trips over it by mistake than somebody who sails over it with high-minded aspirations and honest intentions.

  • BuzzCoastin

    this pales in comparison to the annual
    Playboy Piece of Ass Prize
    which far more fogies pay attention to
    than this piece of prize

  • mannyfurious

    Who cares? One of the 2011 winners, Leymah Gbowee, gave a talk at a conference I was at last year. She’s done lots of great things in Liberia, so I don’t want to minimize any of that. But she was one of the least spectacular speakers I’ve ever seen. She sounded like your typical Huffington Post commentor, spewing liberal platitudes left and right for all the WASPS to suck up like honey. Most of the people left the speech acting like they had seen something special, but really they were just high off the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner agreed with their oversimpiified world-view.

    Also, she has something like 7 kids and all of them are being raised by other people while she travels the world giving stupid speeches and patting herself on the back. It’s like, that’s real honorable. If everybody stayed home and raised their kids properly, there wouldn’t be an illusory “need” for something like Nobel Peace Prize in the first place.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      I’d like to think so, but some of the most involved parents I know are total *ssholes.

      Nurturence is probably like anything else: crap in, crap out.

  • $73036412

    I would kill for one of those… Oh, wait, I’ll kill more AFTER, maybe with drones.

    • Mikala Romans

      You need a second Nobel Prize to keep the first one company?

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