For as long as there’s been a United States of America, its private citizens have done some of its best diplomacy. In 1798 Dr. George Logan eased tensions between France and this country. He got a law named for him, criminalizing such services, but nobody’s ever been prosecuted under it — probably because the crime prosecuted would itself be the act of crime prevention.
One of my favorite cases, recounted in When the World Outlawed War, involved James Shotwell, who worked for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace (created by Andrew Carnegie to work exclusively on abolishing war, and currently working on everything but).
In 1927, Shotwell drafted a public statement for the Foreign Minister of France proposing to the United States the creation of a treaty criminalizing war. When few took notice, Shotwell’s colleague Nicholas Murray Butler wrote a response to the Foreign Minister in the New York Times. These two ventriloquists’ public diplomacy resulted in a treaty banning war to which the United States, France, and 79 other nations are party today. (Ssh! Don’t tell them.)
Whether they’re meeting with the president of Iran, as many of us did last month, or bringing downed U.S. pilots home from Vietnam, peace activists speak for and relate to the vast majority of every country, which always favors peace. At RootsAction.org we’ve recently encouraged Spain and Italy in their investigations and prosecutions of U.S. torturers, letting those nations know that we, too, support the rule of law, even when our own government does not.
Some of the most important work of citizen diplomacy that’s been done in a long time, I suspect, is the trip recently organized by Code Pink that took nearly 40 U.S. peace activists to Pakistan. They met with elected officials, tribal leaders, drone victims whose existence the U.S. government denies, and with the U.S. Ambassador. They brought with them petitions signed by many thousands of Americans. They brought world attention to U.S. drone murders in Pakistan. And they brought awareness to many Pakistanis that we in the United States do not all passively accept the slaughter of their neighbors and loved ones. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan recently said that drone strikes are the top cause of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. While the U.S. ambassador is still struggling with step 1 (admitting he has a problem), citizens are bridging international divides.
If we look at the State Department depicted by its own cables released through WikiLeaks, we see a sales office for U.S. weapons companies, a bully for the Pentagon, and a hotbed of corruption scheming against the principle of honest representative government in nations around the world. We’re working on our own step 1 with regard to what our government has become. And our greatest assistance in that regard has come from the Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, who by all rights should be announced this week as the winner of that prize, Bradley Manning.
There are 231 nominees, and I don’t know who they all are. I suspect that few if any have done remotely as much as Manning to earn a Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel’s will, written in 1895, left funding for a prize to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Peace congresses (having nothing to do with the U.S. Congress) were understood, in that age, as conferences that would bring together both peace activists and important members of national governments. The “abolition of armies” actually meant what it said. Most Nobel peace laureates, after the very early years of the award’s history, have not worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies. Many would adamantly denounce the very idea, as Barack Obama did in his acceptance speech.
We know the most limited information about Bradley Manning’s intentions, but what we know does not conflict with the actions credited to him. Most other nominees are almost certainly either individuals and organizations that have done good humanitarian work unrelated to abolishing war, or in fact warmongers of great notoriety. There are, of course, thousands of people doing tremendous work around the world toward the abolition of war. I just don’t expect them to be among the nominees.
Code Pink should be considered next year, following its work in Pakistan and elsewhere to end drone wars. A dozen other groups merit similar consideration. Members of Veterans For Peace, which I write press releases for when I can keep up with the work being done, this week took part in the anti-drone march in Pakistan (hesitating not at all in the face of threats from the Taliban), recruited active-duty soldiers in Washington State to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan, went to jail in New York nonviolently demonstrating against war, sailed on an aid ship to Gaza expected to be met by the Israeli military next week, and planned an upcoming trip to Iran, among other actions. Not a terribly atypical week.
Our government doesn’t talk to others, takes great pride in not talking to others, and assassinates rather than trying alleged criminals in court where they’d have to be spoken to. But we have a government of the people even when our government is of the oligarchs. Sending pizzas to Tahrir Square has done far more good than sending tear gas. We have the ability and the responsibility not to let a government that doesn’t speak for us, speak for us.