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Save the Nobel Peace Prize from Itself

8:09 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

On October 11, we’ll learn whether the Norwegian Nobel Committee is interested in reviving the Nobel Peace Prize or putting another nail in its coffin.

Alfred Nobel’s vision for the Nobel Peace Prize created in his will was a good one and, one might have thought, a legally binding one as well.

Nobel Prize

Free the Nobel from the warmongers.

The peace prize is not supposed to be awarded to proponents of war, such as Barack Obama or the European Union.

It is not supposed to be awarded to good humanitarians whose work has little or nothing to do with peace, such as most other recent recipients.  As with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace which works for almost anything but, in violation of its creator’s will, and as with many a “peace and justice” group focused on all sorts of good causes that aren’t the elimination of militarism, the Nobel has become a “peace” prize, rather than a peace prize.

The peace prize was not supposed to be given even to war reformers or war civilizers.  The peace prize is for: “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.”  The prize is not a lifetime award, but goes, along with the other Nobel prizes, “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”

Nobel laureates are not even asked whether they support the abolition of standing armies.  Few have taken the approach of Barack Obama, who praised wars and militarism in his acceptance speech, but many others would almost certainly have to respond in the negative; they do not support and have not worked for the abolition of standing armies.  Nor do they plan to put the prize money to work for that goal.

Norwegian author and lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl has for years now been leading an effort to enforce Alfred Nobel’s will.  “Letters Nobel wrote confirm,” says Heffermehl, “that he established his prize to fulfill a promise to Bertha von Suttner,” a promise to create a prize to fund work toward war abolition. In March 2012 the Swedish Foundations Authority ordered the Nobel Foundation to examine the will and ensure compliance.  When the next award was given to the European Union in blatant violation of the will, former recipients — including Adolfo Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, and Desmond Tutu — protested.  The Nobel Foundation has defied the order to comply with the will and applied for a permanent exception from such oversight.

This year there are 259 nominees, 50 of which are organizations.  (Even Heffermehl does not object to the practice of giving the prize meant for a “person” to an organization.)  The list of nominees is kept secret, but some are known.  In Heffermehl’s view, none of the favorites for this year’s prize legally qualifies. That includes Malala Yousafzai, whose work for education certainly deserves a prize, just not this one.  And it includes Denis Mukwege, whose work to aid victims of sexual violence should be honored, just not with the prize intended for those working to abolish armies.  Civil rights in Russia, freedom of the press in Burma, and many other great causes could end up being awarded with a prize for opposition to war next week.

The name Steve Pinker has been mentioned along with the proposal that he be given the peace prize as reward for having written a grossly misleading and deceptive book falsely arguing that war is going away on its own.  That would at least be a new twist on the abuse and degradation of this prize, although with Bill Clinton on the nominees list the options for truly disgusting outcomes are not exactly limited.

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Bradley Manning’s Nobel Peace Prize

12:25 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Free Bradley Manning Banner

Free Bradley Manning Banner

Whistleblower Bradley Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and he should receive it.

No individual has done more to push back against what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism” than Bradley Manning. The United States is the leading exporter of weapons and itself spends as much preparing for more wars as the rest of the world combined.  Manning is the leading actor in opposition to U.S. warmaking, and therefore militarism around the world.  What he has done has hurt the cause of violence in a number of other nations as well.

And right now, remaining in prison and facing relentless prosecution by the U.S. government, Manning is in need of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Alfred Nobel’s will 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.”

The intent of the prize was to fund this work. As a result of enormous legal expenses, Bradley Manning is in need of that funding, unlike some other peace prize recipients.  In addition, his secret trial — with a potential death sentence — could use all the attention that can be shined on it.

The people of the United States and the rest of the world have learned more about the intentions of the U.S. government from Bradley Manning than from anyone else.  “Thanks to Manning’s alleged disclosures, we have a sense of what transpired in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have an image of how Washington operates in the world,” author Chase Madar wrote in his book about Manning’s whistleblowing.

“Thanks to those revelations we now know just how our government leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War. We now know how Washington pressured the German government to block the prosecution of CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man, Khaled El-Masri, while he was on vacation. We know how our State Department lobbied hard to prevent a minimum wage increase in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation.”

Manning revealed a secret U.S. war in Yemen, U.S. records of massive civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, video of a U.S. helicopter attack on civilians and their rescuers in Baghdad, and facts about the corruption of numerous governments including those of the United States, Tunisia, and Egypt.  In those last two nations Manning’s revelations contributed to nonviolent pro-democracy movements.

Among the revelations made by Manning through WikiLeaks is the extent of time and energy the U.S. State Department puts into marketing U.S. weapons to the world’s governments.  We all have a better understanding of the work that is needed for peace as a result of this exposure of “diplomacy” as consisting so greatly of weapons selling.

The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic detailed last week how the United States armed and trained Iraqi police commando units that ran torture centers and death squads.  Maggie O’Kane, executive producer of the documentary, said: “I hope this film will be a legacy that actually says, ‘If you want to go to war, this is what war means. It means 14-year-old boys being hung up and tortured. It means men being turned on spits. And that’s called counter-insurgency. . . .’  This would not be coming to light if it hadn’t been for Bradley Manning.”

Not only has Manning done the most to resist militarism, but he has done it for its own sake, and not by chance or for any ulterior motive.  This is made clear by his recent statement in court and by his earlier communications in the chat logs that have long been a part of his case.   Manning was horrified by crimes and abuses.  He believed the public should know what was happening.  He believed democracy was more important than blind subservience in the name of a “democracy.”

Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Movement in the Icelandic Parliament, the Pirates of the EU; representatives from the Swedish Pirate Party, and the former Secretary of State in Tunisia for Sport & Youth.  The nomination states, in part:  “These revelations have fueled democratic uprisings around the world, including a democratic revolution in Tunisia. According to journalists, his alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on the foreign and domestic policies of European nations, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all U.S. troops from the occupation in Iraq.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (send them a note) can either begin awarding the peace prize to opponents of war or continue on its current course — one which already has many questioning, not whether Manning is worthy of the prize, but whether the prize is worthy of Manning.
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Why Europe Did Not Deserve a Nobel Peace Prize

4:13 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Enlèvement d'Europe; painted by French artist Nöel-Nicolas Coypel in 1726-1727.

Yes, indeed, it is a little-acknowledged feat of miraculous life-saving power that Europe has not gone to war with itself — other than that whole Yugoslavia thing — since World War II. It’s as clear a demonstration as anything that people can choose to stop fighting. It’s a testament to the pre-war peace efforts that criminalized war, the post-war prosecutions of the brand new crime of making war, the reconstruction of the Marshall Plan, and … and something else a little less noble, and much less Nobel-worthy.

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.” Fredrik Heffermehl has been leading a valuable effort to compel the Nobel committee to abide by the will. Now they’ve outdone themselves in their movement in the other direction.

Europe is not a person. It has not during the past year — which is the requirement — or even during the past several decades done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations. Ask Libya. Ask Syria. Check with Afghanistan. See what Iraq thinks. Far from doing the best work to abolish or reduce standing armies, Europe has joined with the United States in developing an armed global force aggressively imposing its will on the world.

There were good nominees and potential nominees available, even great ones.

Now the Nobelites have almost guaranteed themselves a second-ever pro-war peace-prize acceptance speech. If you don’t recall who gave the first one, I’ll tell you after the U.S. election when you might be better able to hear me.

What a disgrace that the Nobel peace prize needs alternative awards that don’t go to warmongers. What a further shame that even those don’t always go to people who measure up to Nobel’s will.

Was Nobel asking so much really when he asked that a prize go to whoever did the best work toward abolishing war?

The West is so in love with itself that many will imagine this award a success. Surely Europe not going to war with itself is more important that Europe going to war with the rest of the world! Imagine how many white people might have died if Europe had kept its warmaking to itself. By directing the threat of war outward and engaging in humanitarian wars and philanthropic wars, Europe has taken us beyond naive war abolition and into an era of powerful possibilities. Oh, and some dark people died. But we’re looking at the Big Picture.

Does this not frighten anyone?

[Editor's Note: David Dayen has more.]

What’s the Matter With Norway?

1:30 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

The beautiful thing about the internet is that whenever you write an essay on a topic you imagine is new, some wonderful person contacts you within about an hour who’s written a whole book about it.  This is different from writing a book about something new (or old) like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (everybody still thinks it must be a breakfast cereal).

Fredrik Heffermehl’s book “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted,” is a wonderful thing to discover.  I understand if you just can’t stomach discovering that Norway and the committee that hands out the peace prizes have become as corrupted as a Congressman.  But if awardees like George Marshall, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, and Barack Obama already had you scratching your head a little bit, you may appreciate learning the details of where the prize bestowers ran off the rails and how they might manage to climb back aboard the peace train.

Alfred Nobel left behind a legally binding will that required giving a prize 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.”  Like the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Nobel Committee has largely abandoned its original mission.  Carnegie and Nobel are dead and none the wiser, but those of us who like the idea of a well-funded peace movement are painfully aware.

The Nobel prize for peace was not designed as merely an honor, but as a significant source of funding for “work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  Yet, with each annual prize, as with each year’s operation of the Carnegie Endowment, the peace movement is none the better funded.  Warmongers take the funding, or admirable and heroic humanitarians take the funding, but these are not people working toward or even believing in the desirability of the aims for which the prize was created and legally established in Nobel’s will.

Heffermehl examines the language of the will in the original Swedish, the thinking and influences that went into it, the reasons why Nobel chose the Norwegian parliament to appoint the committee for the administration of the prize, and the activities and the worldviews of what Nobel termed in the will “champions of peace.”  Legally, Heffermehl argues, it is the will that counts, not each and every opinion Nobel might have held at some point in his life.  While peace congresses are still held, work is still done to abolish standing armies, and many working on these projects also work for what Heffermehl translates as confraternity among nations, much of this work is little known in the media and unknown to the prize committee, which has lost touch with its mission.

Heffermehl argues persuasively that no Nobel prize for peace has been awarded with appropriate justification since 2001.  In fact, in his analysis, 50 of the 120 prizes given between 1901 and 2009 were not justified.  Heffermehl bases that judgment primarily on the case made for each laureate by the committee awarding the prize.  Were he to examine the laureates and those passed over, the number of unjustified prizes might increase.

Heffermehl also looks at the justification for the prizes awarded under each of the 12 committee chairs and six committee secretaries that have ever held those posts.  The two chairs who have served since 2003 receive far and away the worst scores, while the two who served up through 1941 score dramatically better than the others.  Similarly, the two secretaries who held that position up through 1945 receive high marks, while the one, Geir Lundestad, who has been Secretary since 1990 has, in Heffermehl’s scoring, performed miserably.

World War II shifted thinking in Norway and elsewhere toward militarism and the notion of the inevitability of war.  While France and Germany have ceased attacking each other, there hasn’t been a war between wealthy powers in 70 years, and the only wars we have now are against poor countries, somehow common wisdom holds that the abolition of war is a silly idea.  But is legally complying with a dead man’s will a silly idea too?

After World War II it wasn’t just thinking that changed, but procedure as well.  No longer does the Norwegian parliament choose the most qualified peace leaders to serve on the committee.  Instead, each political party picks committee members in proportion to the party’s strength in the parliament, even if the party is pro-war.

Yet it was not until 1990 that the real corruption began to eat away at Nobel’s legacy.  Lundestad has created more pompous ceremonies, an annual concert, and a permanent Nobel Peace Center in Oslo filled with cutting edge technology.  While the five-member committee in Norway used to have no need for funding, the prizes simply being awarded directly to the laureates, now funding became critical, and much of that funding became corporate.  Are images of the fancy new DC building belonging to the “United States Institute of Peace (unless there’s a war)” flashing through your mind?  Lundestad is a professional fundraiser now who finds time for Bilderberg conferences but not peace congresses.

Heffermehl made his case in Norwegian pre-Obama, and was oh-so-predictably-and-depressingly hopeful when the committee absurdly bestowed its prize on the new U.S. President in 2009.  It was Obama’s pro-war acceptance speech that led Heffermehl to unhesitatingly add him to the list of undeserving laureates.  But there were other reasons.  Heffermehl claims to have a source who knows that promotion of Oslo as a tourist destination weighed in the selection of Obama.  Alfred Nobel had, of course, not mentioned that motivation in his will at all.

Heffermehl proposes that Nobel’s will be followed, that the commercial activities of the Nobel Foundation be dropped, and that the combination of the roles of committee secretary and commercial director be ended.  I think he has a point.

Here’s a video of Lundestad disingenuously defending the selection of Barack Obama.

Lundestad is scheduled to speak on Saturday, March 3rd, in Minnesota, where Coleen Rowley will be asking him pertinent questions about faithfulness to Nobel’s will.  If you can’t make it to Minnesota, you can sign this petition Rowley has set up.

If this thing gets turned around and Nobel peace prizes are awarded for a number of years to real champions of peace, then it should almost go without saying that Fredrik Heffermehl, who has created a formal investigation of the matter in Sweden, will have earned himself the prize as well.

The Betrayal of the Nobel Peace Prize

9:54 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(photo: Brian McNeil/wikimedia)

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.”

The first such prize, awarded in 1901, went to Jean Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy, two men who held and promoted peace congresses, two peace activists, two men who were not elected officials.  Nor were they war makers who had exercised restraint in some instance or other.  In 1902, again, the peace prize went to two peace activists.  In 1903 the prize went to a member of the British Parliament, but one who had worked for peace and not for war.  In 1904, the laureate was what we would now call an NGO, but one that had worked for peace and not for war.  In 1905, a woman who had played a role in the creation of the prize, an author and a peace activist, someone who indeed held and promoted peace congresses, was the first female winner.  And then came 1906.

In 1906, the Nobel prize for peace was awarded to a lover of war by the name of Theodore Roosevelt.  He had up to that point done, and would continue until his death to do, more to promote war than peace.  Was it possible that he had nonetheless done the most or the best work for international fraternity, demilitarization, and peace congresses?  Frankly, no.  He was prominent.  He was a president of a rising empire.  Those, and his negotiating a peace between two other nations, were not sufficient qualifications.  A disastrous trend had begun in the very mixed history of the peace prize.

The next year, two peace activists took the prize.  The year after that two peace activists who were former government officials.  The year after that two government officials.  But everyone who took the prize, right up through 1913, had at least worked for peace and against war.  During World War One, no prizes were awarded.  And then came 1919 and a laureate remarkably similar to that of 2009.

In 1919, a prize for peace went to Woodrow Wilson who had needlessly dragged his own nation into the worst war yet seen; who had developed innovative war propaganda techniques, conscription techniques, and tools for suppressing dissent; who had used the U.S. military to brutal effect in the Caribbean and Latin America; who had agreed to a war-promoting settlement to the Great War; but who had promoted a league of nations and on whom were projected the fantasies of peace-loving but character-lacking people around the world. Read the rest of this entry →