Nobel Nuggets, Part V

by Jay Nordlinger

Friends, welcome to this final serving of nuggets — this last installment of jottings on the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are links to the previous installments: I, II, III, and IV.

What do you make of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the 1984 peace laureate? In my view, he is a mixed bag, as mortals tend to be. Give you an example of something I don’t admire. Here’s Tutu in 2004:

“God is weeping. God is weeping. God is weeping because — one of the incredible things, I mean, is that Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, George Bush are all God’s children. And as God says, ‘What ever got into Me to create that lot?’”

First of all, to think he speaks for God. Second of all, the grouping of bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and President Bush.

And yet Tutu is a moral leader, and we must bow, right?

Elie Wiesel won the peace prize in 1986, and in his memoirs he makes a fascinating observation: “With a Nobel Prize come quite a few lessons. For one, you learn who is a friend and who is not. Contrary to popular wisdom, a friend is not one who shares your suffering, but one who knows how to share your joy. I was pleasantly surprised by some and sadly disappointed by others.”

The winning of a Nobel prize can spark huge envy and resentment.

From Henry Kissinger, Wiesel received a most pleasant message — a message tinged with poignancy: “I was not proud of my Nobel, but I am of yours.”

To me, one of the Nobel committee’s most serious errors is a total devotion — I would almost say a fanatical devotion — to the U.N. Listen to the Nobel chairman as he gives the prize to the U.N. peacekeepers in 1988:

This year’s peace prize is a recognition of and homage to one organ of the United Nations. But it ought to be understood as a serious comment on the fact that we must, united and with our whole hearts, invest in the United Nations. It becomes clearer and clearer that what has to be done to secure the future for new generations has to be done together. Our determination has to be channeled into the United Nations. This is the best hope for the future of the world — indeed its only hope!

I asked Lech Walesa about the 1990 prize to Mikhail Gorbachev. He said that the Soviet leader “had the instruments of rape, and he did not use them.” That’s to say, Gorbachev had the brute power to suppress rebellion, as his predecessors had done — in Budapest, Prague, and elsewhere. But he refrained from using this power. (He spilled some blood in Lithuania, true.)

Walesa went on, “Every male has the instrument of rape. Should we all be awarded Nobel prizes for not raping?”

Receiving the prize for 1991 was Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese heroine — then under house arrest. As she would be for years to come. The dictatorship has recently allowed her to reemerge, and she has triumphed at the polls.

To see an article I wrote about ASSK last month, go here.

Why did Rigoberta Menchú win, in 1992? How did she become a Nobel peace laureate? She was a member of a guerrilla group. And the Nobel committee, remember, was too pure to honor Gandhi — or, if you like, he wasn’t pure enough for them. Not a perfect enough pacifist, not a universal enough humanitarian.

Menchú? Note that she won in 1992 — the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America (as we used to say in the bad old days). The committee saw an opportunity to rebuke Columbus, colonization, the West, what have you. So they awarded their prize to the most famous indigene the Americas had to offer.

Why was she famous? I, Rigoberta Menchú was a runaway bestseller, a bible of the Left, imposed on countless schoolkids. The story of the writing of that book is kind of interesting.

Don’t mean to be coy (Roy), but I’m doing nuggets here, and you’ll find fuller stories in my book.

As I was writing the book, I would tell people, from time to time, what I was working on. And many said, “Didn’t they give that to Arafat?” For a lot of people, that’s the end of the story — all you have to know about the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it’s well to remember that Arafat didn’t win the prize by himself. He won it with two Israeli statesmen — the prime minister, Rabin, and the foreign minister, Peres. And they were happy, or at least willing, to go to Oslo to share the prize with Arafat. The foreign minister went out of his way to say, in his Nobel lecture, that Arafat’s share in the prize was “fitting.”

So . . .

Those interested may like to see an op-ed I wrote for the Times of Israel some weeks ago: here.

One of the worst things ever said at a Nobel ceremony was said by José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, in 1996. He was talking about the U.S. departure from Vietnam, and in particular the famous photo of the helicopter on the embassy roof: Desperate people were snaking up the ladder.

This Nobel peace laureate said that the helicopter had come “to rescue remaining diplomats, CIA operatives, and a few privileged South Vietnamese stooges.”

Can you think of better and less repulsive ways to describe those fleeing for their lives as murderous, totalitarian forces closed in?

David Trimble was one of the two Northern Irishmen who won in 1998, for the Good Friday Agreement — the other was John Hume. In his lecture, Trimble said, “What we democratic politicians want in Northern Ireland is not some utopian society but a normal society.”

Normality — what a gift. Not to be taken for granted.

I think this was possibly the most remarkable statement ever made at a Nobel ceremony — it came from Kim Dae-jung, the South Korean dissident-turned-president, in his lecture (2000):

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

Presenting the prize for 2002, the Nobel chairman said, “Jimmy Carter will probably not go down in American history as the most effective president.” Whoa, that was a little nervy, with Carter sitting right there. “But he is certainly the best ex-president the country ever had.”

Yeah, that’s what the Nobel committee may think. Me, I’m not sure he wasn’t a better president than he has been an ex-president.

In 2005, the prize went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its then–director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. I regard this as possibly the worst Nobel peace award ever given. I think it will look particularly bad if Iran goes nuclear. ElBaradei often seemed more helpful to them than harmful.

Why did the Nobel committee award ElBaradei and the IAEA? I can think of just one reason: to taunt the U.S. and its allies for their failure to find WMD, ready to go, in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

Obviously, there is much more on this in my book . . .

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi microbanker, won. One of his daughters, the soprano Monica Yunus, sang at the Nobel concert (an annual affair): “O mio babbino caro” — “Oh, daddy dearest.”

At the Nobel banquet (another annual affair) in 2009, the laureate, President Obama, got a big laugh. Referring to the committee chairman and the “presentation speech” he had made, Obama said, “I told him afterward that I thought it was an excellent speech — and that I was almost convinced that I deserved it.”

Had enough? Thanks for joining me, and have a great weekend, y’all.

You may order Jay Nordlinger’s new book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World direct from National Review. Go here. Ask for a signature and an inscription, if you like. If you are interested in having the author speak before your group, contact him at [email protected]

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