Politics & Policy

Going Low, &C.

Care to hear a word about the Nobels? They were particularly egregious this year. In fact, in the forthcoming issue of NR, we have a one-two punch: an article on the Nobel Peace Prize called “How Low Can They Go?” and an article on the Nobel Prize in Literature called “How Low Can They Go? II.” The latter is written by David Pryce-Jones; the former is written by–well, me.

#ad#Harold Pinter won the literature prize, and here the Nobel committee performed almost a parody of itself: They picked the most anti-American, most unhinged writer they could find, and one whose literary gifts are less than Dantesque. Or rather, they picked the most anti-American, most unhinged writer they could find whom they had not already honored. Pryce-Jones has known, and read, Harold Pinter for decades, and to have such familiarity with him is not (necessarily) to admire him. Pryce-Jones is delicious on Pinter; you must read it–I like to think that the laureate himself will!

The peace prize was a parody, too: It was given to Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. (ElBaradei is director general of the IAEA–the successor to Hans Blix.) This is not only a parody, but a cruel joke, and an insult, and a disgrace. The IAEA may not be damnable, although that is debatable. But it is virtually impotent, and to accord it this great honor is appalling.

For one thing, it misleads people: about the efficacy of the IAEA (which is supposed to enforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty). (Have you noticed much nonproliferation lately?)

The problem with the peace prize–like the problem with the literature prize, frankly–is that, just as you’re ready to give up on it forever, they give it to someone good and deserving. Past laureates include Andrei Sakharov (1975), Lech Walesa (1983), the Dalai Lama (1989), and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991).

I might also mention the group Doctors Without Borders (1999).

But, when such people are honored, are these really peace prizes, or more like freedom prizes? What is peace, anyway? Is it merely the absence of armed conflict–or any conflict at all–or is it a condition that only freedom and dignity can really bring? In my forthcoming piece, I pull an old trick and quote Mrs. Thatcher, in Cold War days: “We speak of peace, yes, but whose peace? Poland’s? Bulgaria’s? The peace of the grave?”

Living saints have won the Nobel Peace Prize–Mother Teresa, for one (1979), and Elie Wiesel, for another (1986). But was this prize truly appropriate for these two souls? In NR, many years ago, the suggestion was made that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize should be the American military, every year: for the American military is the planet’s greatest guarantor of peace.

Flat-out rogues, like Le Duc Tho and Yasser Arafat, have won the prize–but in concert with someone else (Kissinger in the case of the Vietnamese Communist; Peres and Rabin in the case of the PLO chairman). At least one bona fide hoaxster has won the prize: Rigoberta Menchú, the Guatemalan teller of tales.

I could spend several paragraphs on Willy Brandt, the West German naïf (at best), but we should get moving.

The Nobel committee has always been especially offensive in nuclear matters. In 1962, they gave the prize to Linus Pauling, a brilliant chemist, who, in fact, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954. He had a second career, however, as an anti-nuclear activist, and in this area he was a flake–peddling every shibboleth around. In 1985, the Nobel committee bestowed its honor on International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The nice thing about this group? Its chairman was Yevgeny Chazov, a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (not a peace organization, as Russian citizens, and many others, knew). Chazov was among those who signed the document judged to have launched the official Soviet campaign against Andrei Sakharov, the peace laureate from 1975.

Such is the topsy-turvy nature of Nobel morality.

A man who has a special place in my heart–so to speak–is Joseph Rotblat, winner in 1995. You may not remember him. I remember him well, however, in part because I wrote a piece on him when he won, exactly a decade ago.

(The Nobel committee seems to “go nuclear” every ten years: in 1975, Sakharov, a physicist as well as a human-rights hero; in 1985, those International Physicians; in 1995, the physicist and soi-disant anti-nuke activist Rotblat; in 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA. Watch out for 2015.)

Rotblat worked on the Manhattan Project, but he walked out on that project, because he believed that Nazi Germany would never acquire the bomb–also that the U.S. was seeking its own bomb “merely” to defeat Imperial Japan, and to deter a post-war USSR. Rotblat was, to use a term that now seems antique, a fellow-traveler. That is an impolite term, as well as an outmoded one, but it does the job.

In the 1950s, Rotblat helped start the Pugwash Conferences, in which Western scientists would meet with Soviet ones, along with their KGB chaperones. (The conferences were named after the Nova Scotian village in which the first meeting was held.) Ostensibly, this was an anti-nuclear group, but somehow they managed to serve the Soviet agenda, whatever it was that year. The Pugwashers declared themselves completely opposed to the concept of deterrence–and everything else that eventually ended the Cold War, and won it for freedom. Before Rotblat received the Nobel prize, he and the Pugwashers were decorated by such peace-lovers as Husak, the Czechoslovakian dictator, and Jaruzelski, the Polish dictator. In fact, the Pugwashers were pleased to hold their conference in Warsaw after Jaruzelski imposed martial law.

And how they mocked Israel for its fear of what Saddam Hussein built! Then the Israelis destroyed Saddam’s reactor. The entire world, including the United States, condemned them. But after the Gulf War, the secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, thanked them.

I should say one more brief word before leaving Joseph Rotblat: The Nobel committee, in awarding its peace prize, often likes to “send a message.” When they gave it to Carter, in 2002, they were sending a message–”Nuts to you, George W.” When they gave it to Annan and the U.N., in 2001, a month after the 9/11 attacks, they were sending a message–”Nuts to you, George W. (and don’t you dare go it alone).” They sent a not dissimilar message this year.

And in 1995, when they chose Rotblat, they were sending a message . . . to the French. The French, you see, were testing nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. Chirac was indifferent to what the Nobel committee had done. He went right ahead, nothing daunted.

What an extraordinary thing to note about Jacques Chirac!

And here we have ElBaradei and the IAEA, in 2005. Well, if you can give an award to Annan and the U.N.–after Bosnia, after Rwanda, etc., etc.–you can give one to the inspectors, after their sorry performances.

I get into this in my NR piece, and should leave this topic for now. Suffice it to say that, where the world has had success in curbing proliferation–think Qaddafi–it has not been thanks to the IAEA. On the contrary. And I’m sure that the people who got the biggest chuckle out of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize were in Tehran and Pyongyang.

Do you recall what I wrote about ElBaradei from the Davos conference, last January? He was on a panel with the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. They seemed quite chummy, like allies. And they made light of American concerns about Tehran’s program–this despite the fact that Iran had deceived the IAEA for a full 18 years. It took an Iranian opposition group to blow the whistle on the nuclearizing mullahs. In fact, they had to do that twice.

Oh, well. Last year, the Nobel people gave their prize to Wangari Maathai–remember her? She’s the Kenyan lady who plants trees and claims that AIDS is a Western plot to wipe out black Africans. In presenting her with the world’s most hallowed award, the chairman of the committee said, “We have added a new dimension to the concept of peace.” No doubt. But as I say in the next NR, the Nobel committee has done no such thing this year. They have returned to an old concept of peace–and it does not have much to do with peace. Not with real peace.

‐Okay, lemme lighten up: A longtime reader wrote,


Why all the fuss about IKEA winning the Nobel prize? They have quality, stylish, U-Build-It furniture available worldwide, and their instruction booklets are in so many languages that they’re the logical company to turn to when we privatize the U.N.

Oh, that was IAEA . . . Never mind.

‐Can you stand a little more ElBaradei? Indulge me in one more point. He has the quite peculiar view–particularly for the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency–that established nuclear powers, such as the United States, have no real right to prevent others from acquiring the same destructiveness.

Here is ElBaradei in the New York Times, last year:

“We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security.”

A staggering statement, that. Think what it means for Iran and Israel. Think what it means for North Korea and Japan. Think what it means for the entire world.

Forgotten in ElBaradei’s statement is the character of an individual regime, and the purpose for which it possesses nukes, or seeks them. All of this is elementary, really–but still not widely enough comprehended.

There, I’m done with Nobel prizes. Aren’t you glad?

‐No, one more item: The other day, Mike Potemra came into my office and said, “That ElBaradei: Anyone who won’t put a hyphen in his name, or at least a space, doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s an outrage.”

That’s my boy Mikey P.

‐Friends, I have about ten more items for you, but I’ve used up your time with this Nobel nonsense–so I’ll give you a couple of more quick ones, then out.

I have an acquaintance who goes to an elite graduate school in Paris. He is taking a class on “U.S. labor and political history” (uh-oh), and he writes, “So far, the class consists mainly of Michael Moore movies and reading Paul Krugman on vanishing middle classes.”

No, really. This is why it’s so hard to be a satirist these days. Nothing you dreamed up could improve on reality (i.e., be more outlandish than reality). “Hey, hear what they’re teaching in Paris, when it comes to what the U.S. is all about? Michael Moore and Paul Krugman.”

Ha, ha. Yeah, ha, ha.

I’ve always said that Americans–especially American conservatives–have no idea how famous and influential Noam Chomsky and the late Susan Sontag are in Europe. Here, they’re considered almost fringe figures, whatever their talents. There, they are regarded as the Great Explainers of America, the Big American Brains. And Michael Moore and Paul Krugman are not far behind them.

‐Well, let me tell you about a genuine Big American Brain–my friend, and your friend, Roger Kimball, co-editor of The New Criterion. You know about his book The Rape of the Masters, perhaps because I’ve mentioned it before. It is a critique of what important art scholars are doing to art (hint: no good). (And you can take the hint of the book’s title, too.) For me, The Rape of the Masters was not so much a critique as an exposé. I had had no idea that this field had gotten so bad. Now this excellent book is available in paperback. Enjoy it yourself, and give it to those who care about culture.

And do you know the writer Jonathan Foreman? You ought to. He’s a political editorialist, a war reporter, a film critic, and an all-around brain. He has just put out a book called The Pocket Book of Patriotism, which contains materials that ought to be in every American’s blood, or heart, or head. This is like medicine in a civically sick country.

And Jonathan, you may wish to know–I offer it as an aside–is the son of Carl Foreman, the blacklisted Hollywood writer (High Noon, etc.).

‐In its article on the Iraqi-constitution balloting, the AP had the following headline: “Sunnis Appear to Fall Short in Iraq Vote.”

Doesn’t that strike you as just slightly strange? I mean, what an emphasis!

‐Time for a little music criticism, from the New York Sun:

For a review of a concert performance of Strauss’s opera Daphne, with Renée Fleming in the title role, and the WDR Radio Orchestra of Cologne, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, behind her; and for a review of the Takács Quartet, please go here.

And for a review of the 100th-anniversary concert of the Juilliard School, please go here.

So, Juilliard’s 100? That makes NR, at 50, feel positively young.

‐I received many letters prompted by my recent remarks about the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and I propose to publish two of them:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

I was in London last weekend and wandering about Parliament Square morosely because Westminster Abbey was closed. I looked up, and there was a lovely statue of Lincoln. All I have to do is look at that man’s face and I get all teary. Anyway, it cheered me up.

I do wonder why it is so difficult for our Park Service to keep the monuments looking, well, monumental. Someday before I die, I would love to see the Jefferson Memorial as it was intended to look. Shut it down for a month during the winter and FIX IT.

Can we get a amen?

(That “a” was deliberate, so don’t you dare write me.)

That second letter:

Hi Jay,

Just read your latest Impromptus, and noticed the paragraph on Jefferson. Here’s my story:

When I was seven (almost 50 now), my parents took my sister and me on a trip to D.C. We stopped at all the memorials. We later toured Monticello. While we were in line, the docent asked my name. I said it was Tom and I was named after Jefferson, because I have red hair. She led me through the rope and into Jefferson’s study. She let me sit at his desk and had my folks take a picture. Wish I had the photo.

I will never forget the experience and I was all of seven. Just goes to show the power of history.

And of an appreciative person (i.e., the letter-writer).

‐Finally, do you know what kind of letter readers most love to send me? The “gotcha” letter. They just love to catch me in mistakes.

Well, last week, I received many letters whose Subject line announced, “Gotcha!” What had I done? Actually, it relates to a word that sounds, and looks, like “gotcha.”

I wrote, “Gotta beauty for you” (and than I purveyed an item about Abimael Guzmán, the Shining Path Communist/terrorist now standing trial in Lima). Readers wrote to say that “Gotta” really stands for “Got to,” and I should have written “Got a.”

They were exactly right–I was gotten.

But I said something, above, not quite true. The kind of letter readers most love to send me is the kind offering praise and thanks. Thank you–and I offer them right back to you.

I’ve told you about my favorite rhyme, haven’t I? My favorite lyric. It comes from a gospel song.

“Glory, hallelujah, I give my praises to Ya.”


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