A woman and her peace prize, &c.

Aung San Suu Kyi at the ASEAN Summit in Laos, September 2016 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Aung San Suu Kyi, James Mattis, Emmanuel Macron, Edward Elgar, and more

There is great dismay over Aung San Suu Kyi. She is one of the heroines of the second half of the 20th century. A symbol of democracy — and of her country, Burma — she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She was under house arrest at the time. Today, she is the leader of Burma, as her father was before her.

Why the great dismay? Because of the persecution of a people called the Rohingya, to which Aung San Suu Kyi seems indifferent, at best. Some people are calling for a dramatic gesture: the stripping of the Nobel prize from the heroine. This is what I’d like to touch on here.

A Nobel prize cannot be stripped or returned. It is given — at least in theory — for work done during the preceding year: the year preceding the particular award. What happens thereafter is irrelevant.

In 1950, an American diplomat working for the United Nations, Ralph Bunche, won the peace prize. He won it for negotiating a general armistice between Israel and its Arab attackers. That armistice was blown to hell. But the Nobel prize stood.

The 1973 Paris Agreement between the United States and North Vietnam was blown to hell, too (by the North Vietnamese). But the Nobel prize given to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho stood.

And shall we even speak of the 1994 prize, divided between Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat for the Oslo Accords?

After Saigon fell, Kissinger tried to return his Nobel. He said he felt “honor bound” to do so. But the committee informed him that a Nobel is not returnable, and that they appreciated his “sincere efforts to get a ceasefire agreement put into force in 1973.”

To know more about the Nobel Peace Prize, you may like to consult my history, Peace, They Say (published in 2012).

‐You may have seen a video of Secretary James Mattis talking to some servicemen of ours abroad — men and women fighting the War on Terror, broadly speaking. Mattis said many interesting things in this short talk. I would like to spotlight one sentence: “We’re gonna keep on fightin’ until they’re sick of us and leave us alone.”

Yes. Exactly. Thank you, Mattis.

‐For a long time, people like me have been talking about getting out of the Iran deal. Reading a report from the Associated Press, I wondered: What if Iran does it first? That report is headed “Iranian president threatens to revitalize nuclear program,” here.

‐In Russia, are you allowed to say that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939? Well, you can say it, but you may be fined or jailed. Vladimir Luzgin got off with a fine: 200,000 rubles, which is about $3,500. He was probably lucky.

To read about this appalling case, go here. The sky lowers in Russia. Don’t let the Kremlin or its apologists fool you.

‐A report in the Times (London) was headed “Macron gives bosses new powers to hire and fire in a bid to jump-start French economy.” The first paragraph reads, “President Macron began a high-stakes gamble to liberalise the French economy yesterday, loosening labour laws to encourage employers to recruit and easing curbs on smaller businesses.”

The next paragraph reads, “The fate of the embryonic administration depends largely on his ability to bring about employment reform — an arena in which his predecessors have failed — in the face of protests planned by left-wing unions and political opponents this month.”

Do it, Macron. Strength to your hands. France may hate you now, but they’ll thank you later.

‐The above-quoted report used the phrase “high-stakes gamble.” I think of “riverboat gamble.” That’s what Howard Baker called Reagan’s economic package in 1981. Baker, a Tennessee Republican, was the majority leader in the Senate.

‐Over the weekend, someone tweeted at me a couple of times, taunting me for not tweeting about Hurricane Irma. He said, “Climate change got your tongue?” (or something like that).

A thought: I have been reading about devastating hurricanes my whole life (though I haven’t experienced one, thank goodness). I was reading about them when people were concerned about cooling — an overall global winter.

I’m not a climate scientist, trust me. But I’m not going to be bossed around by political zealots either.

‐Recently, I was in London, and I thought of explosives camp — explosives camp, in Rolla, Mo. (For a piece I wrote about this extraordinary institution, go here.) Why did I think of explosives camp? Because, in a park, I saw the Flying Trapeze School.

To learn about the school, go here. Maybe when I grow up and get my parents’ permission?

‐In London, a hotel clerk said, “Go up to the first floor.” Such an interesting phrase, to an American ear.

‐I wanted to write a letter — to hand-write one. Was there any stationery? No, no hotel stationery at all (and this was a rather classy hotel). The clerk said, “I’ve worked here for three years, and no one has ever asked me about stationery!”

Time marches on.

‐I wanted a muffin or a pastry or something like that. Along this London street, there were several cafés and similar establishments. There was also a Starbucks. (Well, a Starbucks is a café, granted.) I thought, “I can’t go into Starbucks. For heaven’s sake, there’s one a block from my home. They’re all over. Go to someplace local.”

I went into about three of them — the baked goods looked bad. I retreated to the Starbucks.

Is that bad? (No. Rah capitalism.) (And rah freedom.)

‐On another street, I was startled to see a statue, a sculpture. A religious one. It was The Return of the Prodigal, by Charlie Mackesy. A moving work of art. Later, I Googled, and found an article about Mackesy, here, and his website, here.

‐We took a cruise, National Review did. It was a crossing, actually: from Southampton in England to Brooklyn in good ol’ New York. As you know, the sky is big in Montana. Well, it’s also big at sea — that, I discovered. It is as interesting to watch the sky as it is to watch the sea. Maybe more.

One morning, I was out early: at daybreak. It was Sunday. A song ran through my head: “Sabbath Morning at Sea,” from Elgar’s Sea Pictures, performed by Janet Baker and Sir John Barbirolli. Want to hear it? Here.

‐A reader gave me a license plate, expired — it was a vanity tag, from Virginia. It said, “NATL REV.” Nice.

‐I met a couple who live in Scottsdale, Ariz. They grew up in South America. They told me a fascinating story, relating to the U.S. today. A woman — a Mexican — applied to work in their home. They said, “Do you have any papers?” She said she did. Later, she brought in two sheets, both official — both with stamps and so on. One was from the driver’s-license bureau saying that she had failed a test. The other was a deportation notice. The woman couldn’t read either one of them.

My friends did not hire her. Anyway, an interesting story, and touching too, I think.

‐On Friday, I recorded a Need to Know with Mona Charen, here. I’d like to tell you a story I told her. In August, I spent a couple of weeks in Salzburg. Some of the days were very hot; other days, less so. In Salzburg, as in much of Europe, air conditioning is very light, if it exists at all. I spent a number of days being very hot. But I got used to the temperatures.

The moment I came home, I went into a store, to pick up some things. I was shocked by the air conditioning — frozen by it. My body had become unaccustomed to it. The air conditioning almost hurt. But I knew that, in a few days, I would both get used to it and welcome it.

Funny about habituation.

‐Heard a couple of workers talking in New York — along the river (one of them). “I don’t like being down here at night.” “Why?” Pause. Then, “Too many characters.”


Thanks, dear readers, and see you.



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