Jimmy Carter gets his
peace prize next week. Just don't mention Nicaragua, Korea or
On Tuesday, former US president Jimmy Carter will
fly to Oslo and receive the Nobel Peace Prize from the unassuming
bicycling monarch of Norway. Why him? Why now? And what is the
real aim of the peace prize? When it was first established in
1900, the Nobel committee clearly thought it should be awarded to
people who really did believe in peaceful solutions and
non-violence. Accordingly, in 1901, the first brace of recipients
were Jean Henry Dumont, the Swiss founder of the Red Cross, and
Frédéric Passy, the French dreamer who founded the International
League for a Permanent Peace. Similar recipients were sought and
found over the next four years.
A rearguard action must have been mounted soon after, because in
1906 the prize was awarded to Theodore Roosevelt, the US
president. To be fair, this swashbuckling, aggressive leader never
hid his love of war and adventure. In The Rough Riders (1899), a
riveting account of the Spanish-American war (which led to the
establishment of the base atGuantanamo Bay), Teddy describes an
engagement with the Spanish enemy in Cuba: "By this time we were
all in the spirit of the thing and greatly excited by the charge,
the men cheering and running forward between shots, while the
delighted faces of the foremost officers, like Captain CJ Stevens,
of the Ninth, as they ran at the head of their troops, will always
stay in my mind."
The imperial resolve of the old warrior is admired to this day.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, has a plaque in his
office with a quotation from Roosevelt in praise of war and
empire. The prescience of the Nobel committee can only be admired.
The decision must have led to a vigorous debate in which the doves
triumphed. For the next four years, the prize was awarded to
genuine peace activists. Soon after, the blood of the first world
war soiled the drawing rooms of the belle époque. A traumatised
Nobel committee went into hibernation. No prizes were awarded
between 1914 and 1919, with the exception of the prize given to
the Red Cross in 1917.
This is slightly surprising since there was no shortage of
distinguished thinkers and politicians opposed to the war: Keir
Hardie and Bertrand Russell in Britain; the French Socialist
leader, Jean Jaures, who was assassinated for his hostility to the
conflict; the German Socialist member of parliament, Karl
Liebknecht, who voted against war credits in the Reichstag and
declared that "a patriot was an international blackleg", and his
colleague Rosa Luxemburg, who was imprisoned for her fiery
anti-war speeches; and yes, two unknown Russian exiles, Lenin and
Trotsky, who convened a European conference in the Swiss town of
Zimmerwald to oppose the war. None of these people was considered
suitable for the prize.
There was no doubt in 1920. The architect of the Treaty of
Versailles was the unanimous choice of the committee. Both
variants of US imperial power - Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson
- had now been rewarded. A pity that no member of the committee
had bothered to read Keynes' lucid pamphlet, The Economic
Consequences of the Peace, which predicted the dire results that
led to the rise of fascism in Germany.
Throughout the 1920s, the committee reflected a pathetic
helplessness in the face of a growing crisis. Politicians, usually
of the same liberal-conservative stripe, were regularly rewarded.
During the 1930s, world politics was dominated by the fascist
victories in Italy, Germany and Spain, the Japanese occupation of
Manchuria and the eruption of a mass non-violent struggle against
the British empire in India. The committee, sensitive to these
developments, was divided. In 1938, the shortlist for the prize
was headed by Hitler and Gandhi. The choice proved too difficult
for the mandarins. The prize ultimately went to the Nansen
International Office of Refugees.
The committee's inclusion of Hitler appears shocking today, but at
the time many in the west regarded the German Führer as a bulwark
against Bolshevism. Earlier, the American writer Gertrude Stein
had come out for Hitler getting the prize. "I say that Hitler
ought to have the peace prize, because he is removing all the
elements of contest and of struggle from Germany," she wrote in
the New York Times magazine in May 1934. "By driving out the Jews
and the democratic and left element, he is driving out everything
that conduces to activity. That means peace... By suppressing
Jews... he was ending struggle in Germany."
In 1938, Time magazine had made Hitler its "Man of the Year" with
an appreciative profile and in Britain, Geoffrey Dawson, editor of
the Times, had no doubt that an Anglo-German deal was vital for
world peace. Hitler's pre-invasion rhetoric, too, emphasised his
desire for peace. The invasions were presented as defensive,
humanitarian operations, necessitated by the threat posed to the
Third Reich or ethnic Germans by Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway,
The committee decided that if Hitler was not acceptable, then
neither was Gandhi. But did it ever consider giving them a joint
prize, as became the norm later in that century? In 1973 it was
Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam's chief negotiator, Le Duc Tho
(the latter declined to accept the prize in such company); in 1978
it was the former Israeli terrorist Menachem Begin and the
turncoat Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat; in 1993 it was Nelson
Mandela and FW de Klerk; in 1994 three recipients - Yasser Arafat,
Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin - shared the loot. Why was Mother
Teresa awarded it on her own in 1979? Surely her close friend and
sponsor Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti could have been included?
In keeping with this tradition, the shortlist for this year
included a joint award to George Bush and Tony Blair. The
committee was browbeaten by 43,000 protest letters from all over
the world and caved in to the pressure. Another time, perhaps -
after the occupation of Iraq. Also on the list was Hamid Karzai,
the puppet ruler of Kabul, but without his sparring partner Mullah
Omar, whose refusal to engage made it a short war. Instead, the
committee panicked and awarded the prize to another US president.
The commendation honouring Carter should read as follows:
· For ordering the CIA to organise the killers running the death
squads in Argentina to train Nicaraguan Contras in Honduras and
hurl them into battle against the Sandinista government.
· For dispatching millions in aid and riot equipment to the
Salvadorian military and sending US personnel to train Salvadorian
officers in Panama.
· For sending special envoy Richard Holbrooke to South Korea,
where workers and students were demanding democracy. Holbrooke
gave US backing to the South Korean military and insisted that
they crush the rebellion. Some 3,000 South Koreans were killed in
· For authorising the covert CIA operation in Afghanistan that led
to the creation of the mojahedin and giving the green light for
Saudi religious, ideological and financial intervention, begun
under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.
· For re-arming Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Thailand after they
were defeated by the Vietnamese.
· For leading a campaign in favour of the release of Lieutenant
William Calley, found guilty of mass murder in the My Lai massacre
in South Vietnam.
· For support and weaponry supplied to the Indonesian military
dictatorship after the brutal occupation of East Timor.
· For encouraging the rise of the Christian right.
· For accepting financial help from the Bank of Credit and
Commerce International while this outfit calmly cheated its
For all these reasons, the Nobel committee is delighted to award
the peace prize for 2002 to former US president Jimmy Carter.
·Tariq Ali's latest book is The Clash of Fundamentalisms (Verso)
(For a democratic socialist Pakistan)
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