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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

It’s Veteran’s Day.

worldwarone

Initially known as ‘Armistice Day’, proclaimed by President Wilson in 1919. Over five years of senseless bloodshed had come to an end. The world itself was forever changed, from the scars cut into the ground, its survivors who went on to change the world in their own ways, to the way we thought about international diplomacy, to the way we drew maps and talked about nationhood.

For five years men slaughtered each other in a way which peculiarly revealed how insane war, all war, always is. Pacifism was suddenly something to be taken seriously. But whatever insight people gained after World War One was not shared by all. Then a different sort of war came along, and after it the name was changed (in America) to ‘Veteran’s Day’. And a nation once again began to speak of ‘good wars’. No Department of Peace exists to counteract our Department of Defense. And still, our veterans suffer. Thousands of them are homeless. Thousands of them are scarred and have nowhere to go, because we don’t take care of them properly. Today is a day not to just feel moved by their sacrifice, but to feel outraged on their behalf, and to do something about it.

Still, I think it is also important to remember World War One particularly today. To remember its significance as it so uniquely revealed the streak of sheer folly and insanity seared into the minds and hearts of men (or at least, their governments). Sebastian Barry, an Irish author, wrote a book a few years ago called A Long, Long Way about a soldier in the Great War. It is a difficult read, as taking in so much human suffering is always difficult:

And all those boys of Europe born in those times, and thereabouts those times, Russian, French, Belgian, Serbian, Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Italian, Prussian, German, Austrian, Turkish – and Canadian, Australian, American, Zulu, Gurkha, Cossack, and all the rest – their fate was written in a ferocious chapter in the book of life, certainly. Those millions of mothers and their million gallons of mother’s milk, millions of instances of small talk and baby talk, beatings and kisses, ganseys and shoes, piled up in history in great ruined heaps, with a loud and broken music, human stories told for nothing, for ashes, for death’s amusement, flung on the mighty scrapheap of souls, all those million boys in all their humours to be milled by the millstones of a coming war.”

Yes, it is Veteran’s Day. But it is also Armistice Day. A day to think about the consequences of war. What war says about humanity. What does it mean that we still carry it on, that we still justify it, that we still talk of peace but practice war? I think of Vera Brittain, the British writer who came of age during the Great War and watched all those closest to her disappear into it, lost and gone forever.

All that a pacifist can undertake — but it is a very great deal — is to refuse to kill, injure or otherwise cause suffering to another human creature, and untiringly to order his life by the rule of love though others may be captured by hate.” – Vera Brittain

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People for Peace

Isn’t it incredibly fascinating how schizo-fucking-phrenic conservatives are? Last week, loads of Republican media personalities celebrated America losing the Olympics last week, despite Bush pushing for Chicago’s bid himself just a few years back, and claimed it as some sort of bizarre world rebuke of the President. This week, Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and they are suddenly “How dare they give him an award when all he has done is give speeches? Eleven days, star power, blah blah blah!”

I think there are several ways to look at the opposition. First, they’re crazy. Second, they’re morons. Third, they do not care for the concept of America whatsoever, which I really wouldn’t mind if they weren’t such rank hypocrites. Fourth, maybe they should see this as a rebuke of themselves, since the world finds Obama’s rhetoric world-saving compared to the shameful violence and bullheaded-ness of the previous eight years.

Ignoring insane Republicans, there is a legitimate question of whether Obama really deserved to win. I think the people questioning it are completely right, but at the same time I see this particular decision as unique. Pretty much anyone else who had won would not have received the amount of attention that Obama will receive. Usually the recipient wins, gets some articles written up, there’s debate in a few circles, time passes, people forget.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama is obviously premature. It is also fucking brilliant. It holds the President to a higher standard. It reminds him (and everyone) that the American President serves his country, but he also serves the world. It’s the most influential position on Earth. Simply having a President who isn’t insane, who engages in dialogue with other world leaders, who is willing to look at a situation like Afghanistan and ask questions instead of delivering pre-determined answers is truly a Godsend to the rest of the planet. They too are affected by the decisions of the American executive. By giving Obama the prize, the committee made a conscious decision to send a message: we value the rhetoric of a man who says he will work for peace. We value the opportunities which are uniquely present right now, especially as we are facing certain unprecedented life-extinguishing threats. Instead of waiting till the danger has passed, instead of waiting till the war is over, instead of waiting till the work is done and declaring a verdict, the Committee chose to involve itself in a new way and value possibility. Everyday, President Obama will realize he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Hopefully, he will feel a need to live up to that. Plus, dudes, who wants to run for president against a Nobel Peace Prize recipient??

So my take is ultimately, yes, obviously Obama has not done much to earn this award. But I think the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has done a subversive thing: they have chosen to be proactively involved in the peace process. They have chosen to encourage a particular narrative and to not sit on the sidelines, but to themselves participate. I find that to be remarkable.

Also, to the complainers, one or two things.

Henry Kissinger, that distinctly un-charming human being, won the Nobel Peace Prize. This while pushing decidedly war-mongering policies in Cambodia. Please, just, just stop.

Also: it’s their award to give. Not ours. Sorry the rest of the world thinks Rush Limbaugh is a gasbag and George Bush is an idiot. Try putting forward some real leaders, and not imperial figureheads uninterested in other people. Because if you’re not interested in others, you’re not interested in peace. That’s what selfishness gets you. A big ranch and a sports franchise perhaps, but certainly not global respect or the gratitude of histoy. Or, in other words, you snooze/you destroy thousands of lives, impoverish people, and decimate the planet’s resources… you lose.

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