2013 Nobel Peace Prize goes to chemical-weapons watchdog

The watchdog agency working to eliminate the world’s chemical weapons has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize in a powerful endorsement of the inspectors now on the ground in Syria on a perilous mission to destroy the regime’s stockpile of poison gas. In honoring the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said “recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.”

The announcement came 10 days after OPCW inspectors started arriving in war-torn Syria to oversee the dismantling of President Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenal. The OPCW had largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called upon its expertise. The peace prize committee has a tradition of not just honoring past achievements, but encouraging causes or movements that are still unfolding.

The struggle to control chemical weapons began in earnest after World War I, when agents such as mustard gas killed more than 100,000 people. The 1925 Geneva Convention banned the use of chemical weapons, but their production or storage wasn’t outlawed until the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention came into force. The OPCW was formed to enforce that international treaty.

Seven nations — Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States, along with a country identified by the OPCW only as “a state party” but widely believed to be South Korea — have declared chemical weapon stockpiles and have destroyed them or are in the process of doing so.

According to the OPCW, 57,740 metric tons, or 81 percent, of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed. An OPCW report this year said the U.S. had destroyed about 90 percent of its arsenal, Russia 70 percent and Libya 51 percent.

– edited from The Associated Press, October 11, 2013
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

2012 Nobel Peace Prize to European Union

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 was awarded in Oslo on December 10 to the European Union. The Norwegian Nobel Committee stated in a press release that the EU and its forerunners had contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe for over six decades.

The dreadful suffering during World War II had shown the need for a new Europe. Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. But today, war between Germany and France was unthinkable. This showed how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.

The fall of the Berlin Wall made EU membership possible for several Central and Eastern European countries, thereby opening a new era in European history. The division between East and West had, to a large extent, been brought to an end; democracy had been strengthened; and many ethnically-based national conflicts had been settled.

Although the EU was currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wished to focus on what it saw as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU had helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.

Shortly before the ceremony, previous Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel publicly opposed awarding the prize to the European Union. The 1984, 1976 and 1980 laureates stated in an open letter to the Nobel Foundation based in Sweden that, in their view, the EU stood for “... security based on military force and waging wars rather than insisting on the need for an alternative approach” and that “... the Norwegian Nobel Committee has redefined and reshaped the prize in a way that is not in accordance with the law.”

The prize was accepted in Oslo by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz from the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of King Harald V of Norway.

– edited from a press release by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and Wikipedia

Suu Kyi: Nobel Peace Prize shattered my isolation

Aung San Suu Kyi.gif (13113 bytes)OSLO, Norway — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi declared in June that the Nobel Peace Prize she won while under house arrest 21 years ago helped to shatter her sense of isolation and ensured that the world would demand democracy in her military-controlled homeland.

Suu Kyi received two standing ovations inside Oslo’s city hall as she gave her long-delayed acceptance speech to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in front of Norway’s King Harald, Queen Sonja and about 600 dignitaries. The 66-year-old champion of political freedom praised the power of her 1991 Nobel honor both for saving her from the depths of personal despair and shining an enduring spotlight on injustices in distant Myanmar.

“What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings, outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. ... And what was more important, the Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten,” she said.

In her Nobel speech, Suu Kyi related her long experience of state-ordered isolation to key precepts of her Buddhist faith, particularly two forms of suffering: Being forced to live apart from loved ones, and being forced to live among those one dislikes. She referred only fleetingly to the Myanmar authorities’ refusal to permit her husband, the Buddhist scholar Michael Aris, to see her from 1995 until his death from cancer in 1999. Instead she emphasized the continued suffering of others.

And Suu Kyi praised the value of simple, every-day acts of human kindness as the most powerful force in promoting peace anywhere. “Every kindness I received, small or big,” she said, referring to her 15 years of house arrest or imprisonment, “convinced me that there could never be enough of it in our world.”

Suu Kyi, who since winning freedom in 2010 has led her National League for Democracy party into opposition in Myanmar’s parliament, offered cautious support for the first tentative steps toward democratic reform in her country. But she said progress would depend both on maintaining foreign pressure on the army-backed government and on carefully managing the ethnic tensions threatening to tear apart the country.

“If I advocate cautious optimism, it is not because I do not have faith in the future, but because I do not want to encourage blind faith. Without faith in the future, without the conviction that democratic values and fundamental human rights are not only necessary but possible for our society, our movement could not have been sustained throughout the destroying years,” she said, referring to the past two decades since Myanmar’s military leaders rejected her party’s overwhelming triumph in 1990 elections, one year after Suu Kyi’s own imprisonment. She won spontaneous applause from the crowd as she appealed for foreign governments to understand that many hundreds of political prisoners remain in Myanmar.

Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, introduced Suu Kyi as a leader of “awe-inspiring tenacity, sacrifice and firmness of principle. In your isolation, you have become a moral leader for the whole world,” he said to her from the podium. “Your voice became increasingly clear the more the military regime tried to isolate you. Your cause mobilized your people and prevailed over a massive military junta. Whenever your name is mentioned or when you speak, your words bring new energy and hope to the entire world,” Jagland said to applause.

Suu Kyi, in a traditional Burmese gown of purple, lilac and ivory, offered only a stoic Mona Lisa smile at the end of her speech, greeted with a 2-minute ovation. After the ceremony, she addressed a public rally that attracted about 10,000 Oslo locals and tourists, many from foreign cruise liners docked along the capital’s nearby shoreline. Many waved Norwegian flags and leaflets bearing Suu Kyi’s image as she thanked the Norwegian people for giving so many of her countrymen and women sanctuary from oppression. Smiling with delight as church bells tolled, she also led the crowd in Burmese chants wishing everyone peace and happiness.

“Suu Kyi is such an incredible person. It’s a blessing to be here, to get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see her, to hear her,” said Javier Rodriguez, 50, an airline steward from Los Angeles who happened to be on an Oslo layover and staked out the peace center before Suu Kyi’s arrival. “There’s so few people in the world willing to sacrifice everything for justice and peace. She’s in the same league as Nelson Mandela. Everyone should cherish and honor her,” he said.

– edited from The Associated Press, June 16, 2012
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Famous handshakes that brought messages of peace

Queen Elizabeth II and former Provisional Irish Republican Army leader Martin McGuinness shook hands privately on June 27, 2012 in a delicately choreographed moment for both sides. It was an encounter that put a further seal on the peace process in Northern Ireland, one that would have been inconceivable back in the days when IRA leaders were plotting to kill the British royal family. McGuinness’ Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party had never attended a royal function before.

Here is a gallery of historic handshakes that became powerful symbols of peace:

Nixon-Mao: U.S. President Richard Nixon, a staunch anti-Communist through much of his political career, shook hands with Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong in February 1972 on Nixon’s historic visit to China.

Begin-Sadat: Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin welcomed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with a handshakeon Nov. 19, 1977, an extraordinary gesture that helped lead to the signing of a peace treaty 16 months later.

Reagan-Gorbachev: A handshake between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev on Nov. 19, 1985 at a summit in Geneva signaled the opening of a new era in relations.

Mandela-de Klerk: President F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shook hands in Cape Town, South Africa on May 4, 1990 after announcing an agreement on steps that led to talks on ending white-minority rule.

Rabin-Arafat: Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shook hands in public for the first time at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, with President Bill Clinton looking on. The agreement called for a final peace settlement to be achieved by February 1999.

– edited from The Associated Press, June 25, 2012
PeaceMeal, July/August 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Statistics show a more peaceful world

It seems as if violence is everywhere, but it’s really on the run. Yes, thousands of people have died in bloody unrest from Africa to Pakistan, while terrorists plot bombings and kidnappings. Wars drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan. In peaceful Norway, a man massacred 69 youths in July. In Mexico, headless bodies turn up, victims of drug cartels. In October, eight people died in a shooting in a California hair salon. But historically, we’ve never before had it this peaceful.

That’s the thesis of a new book by prominent Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who says statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, murder and all sorts of mayhem. In his book, Pinker writes: “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.” And it runs counter to what the mass media are reporting and essentially what we feel in our guts.

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Pinker makes the case that a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in several statistically significant ways. His findings are based on peer-reviewed studies published by other academics using surveys, historical records and examinations of graveyards.

* The number of people killed in battle, calculated per 100,000 population, has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000 population.

* Murder in European countries has steadily fallen from near 100 per 100,000 people in the 14th and 15th centuries to about 1 per 100,000 people now.

* The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

* Lynchings in the United States, which used to occur at a rate of 150 a year, have disappeared.

* Discrimination against blacks and gays is down, as are capital punishment, the spanking of children, and child abuse.

* There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.

Pinker says one of the main reasons for the drop in violence is that we are smarter. IQ tests, which are constantly adjusted to keep average at 100, show that the average teenager, who now would score a 100, would have scored 130 in 1910. So this year’s average child would have been a near-genius a century ago. And that increase in intelligence translates into a kinder, gentler world, according to Pinker. “As we get smarter, we try to think up better ways of getting everyone to turn their swords into plowshares at the same time,” Pinker said in an interview. “Human life has become more precious than it used to be.”

In his book Pinker writes, “It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence.” He examines body counts, human sacrifice, rapes and slavery in the Bible, using an estimate of 1.2 million deaths detailed in the Old Testament. He describes forms of torture used in the Middle Ages and even notes the nastiness in some early day fairy tales.

It’s hard for many people to buy the decline in violence. Even those who deal in peace for a living at first couldn’t believe it when the first academics started counting up battle deaths and recognized the trends. While the number of recent wars has increased, they’ve been minor ones. The average annual battle death toll has dropped from nearly 10,000 per conflict in the 1950s to less than 1,000 in the 21st century. And Pinker believes it’s possible that an even greater drop in violence could occur in the future.

“The facts are not in dispute here; the question is what is going on,” according to John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. “It's been 21 years since the Cold War ended and the United States has been at war for 14 out of those 21 years,” he said. “If war has been burned out of the system, why do we have NATO ...? Why are we spending more money on defense than all other countries in the world put together?”

– edited from MSNBC.com, October 22, 2011
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Karman.GIF (10696 bytes)Gbowee.GIF (10859 bytes)Sirleaf.GIF (12599 bytes)2011 Nobel Peace Prize recognizes women’s rights activists

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded jointly to three women — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. They were recognized for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Mrs. Sirleaf is Africa’s first female elected head of state, Mrs. Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist and Ms. Karman is a leading figure in Yemen’s pro-democracy movement. The women will share the $1.5 million prize money.

Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, reading from the prize citation, he said the committee hoped the prize would “help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.”

Mrs Sirleaf, 72, was elected in 2005, following the end of Liberia’s bloody and ruinous 14-year civil war. Upon coming to office, the U.S.-educated economist and former finance minister — known as Liberia’s “Iron Lady” — pledged to fight corruption and bring “motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu welcomed Mrs. Sirleaf’s honoring, saying, “Woo hoo. She deserves it many times over. She’s brought stability to a place that was going to hell.”

Her compatriot Mrs. Gbowee was a leading critic of the violence during the Liberian civil war, mobilizing women across ethnic and religious lines in peace activism and encouraging them to participate in elections. In 2003 she led a march through the capital, Monrovia, demanding an end to the rape of women by soldiers.

Mrs. Karman was recognized for playing a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights in Yemen’s pro-democracy protests “in the most trying circumstances” and is the first Arab woman to win the prize. As head of the Yemeni organization Women Journalists without Chains, Mrs. Karman has been jailed several times. She heard of her win at protest camp Change Square in the capital Sanaa, where she has been living for several months calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.

– edited from BBC News, October 7, 2011
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Sakharov_&_Bonner.gif (42242 bytes)Widow of Andrei Sakharov dies at 88

Photo: Yelena Bonner and Andrei Sakharov

Yelena G. Bonner, the Soviet dissident and human-rights campaigner who endured banishment and internal exile along with her husband, the dissident nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, died June 11 in Boston at the age of 88. Ms. Bonner had been in the hospital since February and died of heart failure.

Maligned by the Soviet government and, for much of her life, cast aside by society, Ms. Bonner and her husband were considered royalty among the tight-knit and embattled community of dissidents who challenged Soviet authority. Before and after exile to Gorky from 1980 to 1986, their modest Moscow apartment was a command center of sorts from which a seemingly quixotic, but in many ways successful, war against Soviet authoritarianism was waged.

Though Sakharov, as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, was better known, Ms. Bonner became a force in her own right, waging a tireless campaign to improve the lives of her people long after her husband’s death in 1989. It is a role she accepted out of necessity, she would say.

A pediatrician by training, whose family suffered greatly during the Stalinist purges, Ms. Bonner longed for a simpler life. Rather than being “the heroic woman,” she once said, she would vastly prefer to be a babushka, using the Russian word for grandmother. “I would much rather be a simple woman, mother and daughter,” she said.

Yelena Georgievna Bonner was born in Turkmenistan on February 15, 1923. As a child, she saw her parents’ lives stamped by Soviet totalitarianism. Her father, Gevork Alikhanov, was an Armenian who founded the Soviet Armenian Communist Party. He was arrested and disappeared into Stalin’s prisons in 1937. Her mother, Ruth Bonner, was Jewish and originally from Siberia. She was arrested in 1938 and sent to the gulag. Ms. Bonner, who was then 15 and already a worker in a Communist Party archive, later told a biographer that she remembered helping her mother pack and consoling her younger brother, Igor.

Ms. Bonner recalled years later that her background had given her “deep respect toward all beliefs, all religions.” “The most deplorable teaching,” she said, “is the superiority of any nation over another.” Ms. Bonner confronted that teaching head-on in World War II, joining the front lines as a nurse in the fight against the invading Nazis. She was repeatedly wounded and received top Soviet honors for her service.

After the war, she studied medicine in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. She became a pediatrician (though she did not achieve the title of doctor) and, despite what had happened to her parents, joined the Communist Party. She married a medical school classmate, Ivan Semyonov, and had two children.

But by the 1960s, a brief political thaw had created fissures in Soviet society, and Ms. Bonner became swept up in a movement against the government. She eventually divorced her husband, quit the Communist Party, and gave up her medical practice to become a full-time member of the world of Soviet dissidents.

It was at this time that she met Sakharov, a widower and renowned nuclear physicist. By then, Sakharov was already famous in the Soviet Union for his work developing the country’s first hydrogen bomb. His break with officialdom for the sake of his principles of nuclear disarmament and human rights had made him infamous among the authorities and an idol among dissidents.

They were married in 1971, and almost immediately became targets of the K.G.B. Ms. Bonner was hauled in for interrogations, where she was told she was mentally ill and threatened with detention. Secret police officials even threatened retaliation against her children.

But Sakharov was the main target, and Ms. Bonner was at times permitted to leave the country. In 1975, she traveled to Oslo to accept her husband’s Nobel Peace Prize, after the Soviet authorities refused him permission to make the trip.

Strong-jawed, bespectacled and austere in dress, Ms. Bonner was something of a symbol of dignified protest within the Soviet Union. Half-Jewish, she was a target of anti-Semitism.

In 1984, after she was prosecuted on charges of anti-Soviet slander, Ms. Bonner joined her husband in exile in Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, a once-closed military city that has since reclaimed its pre-revolutionary name of Nizhny Novgorod. Sakharov had been banished to Gorky in 1980 after he protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The spare apartment they lived in there — and in which they were spied upon — has since been turned into a museum. But Ms. Bonner never went back, telling friends that the mere mention of the place made her ill.

In 1986, workmen unexpectedly appeared at the Gorky apartment and installed a telephone. Shortly after, Sakharov received a call from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Just beginning to push the reforms that would become glasnost, Mr. Gorbachev wanted Sakharov and his wife back in Moscow.

Sakharov accepted and immediately lobbied the Soviet leader to release other jailed dissidents. He was later elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies, and Ms. Bonner continued her human-rights work and writings. She became an ardent critic of Mr. Gorbachev, even as her husband tried to work with him.

At the funeral of her husband in December 1989, a frail and visibly devastated Ms. Bonner wore her husband’s gray fur hat as she greeted thousands of mourners. She lost her composure only once, at the wake the night before, when she suddenly stepped into the corridor outside their apartment and glared teary-eyed at waiting journalists.

Ms. Bonner had been living primarily in the United States for the last five years, mostly in Brookline, Mass. She continued her fight for human rights, publishing articles in the Russian and American press until a few months before her death.

Edward Kline, a director of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, stated: “She felt that Russia was backsliding, and she campaigned vigorously to improve justice and the rule of law in Russia and the democratization of the political system.”

Ms. Bonner wrote two memoirs: “Alone Together” (1986) and “Mothers and Daughters” (1992).

She is survived by two children from her first marriage, Tatiana Yankelevich of Boston and Alexey Semyonov of Springfield, Va.; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

– edited from an article by Alessandra Stanley and Michael Schwirtz in The New York Times, June 19, 2011
PeaceMeal, July/August 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

“There is a need to create ideals even when you can’t see any route to achieve them,
because if there are no ideals, then there can be no hope.”

                 ~ Andrei Sakharov, 1973

Liu_Xiaobo.jpg (28517 bytes)2010 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Chinese human rights activist

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations" of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world's second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

 China's new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China's constitution lays down that "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration". In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens.

 For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power". Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights.

 The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

 – Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, October 8, 2010

Barack_Obama.jpg (13276 bytes)2009 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to surprised Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has been named recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in a stunning decision designed to build momentum behind his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world, and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism. The Nobel Committee cited in particular the president's efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons and his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

Coming less than nine months after he made United States history by becoming the country's first African-American president, Mr. Obama said he was surprised and deeply humbled by the honor. "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize," he said. "I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century." He will travel to Oslo for the award ceremony on December 10 and will reportedly donate the prize money — roughly $1.4 million — to charity.

Many observers were shocked by the unexpected choice so early in the Obama presidency, which has yet to yield concrete achievements in peacemaking. Some around the world and at home objected to the choice of Obama for being slow to bring troops home from Iraq and for escalating the number of troops in Afghanistan.

Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said their choice could be seen as an early vote of confidence in Obama intended to build global support for his policies and lauded the change in global mood he has already wrought. In Europe and much of the world, Obama is lionized for bringing the United States closer to mainstream global thinking on issues like climate change and multilateralism.

Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the award: President Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919 for his role in founding the League of Nations, the failed precursor to the United Nations.

When former Democratic President Jimmy Carter was awarded the 2002 prize more than 20 years after he left office, the Nobel committee chairman said that it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to the Bush administration's hard line in the buildup to the Iraq war.

– compiled and edited from The Associated Press and The New York Times

To win peace, restore the Peace Corps

Arthur S. Obermayer and Kevin F.F. Quigley

The United States ... [is] losing the fight to win over the people we are trying to help. But there is a way to right our course for the future — by looking to our past. Overwhelming military superiority is not the key because its use wreaks havoc and destroys lives. Moreover, our traditional public diplomacy efforts have not worked ... The decline of the United States in world opinion demands that we find more effective ways to regain a leadership role. Primarily, we should aim to help people achieve better health, education, housing and jobs in countries that need it the most.On that front, our nation has achieved some successes: the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, recovery efforts following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and aid in the wake of Pakistan’s devastating earthquake three years ago (making Pakistan one of the very few nations where approval of the United States has risen in recent years). Now, however, only our military has the means to such ends.

U.S. foreign aid is primarily structured along impersonal, government-to-government lines, and most government agencies have proved ineffective working on a people-to-people level. The one government entity with a positive record in this area is the Peace Corps. But despite the Peace Corps’ success since its inception in 1961, its budget has remained small.

President Kennedy wanted 100,000 volunteers overseas within 10 years. Today, although 20 additional nations are seeking Peace Corps help and three times as many volunteers apply as can be accommodated, budgetary limitations have kept the number of volunteers down to 8,000. However, there are 190,000 alumni, represented by the National Peace Corps Association. They yearn for continuing involvement in a mission that has transformed not only their lives and those of people they have helped but also their perspectives on the world.

Among the alumni is Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who served as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Based on that experience, he is sponsoring a bill to double the size of the Peace Corps. ...

Like Dodd, other alumni want to help now, and their expertise is invaluable. Most are mature leaders in business, education, government and the nonprofit world. Many are primed for a new career challenge that a managerial role in the Peace Corps could offer. They have the motivation to resist outside influences and to distinguish an expanded role for the Peace Corps from the political and bureaucratic vagaries of government agencies.

To have a significant impact, the Peace Corps needs to be at least ten times larger. But even with renewed alumni participation, it cannot grow quickly enough on its own. Through its separate, distinct operation, it must enlist the vast array of nonprofits doing grass-roots work abroad. They fall into three major categories: nongovernmental organizations, non-proselytizing faith-based groups, and universities.

In addition to growing its own operations, the Peace Corps could also help fund these nonprofit efforts. There are thousands of American philanthropic initiatives from which it could select programs for expansion grants.

The time is right politically to broaden the scope and impact of the Peace Corps. The millions who donate to such charities represent a powerful constituency who would back the move. Its objectives are nonpartisan and should be supported by Republicans and Democrats.

In the media every day, everywhere, we are witness to suffering. As we see the conventional, military-based approach to conflict resolution failing, we must seek alternative means to ending wars and winning the peace.

The cost of an expanded Peace Corps would be roughly 1 percent of our current military budget. Can we afford not to act promptly?

Arthur S. Obermayer is president of the Obermayer Foundation, which focuses on social justice issues. Kevin F.F. Quigley is president of the National Peace Corps Association. Their article appeared in The Sacramento Bee, Dec. 1, 2007, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Marti_Ahtisaari.jpg (18699 bytes)2008 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Martti Ahtisaari of Finland

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 was awarded to Martti Ahtisaari of finland for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts. These efforts have contributed to a more peaceful world and to "fraternity between nations" in Alfred Nobel's spirit.

Throughout all his adult life, whether as a senior Finnish public servant and President or in an international capacity, often connected to the United Nations, Ahtisaari has worked for peace and reconciliation. For the past twenty years, he has figured prominently in endeavours to resolve several serious and long-lasting conflicts. In 1989-90 he played a significant part in the establishment of Namibia's independence; in 2005 he and his organization Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) were central to the solution of the complicated Aceh question in Indonesia. In 1999 and again in 2005-07, he sought under especially difficult circumstances to find a solution to the conflict in Kosovo. In 2008, through the CMI and in cooperation with other institutions, Ahtisaari has tried to help find a peaceful conclusion to the problems in Iraq. He has also made constructive contributions to the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, in Central Asia, and on the Horn of Africa.

Although the parties themselves have the main responsibility for avoiding war and conflict, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has on several occasions awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to mediators in international politics. Today Ahtisaari is an outstanding international mediator. Through his untiring efforts and good results, he has shown what role mediation of various kinds can play in the resolution of international conflicts. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to express the hope that others may be inspired by his efforts and his achievements.

– Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 October 2008

Activist faith stays burning

by Jim Wallis

People often ask me, “Where have you found the strength to stay involved for so long?” or “How have you stuck with it and not burned out?” I’ve asked those questions of myself. But more often I’ve asked myself how I can make the most difference in the world. For me, the answer to both questions is the difference that faith makes.

What do I mean by faith? I like the definition used by the biblical writer of Hebrews: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Simply put, faith makes hope possible. And hope is the single most important ingredient for changing the world.

Many people today would like to find some way to practice their faith or spirituality, despite the excesses, corruption, or narrow regulations of religion that have turned them away. I believe the making of the modern Christian, Jew, or Muslim will be through action.

When put into action, faith has the capacity to bring people together, to motivate, and to inspire, even across former dividing lines. We demonstrate our faith by putting it into practice and, conversely, if we don’t keep the power of faith in the actions we undertake, our efforts can easily lead to burnout, bitterness, and despair. The call to action can preserve the authenticity of faith, while the power of faith can save the integrity of our actions. As the biblical apostle James put it many years ago, “Faith without works is dead.” Indeed, faith shows itself in works. Faith works.

Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, has been an activist, preacher, and organizer for four decades. This is an excerpt from his book, “Faith Works: Lessons from the Life of an Activist Preacher,” which shows us how we can enrich our own lives by putting our beliefs to work in serving our communities. It was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2008.

 (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

dan_berrigan.jpg (3333 bytes) Daniel Berrigan at 87

Forty years ago this May, Father Daniel Berrigan walked into a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, with eight other activists, including his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. The group carted the files outside and burned them in two garbage cans with homemade napalm. Father Berrigan was tried, found guilty, spent four months as a fugitive from the FBI, was apprehended and sent to prison for eighteen months.

Unbowed at 87, time and age have not blunted this Jesuit priest’s fierce critique of the American empire or his radical interpretation of the Gospels. There would be many more “actions” and jail time after his release from prison, including a sentence for his illegal entry into a General Electric Co. nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1980, with seven other activists, where they poured blood and hammered on Mark 12A nuclear warheads.

The trial of the Catonsville Nine altered resistance to the Vietnam War, moving activists from street protests to repeated acts of civil disobedience. It also signaled a seismic shift within the Catholic Church, propelling radical priests and nuns led by the Berrigans, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day to the center of a religiously inspired social movement that challenged not only church and state authority but the myths Americans used to define themselves.

Berrigan’s relationship with Day, founder of the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement, led to a close friendship with the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Merton’s “great contribution to the religious left,” he says, “was to gather us for days of prayer and discussion of the sacramental life. He told us, ‘Stay with these, stay with these, these are your tools and discipline and these are your strengths.’”

“He could be very tough,” Berrigan says of Merton. “He said you are not going to survive America unless you are faithful to your discipline and tradition.” Merton’s death at 53, a few weeks after the Catonsville trial, left Berrigan bereft.

The current election campaign does not preoccupy Berrigan, and he quotes his brother, Philip, who said that “if voting made any difference, it would be illegal.”

“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said with a sigh. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”

He despairs of universities, especially Boston College’s decision last year to give an honorary degree to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this year to invite the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, to address the law school. “It is a portrayal of shabby lives as exemplary and to be honored,” he says.

And he has little time for secular radicals who stood with him 40 years ago but who have now “disappeared into the matrix of money and regular jobs or gave up on their initial discipline.” He says, “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.”

All empires, Berrigan cautions, rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand allegiance. The current decline of American power is part of the cycle of human existence, although he says ruefully, “the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this.”

“The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual,” he adds. “We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance. “The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe, if it is done in that spirit, it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“The reason we are celebrating 40 years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

– edited from an article by Chris Hedges in The Nation, May 20, 2008. Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times and
a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2007, Free Press).
Peacemeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Blind SOA activist chooses jail time

When asked by U.S. Magistrate Mallon Faircloth whether he wanted a sentence of 90 days under house arrest or 90 days in prison, 78-year-old Edwin Lewiston, who has been legally blind since birth, asked, “Do I have a choice?” “Yes,” Faircloth replied. “I’ll take prison,” said Lewiston, a retired professor of American history at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.

Lewiston had joined protests four times at the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga. Fort Benning hosts a training school for Latin American military officers, formerly called the School of Americas (SOA), now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Graduates of the school, dubbed by protestors the “School of Assassins,” have been implicated in gross human rights abuses and atrocities in their home countries.

The group, SOA Watch, has been trying to close the school for nearly 20 years. It holds massive annual rallies on the weekend before Thanksgiving at Fort Benning that include acts of civil disobedience.

Lewiston trespassed at Fort Benning four times, but unlike his fellow activists, he never got jail time before. In previous years, the U.S. attorney, without explanation, declined to pursue charges against Lewiston, who said he felt he was being discriminated against because of his blindness. The fourth time was the charm, however. Lewiston and 10 others were sentenced January 28 for their November 18 “crossing the line” at the Army. Lewiston received one of the longest sentences. The others received sentences from 30 days to 90 days.

“He [Faircloth] did what I needed done,” Lewiston said in a telephone interview after court. He said the civil disobedience at Fort Benning was “a way of making more people know about [the training school] ... and the more people that learn about it the better” because it would take a mass movement to close the school.

– edited from the National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2008
Peacemeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)