Aung San Suu Kyi & The Nobel Peace Prize

First, let us talk about Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s present State Counselor (the effective head of state) and winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

I share your dismay at her apparent fall from grace. It would appear that she, of the once shining light of peace, has turned to the dark side of war against a minority tribe living in Myanmar.

She was awarded the Peace Prize in 1994, for leading the fight at great risk of personal safety against Myanmar’s repressive ruling military Junta. In the speech delivered by her son accepting the prize (since she was not then allowed to leave the country) he said “I know that if she were free today my mother would, in thanking you, also ask you to pray that the oppressors and the oppressed should throw down their weapons and join together to build a nation founded on humanity in the spirt of peace.”

But now, apparently she has “thrown down” on the indigenous Rohingya, a minority but historically part of the nation’s population. She calls them “terrorists” and has expressed no opposition to the fact that they are being killed in large numbers by Government forces.

Many people around the world are demanding that Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize.

My thoughts on her are –

First: It’s too late to strip her of the prize. She won it fair and square; there were reasons the Committee can defend for conferring it at that time, and it’s done. Whatever History decides is her ultimate “due” will factor in the good and the bad, the light and the dark.

Second: Do not be surprised if she has, in fact, failed to see that what is being done in the Country she heads is in no way compatible with the spirit of building “a nation founded on humanity in the spirt of peace.” Be shocked, but not surprised.

Years ago in my work, I learned never to be surprised when any of us human beings say or do something that doesn’t fit with our past views, our past “image.” And when the new doesn’t fit the old, the reason is almost always the same – our actions are usually based on “situational” factors, not steadfast principles. It may turn out that Aung San Suu Kyi could see the Light when it was “her” people who were being oppressed but only the dark side when those “other people” were in the way and made to suffer.

Now, let us talk about the Nobel Committee, for which I have come to have the minimum highest regard. The Committee often does confer the Peace Prize on someone I (we?) consider deserving. But too often, the Committee, like the Academy Awards and their Oscar, confers the prize using a left-wing (my wing) set of indices and a “Politically Correct” lens. And, on occassion, just plain contrary to the facts.

Consider that in 1973, Henry Kissinger, the U S Secretary of State and Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator, were awarded the Prize for bringing peace to Vietnam. What Peace?

Everyone knew that what the two negotiators had done was make a deal (the real “Art of the…”) that allowed the United States to leave proclaiming that we had achieved “peace with honor” with the hidden “understanding” that after a “decent interval” the North would take over the South and unify a “communist” Vietnam.

Kissinger initially accepted his award but Le duc Tho declined to accept his. When two years later, the North moved in and took over the South, Kissinger gave back his.

In 1978, the Committee awarded the prize to Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel and Anwar el Sadat, President of Egypt “for the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel.”

They deserved it.

But they could not, would not have done it if President Jimmy Carter had not shepherded them every step of the way – first at Camp David and the next year in a “do or die” visit to the mid-East. Was Carter also awarded the prize? Of course not, this “priggish” Baptist from Georgia? Totally unacceptable.

However, in 1994, there were three winners: Shimon Peres and Yatzhak Rabin of Israel and Yassar Araft of the Palestinian Liberation Authority for the Oslo peace accords which wrote a framework for a possible future Peace.

Yassar Araft? Peace? Are you kidding?

This man spent his life to the end attempting to destroy Israel and all its Jewish inhabitants, not trying to make Peace, and the chances that he would see to it that those “accords” wouldn’t lead to a settlement was a “lead pipe cinch.” But the Committee more than once has awarded the Prize not for accomplishment but for, well, what?

The 2007, Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore for his effort “to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change…” something I think was well worth his doing, but “Peace?

And then there was the 2009, award to Barack Obama, barely nine months after he took office, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Yes, Obama did seem to be moving in a constructive direction but there was as yet no Peace to celebrate and Obama himself said he was “surprised” by the award. I think the Committee wanted to award a prize to the American voters for electing our first non-white president, but Peace?

Obama was the fourth U S president to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize. There was Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama. But who was the fourth?

Guess what ? Having overlooked him when he first deserved it, it was Jimmy Carter in 2002, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

Well, that’s right, Jimmy Carter did all that, but the real reason the Committee got around to him was he was speaking out forcefully against a looming U S invasion of Iraq (which occurred the next year) and the Committee, along with a lot of other people, thought that was a bad idea and wanted to highlight this former U S president’s opposition to such a mistake. So he received an “honorary” award, sort of like Cary Grant’s Oscar.

Finally, the biggest mistake the Committee has made to date (akin to the Red Sox’s trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees) was in 1948, when the committee decided not to award a peace prize, explaining “there was no suitable living candidate.”

True, Mahatma Ghandi, having led India to freedom from British rule in a non-violent, peaceful movement, had been assassinated earlier that year. But heck, you would have thought the Committee might have decided that little technicality could have been waived for a man who was already universally being proclaimed the greatest Peace maker of his time!

Alfred Nobel would have been both shocked and surprised!

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