Friday, October 09, 2009


As a partial antidote to the Nobel news that the committee decided to cast a vote that made them feel good about themselves and their moral superiority rather than recognize people who have literally risked their lives for years to bring stability and peace to their part of the world, I offer up a photo essay from Big Picture on the Boston Globe web site:

The Berlin Reunion

"Earlier this week, 1.5 million people filled the streets of Berlin, Germany to watch a several-day performance by France's Royal de Luxe street theatre company titled "The Berlin Reunion". Part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Reunion show featured two massive marionettes, the Big Giant, a deep-sea diver, and his niece, the Little Giantess. The storyline of the performance has the two separated by a wall, thrown up by "land and sea monsters". The Big Giant has just returned from a long and difficult - but successful - expedition to destroy the wall, and now the two are walking the streets of Berlin, seeking each other after many years apart. "

The photo essay is spectacular. Take a few minutes to view it.

The reunion of Berlin, and the eventual reunion of Germany itself, was accomplished by ordinary people seizing a "moment of madness" (to cite my old professor Ari Zolberg's classic essay) to make the impossible real. I remember being crammed into a dorm room, watching a tiny TV with horrible reception showing people pounding away at the Wall with hammers, axes, steel bars, or just using their own hands, ripping down the will of the dictators that they should be a subject and sundered people. We passed around alcohol and screamed in delight every time someone whacked another chunk away or reached through a gap to embrace someone on the other side.

The next day, the school was in party mode. Every class held was about the Wall. Ari was grinning from ear to ear, and we teased him to tell how his essay explained this particular moment, which he did. Reagan had challenged Gorbachev to "tear down the wall", but it was the ordinary person who made it happen. What Gorbachev did do was refrain from doing anything, refusing (whether through principle or necessity is irrelevant) to send in force to quell the uprising. Action and inaction combined to create a world altering event.

I am, perhaps, not as dismayed as some over awarding the prize to Obama. The committee is composed of Whole Foods Nation types and their action says far more about their personal narcissism than it does about anything else. They selected their fantasy of making the world into their image through sheer cool awesomeness. The award itself has a checkered past. As Tom Lehrer wryly commented, awarding that prize to Henry Kissenger made political satire obsolete.

I also note that the actual people in the administration doing the hard work of peace - Clinton, Holbrooke, Mitchell, and the hundreds of State Department staff who don't get their names in the papers but who get the job done - are steadily giving me hope for an effective, humane and coherent US foreign policy. I add in the work done by Robert Gates and Jim Jones and their respective staffs, too. Their tasks are made more difficult by operators like Biden and McChrystal, who try to game policy through leaks and public posturing to force the President's hand and thwart the efforts of the policy team.

If Obama was politically savvy, he would have declined the award. In truth, it is a greater burden than a support*, setting expectations on situations like Afghanistan that won't be met because national interests and political ideals do not coincide, and adding another log to the fires of resentment against Obama for being The Precious; the object of obsessive desire by a sheltered, privileged, powerful socio-economic class and a person whose real world accomplishments are negligible compared to the hype that surrounds him. It would have served him better politically for the committee to have leaked that he had been nominated but declined. I am curious as to who submitted the nomination as it would have to have been done before he even took office. The nomination submission period closed two weeks after the inauguration, but a nomination is not just sending in a name. It involves a nomination package that takes some work to prepare and submit. The groundwork for the nomination came well before the inauguration. That piece of information could also become a political negative.

Overall, the award strikes me as a tone-deaf and politically stupid move on the part of the awards committee. It comes across as hubristic and self-indulgent. It talks to those already in agreement about the superdoublegood wonderfulness of Obama and distances those who are waiting to see tangible results. To the degree that it may complicate the actual work of the State Department, it is harmful.

It does not unify the sundered people.


*Contra the effect of the award for Al Gore, which provided greater legitimacy to his efforts as well as slapped the Bush/Cheney administration in the face.


Anonymous said...

Since he didn't ask for the award and was apparently as surprised as everyone else when he won, this is a political hot potato for Obama.

The smart and right thing to do would be to refuse it, saying (truthfully) that he didn't deserve it.

Since he's not going to turn it down, the smart thing would be for him to be humble (or act humble) and promise to earn it. He could then announce some new proposals in the areas of nuclear proliferation, Israel/Palestine, Afganistan, Iraq, etc.

If he doesn't make some major peace effort (even an unsuccessful one) then this award will become an albatross around his neck.

Coming right after the CNN/SNL fact-checking kerfluffle it really highlights the "done nothing" meme.

alibe said...

0bama should at least donate the entire amount to an organization dedicated to peace. I suppose he thinks he deserves the 1.4 million. He better ask for the money in gold or it won't be worth much by the time he collects the bounty.
Which Friday was more embarassing? Last Friday when he hade a fool of himself and this country with his lame speech begging for Olympic consideration because he loves Chicago. Or this Friday, getting an award that caused everyone to think it was a joke. The award merely highlighted the fact that 0bama has done nothing, except give if that constitutes doing something.

jackyt said...

Never before have I been struck by the similarity between the words "award" and "awkward".

Unknown said...

Excellent point about the mechanics of his nomination. Unfortunately, from the committee's website --

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has received 205 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, of which 33 are organisations.

"This is the highest number of nominations ever. The last record was in 2005 when the Committee received 199 nominations.

"From the statutes of the Nobel Foundation:
Proposals received for the award of a prize, and investigations and opinions concerning the award of a prize, may not be divulged. A prize-awarding body may, however, after due consideration in each individual case, permit access to material which formed the basis for the evaluation and decision concerning a prize, for purposes of research in intellectual history. Such permission may not, however, be granted until at least 50 years have elapsed after the date on which the decision in question was made."

50 years - bummer.

Koshem Bos said...

Since Whole Food is not, as far as I know, a world wide operation, we should try to understand what is going wrong with our world.

It's not that the Nobel Peace committee is stupid, it's the fact knowingly they awards the prize to somebody who is waging several wars at the same time and that they felt that reality doesn't matter.

The same behavior we saw a month ago as from judge Gladstone who claimed that in the war in Gaza 1400 civilian were killed and not single Hamas fighter was killed.

Obama himself is also an unreal creature. He is a centrist lefty, he is the poor's man rich banker and the unreformed reformist. He is what the computer people call vaporware man.

Of course, such eruptions can happen only in a world were facts are fiction and fiction is fact and pretense and stature are the only determinant for success.

july4cat said...

I have to say I'm so dismayed that I can hardly come up with a coherent comment. I just can't stop thinking about all those nominees who were "beaten" by Obama. Among them are people who have literally put their lives on the line in standing up to the most powerful and brutal repressive forces, people who have devoted decades of their lives to deliver tangible improvements in the daily lives of the most unfortunate of humanity, and people who have fought tirelessly and fearlessly for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves. And now their dreams and struggle are deemed less worthy than the hypothetical achievements of a do-nothing, feel-good politician? It's just sad to see the most prestigious peace award in the world being cheapened this way.

R. S. Martin said...

The most apt comparison to Obama's win is Rigoberta Menchu's in 1992. She was recognized on the basis of a memoir that described her and her family's oppressed, poverty-stricken life in Guatemala. It was as manipulatively sentimental as the recent descriptions of Michelle Obama's Civil-War era ancestor, and, sure enough, it made bourgeois-liberal sapheads go weak in the knees. Of course, it later turned out that large sections of the book had been falsified, but that never seemed to bother the Nobel Committee. Like Obama, she never accomplished much of anything, either. These committee members live in some alternate reality defined by how they "feel" about things, the facts on the ground be damned.

The most disgraceful aspect of this is how the DNC, Media Matters, and others have resorted to the Bush-Rove tactics of claiming that if you don't support the president in this, you're on the same side as the terrorists. These people are beyond shameless.