Greg Hull: Peace put in perspectiveI’ve come to believe that a phone call after about 10 in the evening, or before 6 in the morning, bodes ill. That conviction was further confirmed when I learned that President Obama received the call before 6 a.m. informing him that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize.
By: Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
I’ve come to believe that a phone call after about 10 in the evening, or before 6 in the morning, bodes ill. That conviction was further confirmed when I learned that President Obama received the call before 6 a.m. informing him that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1888, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist who invented dynamite, was in Paris. Opening the morning paper one day, he read a headline: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” The obituary went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
He, of course, was not dead. His brother had died, but a newspaper editor got the names wrong, and wrote his column expressing his opinion about the results of Alfred’s life. The comments were less than flattering. But it did motivate Nobel to think about his own life. Seven years later, he signed his last will and testament, directing that the bulk of his estate would go to fund what we know today as the Nobel Peace Prize. In today’s dollars, his estate was worth more than $100 million. Not all of it was from munitions, but plenty of it was. Some of his discovery was used to blow old stumps out of the ground to make farm fields like those in Silver Creek.
People wondered how, exactly, President Obama has accomplished Alfred’s goals for peace. Frankly, I think he fits as well as some of the past recipients: Yasser Arafat (for his “courage” in shaking hands with Yitzhak Rabin), Mikhail Gorbachev (for apparently single-handedly ending the Cold War) and Al Gore (who let us know a hot summer we just suffered through is our own damn fault).
Consider a moment some of the folks who never were given the prize - including Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Apparently the Nobel Committee considered the entire lot a batch of unworthy trouble makers.
But what can you expect from a bunch of Norwegian Socialists? I knew there was a reason my Swedish grandmother never had anything good to say about Norway.
In the committee’s defense, they have hit the target a few times: Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, George Marshall. I guess that proves the old adage that even a blind rabbit can find a carrot on occasion.
Part of the problem, I think, comes in understanding what we mean by “peace.” If peace is merely the absence of conflict, then maybe Josef Stalin should have gotten it. He kept a tight lid on unrest of all kinds in a large portion of the world. If a mere cessation of hostilities constitutes peace, then the Korean peninsula has been a bastion of tranquility for more than 50 years.
If by peace we mean something other than merely an absence of conflict, the surprise and disappointment in the committee’s announcement is understandable. If peace refers to that irenic state of everything being in right relationship, perhaps President Obama might eventually merit the award. He might also potentially merit the Two Harbors Citizen of the Year Award. Both events have equal probability of occurring.
Bringing about peace in the latter sense of the word means, often, changing the status quo. It means doing things differently. And when someone works for change, especially against the established and entrenched, conflict results. Peace in that sense of the term arises from a fundamentally different vision of how the world ought to be. Consequently, these true peacemakers get called trouble makers, rebels or rouges. Witness how often in the regional and local political scene, someone has tried to change the climate and tone on agency cooperation only to be steam-rolled by those who want to keep things the way they are.
In the most substantial way, the actual peace-makers are not those who seek to merely end conflict, but aren’t afraid of it in the process of pursuing their goals. They don’t get many prizes or awards. They do tend to take plenty of calls after 10 and before 6.
Greg Hull is a sawyer and philosopher-at-large. He nominated his wife Shele for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in labor relations at the sawmill. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org